Trigger warning: Trauma, sexual assault
Psychology explains trauma in an individual level but we have to understand that the experience of trauma is contextual and is affected by the social structure around us. Gender can be a factor itself for the trauma to occur and the lived experience of trauma also differs due to gender. Principally, today’s world is more inclined towards egalitarian view and equal treatment of people regardless of their gender. But in practice, there is still marginalization and subjugation of women in many parts of the world. The existence of patriarchy limits women’s sociopolitical, economic and other forms of power. These types of patriarchal restrictions lead to disparities in the cases of violence and sexual assault against women. The double whammy comes while already the victim of gender discrimination and violence, patriarchy makes women feel ashamed of themselves and repress their emotions due to the fear of repercussions due to which they might delay seeking help.
Violence effects trauma, there is no doubt about it. Trauma, defined as the response to a severely stressful situation, is inevitably a gendered experience as well. According to Nepal Monitor, during the years 2015 and 2016, there were altogether 1,770 (Gender based Violence) GBV cases reported. (Uprety, 2017) Many more cases of violence against women don’t get registered. The link between violence and mental health concerns is found to be much higher for women: Studies have shown that women with histories of physical violence have significantly higher incidences of major depression, and that 50% of women who have experienced violence also have had a mental health diagnosis. The risk of developing depression, PTSD, substance use issues, or becoming suicidal was three to five times higher for women who had experienced violence. (Mercer, 2017)
Furthermore, with cases of sexual violence and rape, the system of getting justice can be more re-traumatizing for survivors. The process of getting justice entails retelling of their stories of violence and trauma, again and again – in police stations, courts and society. We also a see a culture of victim-shaming in our society, especially when it comes to rape and sexual assault. “She was asking for it.” “Why did she wear that?” “She shouldn’t have gone outside.” “Good girls don’t get raped.”. These types of mentality further victimizes and traumatizes women who went through the trauma. Moreover, it gets much more complicated to ask for help, or to seek justice when the system around women don’t believe them about their trauma.
Beyond violence, we can see how patriarchy affects women. Their mobility, work, self-esteem and self-image, in fact their worth and identity, seem to depend upon the male members of a patriarchal society. (Niaz, 2006) From a young age, women are repeatedly told and evaluated through their body and beauty. Advertisement and culture of being hyperaware of how a woman should look like, has effect on women’s mental health as well. Eating disorders are more than twice as prevalent among females in comparison to male. (National Institute of Mental Health, 2017) Women’s financial and economic autonomy has been subjugated and they are made dependent upon the male members. This creates an environment of extreme stress and shame. Women aren’t able to live their independent lives, on their own terms. This becomes even more prominent when women are facing domestic violence and want to move away from their abusive households to create a life for themselves. Girls growing up witnessing violence towards their mother, internalize the pain and find it difficult to cope with it when they find themselves in a similar situation. (Sharma, 2017 ) In modern world, where our worth is defined by our economic productivity, women being made to depend upon men face shame and guilt for not being worthy enough. In workspaces as well, women face gendered sexist experiences, violence and harassment, furthering the instances of traumatic experiences. Motherhood, or lack thereof, gives added burden of shame and guilt – of not being a good mother enough; or scrutiny of choosing not to be a mother at all. At older age, a woman has to face ageism along with sexism. And if an older woman is raped, then it will be met with disbelief too, and that is because of the prevalent notion that rape only happens to younger women. This opens the circle of trauma again.
In a typical patriarchal society there is a constant input of shame, guilt, violence and inevitably trauma that follows in the entire lifespan of a woman. We have to understand and accept that trauma can be a very gendered experience, and our responses to trauma needs to be sensitive to these experiences as well. Hence, we need to take account of the gender, the systemic perception and treatment of gender and the gender differences in experiencing trauma while understanding the trauma of a woman. This can be possible through honest discussions about how systemic structures like patriarchy inflicts trauma on women and how the idea of victim shaming could also affect the healing of trauma stories. Only then, the journey towards healing and negotiating with the trauma could go hand in hand with responding to the systems around us.
Mercer, K. (2017, December 5). How Gender-Based Violence Impacts Mental Health. Retrieved from Canadian Women’s Foundation: https://canadianwomen.org/how-gender-based-violence-impacts-mental-health/
National Institute of Mental Health. (2017, November ). Eating Disorders. Retrieved from National Institute of Mental Health: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/eating-disorders.shtml#part_155063
Niaz, U. (2006). Culture and mental health of women in South-East Asia.
Sharma, P. (2017 , August 31). How patriarchy and gender roles contribute to mental health issues in Indian women. Retrieved from The News Minute: https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/how-patriarchy-and-gender-roles-contribute-mental-health-issues-indian-women-67688
Uprety, S. (2017, October 25). Do numbers tell the real story of gender based violence in Nepal? Retrieved from South Asia @ LSE: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/southasia/2017/10/25/do-numbers-tell-the-real-story-of-gender-based-violence-in-nepal/