Excerpted From: Rona Kaufman, Patriarchal Violence, 71 Buffalo Law Review 509 (May, 2023) (206 Footnotes) (Full Document)


RonaKaufmanI come to this project deeply inspired by the words and wisdom of pioneering feminist theorists, determined to continue their exploration of the role the patriarchy plays in subjugating women. In 1985, feminist historian, Gerda Lerner, explained the mission well:

In undertaking this work I am part of a group effort by feminist thinkers in a variety of disciplines to rectify the neglect of women as subject of discourse and their exclusion as participants in the formation of systems of ideas. The exclusion of women from symbol-making and definition has appeared to men and women to stand outside of history ... [and] the ahistoricity of this practice has prevented women from “coming into consciousness” as women, and it thus has been one of the major props of the system of patriarchal dominance. It is only in [the last] century that for a small group of women--still only a tiny minority considered on a global scale--the preconditions of educational access and equity have at last become available, so that women themselves could begin to “see” and hence define their predicament.

Professor of law and philosophy, Robin West instructs us to continue this exploration: “feminist legal theorists should keep our focus on patriarchal violence.” Her call to action remains as prescient today as it was when she wrote it, over thirty years ago. This Paper continues the project of conceptualizing law and society from a gendered perspective, focusing patriarchal violence at its center. Recognizing that the patriarchy is the primary obstacle to women's liberation and that patriarchal violence is its main enforcement tool, this Article rests on the view that the only path to true liberation is one that eradicates patriarchal violence, and thereby the patriarchy, from our midst. While it is true that some women suffer less severely and directly from patriarchal violence than others, as Emma Lazarus aptly stated, “[u]ntil we are all free, we are none of us free.” Thus, so long as any female bodies remain victimized by patriarchal violence, “we are none of us free.”

To some, the call to keep feminist focus on patriarchal violence may seem misguided. Most recognize that women and girls are living better lives today than ever before during any time in history. The feminist struggle has, to a great extent, moved beyond fighting for women's basic human rights and on to seemingly more prescient issues for our time such as work/life balance, sex discrimination in employment, women in sports, and menstruation. Such focus might suggest that the fight for women's basic human rights has already been won. The argument is persuasive. After all, presumably, American women and girls live in the freest moment in the history of this nation. American women have achieved unparalleled and unprecedented levels of political, professional, academic, and economic success. Girls and women are afforded formal equality in nearly every sector. America is under the leadership of its first-ever Madam Vice President. Twenty-five United States Senators and 125 members of the House of Representatives are women. Women governors lead twelve states. Women are the CEOs of seventy-four Fortune 500 Companies. Women deans lead thirty-five percent of law schools. Women are entering college, master's programs, medical school, law school, and Ph.D. programs at rates equal to or higher than men. A third of total household assets, worth more than $10 trillion, are controlled by women. More women are their family's breadwinners than ever before.

Alas, women have not achieved success because their human rights are protected and respected. Rather, women succeed in spite of the fact that they continue to suffer egregious human rights violations. Patriarchal violence may be as prevalent today as ever. Girls and women remain victim to its innumerable manifestations. Male violence against women is an especially prevalent form of patriarchal violence experienced by many. Every day men molest, physically assault, sexually assault, rape, and traffic girls and women. Girls and women are physically and sexually assaulted by their fathers, brothers, uncles, family friends, boyfriends, husbands, former partners, friends, peers, teachers, coaches, co-workers, neighbors, and supervisors. Girls and women are also attacked by acquaintances and strangers. Due to “[t]he large number of rape, physical assault, and stalking victimizations committed against women each year and the early age at which violence starts for many women” the Department of Justice characterizes such violence as “endemic.”

To say that patriarchal violence is pervasive is an understatement. In fact, patriarchal violence may be the single most commonly experienced form of violence in the United States and the world today. While patriarchal violence has innumerable manifestations and arguably presents itself in ways that make it, at times, difficult to distinguish from other forms of violence, it can easily be identified if its ideological foundation is understood. Patriarchal violence is that violence which serves to maintain the patriarchy. Stated differently, patriarchal violence is “any kind of violence that creates or maintains men's power and dominance, or avenges the loss of their power.” Patriarchal violence is “a collective term for the violence that is found throughout the world and that is rooted in the patriarchal power structures it defends.”

