Individualism, Violence Against Women, and Humanist Views

“Cultures that are classified as more individualistic, where people feel they are individuals with the right to pursue their own goals, have relatively less domestic violence against women than cultures classified as collectivist, where people feel they are part of a community whose interests take precedence over their own,” writes Steven Pinker in The Better Angels of Our Nature. It is somewhat strange that an individualistic culture would value women more than a collectivist culture. From the immediate outset, it is not clear to me why that would be. I could easily imagine an alternative viewpoint where individualistic men were more likely to be violent toward women because they prioritized their own sexual desires more than the woman’s health, safety, and individual desires. At the outset, it seems like it may be other variables that play a stronger role in determining levels of violence against women.
But Pinker continues, “these correlations don’t prove causation, but they are consistent with the suggestion that the decline of violence against women in the West has been pushed along by a humanist mindset that elevates the rights of individual people over the traditions of the community, and that increasingly embraces the vantage point of women.” This suggests that it is a larger cultural shift which changes the relationships between men and women within individualistic cultures relative to more traditional cultures where the collective took greater precedent over the individual. If a woman is expected to produce many kids or is the property of a man, then violence is somewhat expected in maintaining a male dominated hierarchy. Sexual violence and rape may be dismissed if a woman exists to produce children in such a system. If a woman is more free to express herself and chose her own path, then violence is less acceptable because it cannot be employed to maintain a predetermined set of options.
I am sure there are a lot of confounding variables still at play, but I think it is very interesting, and a very positive development, for individualistic cultures to be less violent toward women than more traditional collectivist cultures. Individualistic cultures seem to allow people to express themselves in unique ways with less fear of violence if they don’t follow traditional roles and molds. I would expect this to extend beyond women to other populations as well, and while it may make the world more complex and confusing, it will hopefully continue to make it less violent as we continue to value the unique perspectives of each person.

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