We have mentioned that in order to prevent domestic violence, we need to start changing social norms. But what does this mean? What are social norms, and why and how do we need to change them?
Let's start with the example of smoking cigarettes. Before the 1990's, cigarettes were not only popular but actually advertised as cool and even healthy. Today, we see more anti-smoking advertisements than ever. Why? Because we as a society have shifted the norm that accepted smoking to a norm that educates the public on the real and harmful effects of cigarettes.
Starting at an early age, everyone in our society receives unhealthy messages about relationships and gender roles - messages that promote power and violence. We are all shaped by these ideas (whether we like to think so or not), and they directly influence harmful attitudes and behaviors that create a toxic environment conducive to, and tolerant of, domestic violence. Just as we have shifted norms about smoking cigarettes, we can shift norms about violence.
Traditional gender stereotypes are one example of a social norm that fosters a culture of violence. You might think to yourself that you don't believe traditional gender roles exist today, but they are embedded in our culture in discrete and not-so-discrete ways everywhere. Just take a look at the advertisements below. These advertisements are visual constructs of rules we have enforced in society about what it means to be a man or a woman. Bystanders are impacted by these rules and beliefs, which is why we still hear phrases like, "Boys will be boys" or "It was her fault".
These advertisements are teaching us that even our soft drinks need to be masculine or feminine as decipted in the Dr. Pepper ad, that men doing "feminine" activities or befriending women make them less than a man, and that men need to be dominant and women need to be submissive as depicted in the Dolce & Gabbana ad. These enforced gender stereotypes and social rules for men and women create attitudes that turn into behaviors such as domestic violence. So, what do we do?
Just as we see more anti-smoking ads today, we are beginning to see more ads that challenge gender stereotypes and norms that condone violence. Part of prevention work is to engrain healthy messages about gender and relationships early on, before these messages that promote violence are heard, so that we can be better equipped to combat abuse and sexism later in life. We know that beliefs in traditional gender roles are still abound. If we can change these standards, we can eliminate the forces that work to perpetuate abuse. We can be freed of the ways they confine and define us. We can change our attitudes and behaviors and prevent domestic violence.