Therefore, patriarchal violence is a form of ideologically-driven violence that works to uphold the patriarchal hierarchy in which men's interests are prioritized over the interests of girls and women. As with other forms of ideologically-driven violence, this violence and the hierarchy it protects and enforces is felt by both individual victims and by all members of the subordinated group--girls, women, and others who identify or are perceived as feminine. Thus, women and girls, regardless of whether they have personally experienced patriarchal violence, are affected. Professor Mary Anne Franks states that “the status quo allocation of violence serves hegemonic male interests. That is, the values at the top of our current social and legal hierarchy require the subordination of [ ] women ....” Antuan M. Johnson, has explained how such violence perpetuates women's inequality, “gender-bias crimes result in palpable harm to women as a community because they must arrange their daily lives around the fear of being raped.” This violence and its ever-looming threat preserve a caste system that elevates men's liberty over women's and which denies women the freedom to live fully human lives, freedom to which they are entitled, and freedom which they often, mistakenly, believe they already possess. Despite being among the freest women in the history of the world, and despite the assumption that American women and girls are in fact free, the freedom of girls and women remains deeply inhibited by patriarchal violence.

I propose the following comprehensive definition of patriarchal violence:

Patriarchal violence is all violence that creates or maintains men's power and dominance, or avenges the loss of their power. It is the enforcement tool that sustains the patriarchy, that is, the institutionalization of male superiority and female subordination. It manifests on internalized, interpersonal, social, and institutional levels through an interconnected system that harms, undervalues, and terrorizes girls, women, and other gender-oppressed people. It often manifests as private interpersonal violence such as sexual harassment, sexual assault, and family violence. The harms caused by interpersonal acts of patriarchal violence are compounded by social and institutional patriarchal violence. Patriarchal violence creates a process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.

More simply stated, patriarchal violence is the violence targeted at women and girls that is motivated by patriarchal ideologies and which serves to sustain patriarchal systems.

Patriarchal violence is perpetrated and perpetuated by individuals, groups, public and private institutions, and the state. It generally victimizes girls, women, and those who identify or are perceived as gender nonconforming or who are otherwise gender oppressed. Patriarchal violence impacts girls and women throughout their lives, from infancy to old age. Studies indicate that one in three teen girls is a victim of sexual assault or other violence and at least one in nine girls is sexually abused by an adult, often, by a family member. Half of all girls removed from their mother's custody and placed with their father experience sexual abuse. More than four out of five girls who have been in foster care report having been sexually abused. The foster care system also serves as a pipeline into sex trafficking where children and young women are bought, sold, raped, drugged, and tortured in a barely hidden multi-billion dollar sex trafficking industry. Each year, more than 200,000 American children are at risk of being sold for sex.

Though childhood and adolescence are especially vulnerable times, victimization continues in adulthood. At least half of all women experience sexual violence in their lifetime. A quarter of women experience severe violence perpetrated by an intimate partner, with 1,600 killed each year. Today, more mothers are incarcerated than ever before, stealing them from their children and leaving those children more vulnerable to sexual assault, drug abuse, crime, poverty, foster care, and their own incarceration. More pregnant women are imprisoned in the United States than in any other nation. Women are denied reproductive liberties when they are forcibly sterilized as well as when they are forced to carry unwanted pregnancies. Mothers are threatened with the loss of their children when they report that their child's father has committed sexual abuse.

Though all girls and women are potential victims and patriarchal violence transcends race, color, religion, ethnicity, ability, age, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, gender, and other characteristics; some are more likely to be victimized than others. Incarcerated women are more likely to be victims of sexual violence as are girls who were previously in foster care. Black girls and women are more likely to experience sexual assault than white, Asian, and Latina girls and women. Forty percent of survivors of sex trafficking are Black. Native American girls and women are more likely to be victims of sexual violence than those of any other race. Girls and women with disabilities are four times more likely to be sexually assaulted than their able-bodied counterparts.

While the above numbers are shocking in their own right, this data does not account for all patriarchal violence experienced by girls and women. There is wide consensus that patriarchal violence is significantly underreported and much of it remains unaccounted for in any official database. There is reason to believe that virtually every woman experiences some form of patriarchal violence in her lifetime and that many are repeatedly victimized. Moreover, patriarchal violence is more prevalent than any other type of animus-motivated violence. Meanwhile, sex-based animus crimes are routinely excluded from prosecution as hate crimes. Given the widespread nature of patriarchal violence, it is imperative that we focus on the ideology that serves as its foundation so that we can continue to work toward real solutions.

Men are the primary perpetrators of all forms of patriarchal violence. Men perpetrate violence against women and girls at a disproportionate rate, as compared with the violence they perpetrate against other men and also as compared with the violence women perpetrate. As Mary Anne Franks explains, “[t]he fact that violence is primarily a male phenomenon is frequently taken for granted. This has obscured proper assessment of the ways that violence serves masculine interests as well as helped to pathologize the violence of women as aberrant.” The normalization of male violence is highlighted by the fact that some of the most powerful and respected men rape and sex-traffic children, or associate with sex traffickers, often with impunity. However, patriarchal violence is not committed exclusively by men or other private individuals. Girls and women are also subjected to patriarchal violence and harm by other women, social institutions, the legal system, and the state.

