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Violence is not a universal – it’s cultural

August 31, 2012

I found Ritchie and Ritchie’s discussion of violence very interesting… it connects with my wonderings about how representations of violence in New Zealand reveal/teach/perpetuate our ideas about violence…

Comparing cultural records, Ritchie and Ritchie write, “shows that although violence is embedded in some aspects of some cultures it is not uniformly present, and that even rape, so often presumed to be universal and inevitable, is found in only 53 per cent of the human societies for which evidence is available [refer to Sanday]. Although Brownmiller says that [-p.14] ‘when men discovered that they could rape they proceeded to do it in order to ‘keep all women in a constant state of intimidation’ (Brownmiller: 209), rape was rare or absent in 47 per cent of the 156 human societies which Sanday studied. This study seems to suggest that human societies fall on either side of a watershed. While violence can occur anywhere, there are societies where it is frequent, and societies where it is infrequent. On one side of the ridge live the tribe who glorify courage and stamina, who delight in victory, who idealise the warrior and other forms of male supremacy, and who mistreat, beat and rape women. In such tribes, men as a social group are generally pitched against women and against one another. Property is emphasised, as is competition in all things including economic exchange, and the exclusive possession by men of women and children who are regarded as male dependents. Only in emergencies do men in such societies put the welfare of women and children first [refer to Fromm].

In Sanday’s rape-free societies there is less emphasis on violence of any kind and a greater respect for individual feelings. Decisions are made by common consent, sex-role divisions are blurred, and there is a greater respect for nature and natural processes with a frequent linkage of the earth, women, blood, and sexuality. The tribe who live on this side of the watershed simply do not have any place in their life-style for violent behaviour. On those rare occasions when it does occur, the perpetrator is excluded and becomes a non-person, even to the point of invisibility.” (pp.13-14)

There are elements of the over-subjective narrative in this, but it still bears thinking about – and the focus it takes is revealing in its own way…

Ref: Jane Ritchie and James Ritchie (1993) Violence in New Zealand. Huia Publishers and Daphne Brasell Associates: Wellington

Reference is made to: Brownmiller, S (1975) Against our will: Men, Women, and Rape. New York: Simon & Schuster   Sanday, PR (1981) ‘The Socio-cultural context of rape: a cross-cultural study’ Journal of Social Issues 37, 4, pp.5-27    Fromm, E (1974) The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness London: Jonathan Cape


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