By Steven Adamo
Case Navigator for the East Los Angeles Women’s Center Claudia Arévalo spoke Saturday during a virtual workshop regarding the roots of gender oppression.
Arévalo discussed the importance of using an umbrella term like “sexual violence” when discussing gender oppression. “There’s so many different ways that sexual violence occurs, but it’s an umbrella tour for any kind of sexual behavior, action or contact.” An important aspect, Arévalo adds, is the lack of consent from the victim of the violence.
To better describe the complexities of this issue, Arévalo uses three different parts of a tree as a metaphor to describe the history of sexual violence and how it continues.
“The roots, what are the ideologies? What are these belief systems that have led us here today?” Arévalo asked. “It starts with concepts like Patriarchy, culture… how your structures in your life and the belief-systems behind those structures work. How these things are structured comes from how we believe they should be.”
Arévalo described the patriarchy as the belief that male societal dominance is the “default” or that they’re the better of the sexes. “Patriarchy is a very complicated concept on its own, but when we refer to ‘destroy the patriarchy,’ we’re referring to specifically this part,” Arévalo said.
Other parts of the roots system, Arévalo said, includes isolationism, meritocracy and racism within our culture. Arévalo used self defense courses as an example of how they’re targeted to women.
“Because we expect women to be vulnerable, we end up seeing this play out in a very specific way in our society. We expect men to be perpetrators, that’s the same concept— so part of this is destroying both of those ideas, not just one.”
“All of these things are interwoven in the roots. It’s not that men are immune from these things, it’s just that statistically it’s not as prevalent to happen because of how we have our ideologies and cultures in place,” Arévalo said.
Continuing the metaphor, Arévalo compares the trunk of the tree to the support system for these ideologies. From our media and communication, to our education systems, laws and language— all play an important role in keeping these systems of oppression in place. “Let’s stop making violence passive and talking about it like it’s the women who is somehow responsible by putting her as the first subject”
When some of the above structures are in place, Arévalo said that the outcomes are the “fruits” of the tree, issues like the gender wage gap, forced marriage, feminine, sexual harassment, genital mutilation and mass shootings.
Arévalo shared graphs that demonstrated how, without access to proper care, the Covid-19 pandemic made matters much worse. “Because we were shutting down, access to the public world and really isolating our private world, we saw who suffers when those things happen.” Arévalo said.