In this article, I focus on further theorizing patriarchal violence. I aim to identify and deconstruct patriarchal violence by naming and explaining its many manifestations. To do so, I offer a comprehensive definition of patriarchal violence and an organizational framework that provides a means for deconstructing legal cases which include manifestations of patriarchal violence. Theorists, teachers, practitioners, and students can use this framework to better understand patriarchal violence and to assist them in their work to eradicate it.

I come to this project grounded in several assumptions. First, I believe that women's inequality is inevitable so long as we continue to live in a patriarchal society where patriarchal violence is used to keep women subordinate. I believe that the only way women will ever achieve full autonomy and equal citizenship with men is by eradicating the widespread violence used against them. I do not believe that there is a path to equality without ending patriarchal violence. Further, I assume that the only way to solve a problem, in this case the problem of widespread patriarchal violence against women, is to name it and understand it. To that end, this Article conceptualizes patriarchal violence to facilitate better understanding and identification of its various manifestations, the ways in which they are connected, and the cycles they comprise.

Part I provides the historical and theoretical context for this project. It discusses feminist theory and the history of the conceptualization of patriarchy and patriarchal violence. It considers how different strains of feminist thought have confronted particular manifestations of patriarchal violence. Finally, it discusses how patriarchal violence has been understood by feminist legal theorists and anti-hate organizations. Part II builds upon the various conceptualizations of patriarchal violence set forth by feminist legal theorists and organizations to articulate a comprehensive conceptualization of patriarchal violence that encompasses all its known manifestations. It discusses the World Health Organization's violence framework as a model for organizing patriarchal violence. It then introduces a patriarchal violence organizational framework that can be used to chart cycles of patriarchal violence experienced by victims. It explains the various categories of patriarchal violence by defining them, identifying the likely perpetrators, and providing examples of their manifestations. Part III briefly applies the patriarchal violence framework to deconstruct the legal cases and cycles of patriarchal violence experienced by Jessica Gonzales. This deconstruction illustrates how the patriarchal violence framework can be used to reveal the connections between seemingly discrete manifestations of patriarchal violence at individual and institutional levels. Further, this introductory deconstruction provides a glimpse into how deep deconstructions and applications of the patriarchal framework will further illuminate how discrete acts of patriarchal violence converge to create cycles of patriarchal violence that enforce our patriarchal system.

[. . .]

In the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the United Nations acknowledged that violence against women “constitutes a violation of the rights and fundamental freedoms of women and impairs or nullifies their enjoyment of those rights and freedoms.” The United Nations further recognized that violence against women:

[I]s a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of the full advancement of women, and that violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men.

This Article seeks to facilitate further theorization of violence against women so as to deepen our understanding of it so that we may continue to work toward its eradication. By reframing “violence against women” as “patriarchal violence” this Article attempts to shift the focus to the cause of the violence women experience. As author Jackson Katz explains: “[t]he term ‘violence against women’ is a passive construction--there's no active agent, it's a bad thing that happens to women” ... as if “nobody's doing it to them.” By reframing “violence against women” as “patriarchal violence” we shift the focus to force a reckoning of why women are being victimized. While it is critical that we recognize that girls and women are most often subject to violence at the hands of men, it is more important that we recognize that such violence is part of a broader mission to preserve the patriarchal hierarchy. Emphasizing the ideological motivation of the violence over the sex or gender of the typical perpetrator will also facilitate the recruitment of men in the fight against patriarchal violence. Teaching and theorizing violence against women as if it is personal--unrelated to an overarching intentional social mission to keep women subjugated--is unacceptable. Instead, we must continue to concern ourselves with the ideological foundation of the deep violation of our human rights that continue to be waged against our bodies and our autonomy in the United States and throughout the world.

The Patriarchal Violence Organizational Framework introduced in this Article provides a mechanism by which theorists, teachers, students, and activists can better understand the many manifestations of patriarchal violence experienced by women and girls. It facilitates the deconstruction of the cycles of patriarchal violence experienced by individual women. It also serves as a visual aid to better enable users to recognize how preceding and subsequent manifestations of patriarchal violence cause and compound the harm experienced by a single victim. In addition, the framework provides categorizations that enable users to easily draw connections between the similar forms of patriarchal violence experienced by different girls and women. It is my hope that others will find that the framework facilitates deeper understanding of patriarchal violence and the experiences of girls and women who are victimized by it.

Associate Professor of Law, Thomas R. Kline School of Law of Duquesne University.