The heart of violence against womxn, according to Dr Eve

Dr Eve takes to the TEDxCapeTown Intersections of Change stage.

The celebration of Womxn’s month in August took on a sombre tone, as an outcry by womxn reverberated around the world, shedding light on the gender-based violence they continue to experience. Many South African womxn have labelled this a “war on womxn and children,” and it’s an epidemic that only seems to be exacerbated by the global pandemic. 

The fourth conversation of our 10-part digital series, Intersections of Change, was aptly named: The Decade of Womxn. During this inspiring conversation, we invited three powerful womxn to share their thoughts on the gender inequality challenges our society faces, and how we can move towards gender equality by 2030. 

One of these incredible speakers was Marlene Wasserman, better known as Dr Eve, a trained couple and sex therapist with her own private practice, and an acclaimed author. She’s no stranger to the TEDxCapeTown audience and graced our stage in 2015 with a talk entitled: ‘Cyber Infidelity: The New Seduction’. During this insightful conversation, Dr Eve shared her thoughts on trauma and how this may be at the heart of violence against womxn. 

“There’s a collective trauma around womxn,” Dr Eve states. 

Within South Africa, this stems back to colonialism, apartheid, and patriarchy - something that has always been present in our country. For womxn, this trauma  manifests as a sense of anxiety and tension. It’s unsurprising then that womxn tend to walk around with a certain level of aggression - “a defensive or offensive mode that plays out in our bedrooms and intimate relationships with each other.” 

However, it’s the trauma inflicted upon men in the early stages of their childhood, primarily through sexual, physical, and emotional abuse (either by watching or having it imposed upon them) which results in them continuing the cycle of abuse, by perpetuating it upon women.

Why have we suddenly seen a surge in gender based violence? 

“Men are living with higher levels of anxiety and frustration, and if you’re in a context of COVID-19 where there is unemployment, loss of jobs and of health, then that escalates. That’s why we’ve seen such high cases of gender based violence globally during this time.” 

Her work focuses on the trauma of men, and how working through this trauma can help men become more present and mindful, which in turn can help contain their need to soothe through alcohol, risky sexual behaviour, gambling, etc. But it’s her book: Dr. Eve’s Sex Book, that helps parents create a framework with which to discuss sex with their children. Providing information that’s accurate and free of taboo. 

How can parents be more open about sex, especially in a more digitalised world where there’s an incredible amount of misinformation about sex?

Research has shown that children are learning about sex by watching pornography from as early as 9-years-old. The theatrical setting and “entertaining” aspects of pornography can have a damaging effect on children’s sexuality as they get older - especially for women, who later believe that this is what men expect from them in terms of their own sexuality.   

“Parents need to be talking about sexuality education around self-esteem [and] definitely consent and coercion - what is the difference between the two, and knowing about gender and microaggressions.” 

Dr. Eve believes that we can each make a huge difference by noticing the microaggressions in our homes and between children - especially between boy and girl children, children who are trans or non-binary. We need to better manage the way we treat this conversation with children. 

Dr. Eve recently published a letter against celebrating Womxn’s Day, stating that we should ditch the concept altogether. 

Highlighting the pivotal role that women played in 1956 during their march to parliament due to the extension of Pass Laws, Dr. Eve states that plenty has changed. 

“Today it’s incredibly different, and I feel it’s almost patronising to say we have to have a day for womxn, or a month for womxn. Why not rather look at womxn everyday and say - how can we really honour and respect them, show kindness and compassion to them, rather than having this whole month?” 

According to Dr. Eve, the responsibility has once again been placed on womxn. 

“Womxn need to take better care of themselves, womxn need to make sure they don’t walk around in certain places. It’s nonsense. The focus needs to be on men, and only on men.
To be able to ask - how do we manage ourselves that we are able to be safe for womxn, so that womxn can feel safe around us?

The purpose of her open letter was to simply address men, and to urge them to be more mindful when they’re at home or in the workplace. To once again, notice those microaggressions and how womxn are addressed. She believes that there needs to be enormous education around sexual harassment in the workplace. 

How do we teach our boy children to be mindful of the issues raised during this conversation? 

Dr. Eve believes it’s about being in the moment, and being present with your child. 

“When your child makes a remark that is sexist, you talk to them immediately.
You want to be on top of the things that your children are looking at - the kind of porn they’re watching, the music videos they’re looking at, and to talk to it.”

According to Dr. Eve, the key is to have a conversation with your children in the moment that instills the kind of values within your home, and educating your children on what they should be doing instead. 

“It’s about showing how to treat each other with respect, kindness and compassion - equally, no matter what your gender is.”