Gender-based violence

09. February, 2005


Lars Jalmert

Foto: N.Mezins

Today we live in “the gender-power order”. There are two rules by which many persons act: (1) keeping the sexes apart, and (2) the supremacy of the male standard.

Gender-based violence is a worldwide problem being the greatest threat to peoples lives and health according to a recently published summary of research (Ferguson et al, 2004). The patriarchal societies that we live in have for a very long period tried to hide the fact that violence in our societies are men´s violence. During the last 10-15 years we have however received new facts and figures stating that this is the case. It has become more and more evident that violence is men´s violence.

Some ten years ago we didn´t talk very much about gender-based violence and we definitely did not at all talk about it as a responsibility of men. Today, however, there are quite a number of persons around the world having come to the insight that the greatest obstacle to gender equality is the prevalence of gender-based violence. In order to diminish the gender-based violence an important step is that men realise that they as well have a responsibility for it and that they have to act accordingly.

Furthermore, it is very important that we name men. We should not speak of youth´s violence but name it young men´s violence, we should not talk about wife battering but speak of men battering of wives and so on. It is important to name men.

Today we live in what could be called “the gender-power order”. Many persons today are opposing this order but it still is the dominating order that permeates our societies. In the gender-power order there are two rules by which many persons act:

Keeping the sexes apart – stressing the differences between males and females.
The supremacy of the male standard – men represent the standard of what is normal and universally applicable.

The effect of the gender-power order is that men are regarded as superior to women.

This gender-power order has evolved over a long period of time. In actual fact it shows, quite simply, the relations between gender and power and – not least importantly – that gender relations and power are connected to each other.

An effect of the gender-power order can be expressed in a simple way, it can be said that it leads to a situation in which many men take it for granted that they shall have power over women, that they are superior – by virtue of their gender. Once again, some men take this for granted.

If deprived of this right/power that they have taken for granted, some men react with violence, trying to regain power. There is an enormous amount of examples of this. Very often the words “respect” and ”honour” are used in the context when some men say that they are upholding respect and honour. However, for these men, it means that we should be afraid of them since they consider themselves superior, and it is power they are trying to regain, not respect or honour.

In almost all situations of violence, it is possible to find men who intend to restore their feeling of having lost power/rights and use violence to achieve this. In almost all cases of violence, it is possible to see that men use punishment since the power/right that they take for granted has been questioned. Think of all the ongoing wars – ”the others have violated our rights”.

The violence we are talking about is related to socially dominant and often repeated definitions of what it means to be a man and a woman – such as masculine norms that equate being a man with being strong, powerful, successful and entitled to priviliges over women. Violence is often used by men when they do not live up to these ideals or feel that they are being challenged.

Gender-based violence is mostly men´s violence towards women and girls, but it can also be violence toward other men and boys (in the form of bullying, violence against homosexuals, sexual abuse, etc.). Gender-based violence takes many forms – physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, as well as restricted freedoms and rights, coercion and/or threats.


According to research results from the last ten years we now know that the majority of all rapes is planned (as reported by Eliasson, M, 1997 based on primarily studies from USA). Even in cases when the perpetrator is a man unknown to the woman and who rapes her outdoors, he has planned it – not chosen her as a victim but checked out where he will attack and bring her. We also know that this attack takes place within one kilometer from his home. (Östlund, A., 2000)

Indoor rapes are almost exclusively performed by a husband or former husband who doesn´t look for mutual feelings but instead wants to show that the woman is subordinate to him. He demonstrates his power over her. Most gang rapes are also planned beforehand.

So, what conclusions can we draw from this? We know now that violence is not a matter of some uncontrollable sexuality or aggressivity, but a very controlled action. We also know that it contains nothing of mutuality, indeed not even intimacy but is an expression of his power over her.

Men who go to prostitutes

Men who go to prostitutes very often mention power as the reason. The most common argument for going to a prostitute is “she doesn´t say no”. Something his wife or girlfriend some times may say. So, instead the man buys a prostitute. Again, this is not about getting into a relationship with another human being on mutual grounds – he buys her to show his power.

Men who beat women

Even in cases when a man batters his wife – and this is fairly common – he plans his battering. He draws the curtains so that no one will see, he turns up the volume on the record player so that no one will hear, he does a number of things before he starts beating her. Again it is not a matter of uncontrolled aggression, of any biologically founded aggression, but instead a deliberate, planned abuse.

Sexual harassment

Cases of sexual harassment also show the same pattern.He wants to show that he has power over her. The harasser almost always has harassed before. He does it over and over again to different women. He does not seek mutuality, he does not listen to her ‘no’ – he wants her to feel subordinated. He uses and demonstrates his power.

I have mentioned earlier that many explanations have been given about men´s violence that do not include a gender power analysis. For example, quite a number of studies say that men´s violence depends on misuse of alcohol or drugs. I think you always have to have a gender power analysis when you look at men´s violence. Nevertheless you can gain information from other studies. For example, a study from the Centre for Violence Prevention in Stockholm published last summer is very interesting. It reported that of all individuals who had committed violent crimes during 1988-2000 and were convicted for them almost 25% were registered misusers (Grann, M. & Fazel, S., 2004). The Swedish newspapers wrote about this study and the journalists were evidently shocked by the high frequency. I am more shocked by the fact that more than 75% of all violent acts (with a conviction) are committed by not registered misusers.

Earlier studies have reported that in some 60% of all cases when a man beats a woman, one or both of them have consumed alcohol. And again, I think it is more interesting to note the other number, which indicates that in almost half of the cases there has been no alcohol consumption – he is actually sober when he beats her – leading again to the conclusion that this is controlled behaviour.

In the beginning of the 1980ies I published a study on Swedish men (Jalmert, L., 1983) in which I called many of them in-principle-men. That was because they had many good ideas about how to live in a gender equal way but actually made no effort to do so. Instead they are upholding the old patterns of male dominance – with their silence – and are therefore responsible for men´s violence against women.


Eliasson, M. (1997) ”Mäns våld mot kvinnor.” Stockholm: Natur och Kultur

Ferguson, H., Hearn, J., Gullvåg Holter, Ø., Jalmert, L., Kimmel, M., Lang, J. &

R. Morrell (2004) “Ending gender-based violence. A call for global action to involve men.” Stockholm: SIDA

Grann, M. & S. Fazel “Substance misuse and violent crime: Swedish population study.” British Medical Journal.2004;328:1233-4

Jalmert, L. (1983) ”Den svenske mannen.” Stockholm: Tidens förlag

Östlund, A. (2000)

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