Since the end of the 1980s, what are still sometimes referred to as the new reproductive techniques have made it possible to question gender norms and roles in a new way. Technological and medical innovations in the field of procreation, which are becoming increasingly sophisticated, make it possible to truly break down the various aspects of fatherhood and motherhood. They are also the subject, in the contemporary period, of political demands for reproductive justice and of regulatory and legislative innovations. Acting on the biological constraints of reproduction, they also offer the possibility, for people whose parental legitimacy is a priori contested or questioned and yet who wish to become parents, to bypass or even free themselves from them.
Feminist epistemology and struggles have made it possible to understand, over the last forty years, how much the regulation and construction of gender are intrinsically linked to the experience and exercise of violence. At the same time, violence appears to be an act of gender itself. Since the end of the 2010s, the force of these analyses and dynamics has been in the news: reformulated and intensified in various places, the characterisation of gender-based violence, primarily male violence against women and girls, is unfolding as a chain effect of denunciations and solidarity. This phenomenon is diffracted by the use of social networks, which in turn leads to a recomposition and amplification of social mobilisations. From Ni Una Menos, “not one less”, the slogan that accompanied the politicisation of feminicide in Latin America, to #Metoo (-#me too), initially launched against sexual harassment and violence in the workplace, these media also lead to a geographical, transgenerational and even transcultural amplification of the moral disqualification of so-called “gender” violence.
At least four observations can be made today. Firstly, the increased visibility of sexist and gender-based violence goes hand in hand with its multiplicity and even its definitional fragmentation, which constantly challenges the understanding of its common logic. Secondly, this new movement of politicisation follows on from an already established institutional awareness of gender-based violence, without the latter having been socially delegitimised. This calls into question the participation of political institutions in the trivialisation or even the de facto authorisation of certain forms of sexist and sexual violence. Thirdly, the globalised nature of the denunciation of violence calls into question the contextual variations in its practice and impunity, but also its common features. Lastly, the current centrality of reflections on gender violence poses a renewed look at the past, making it possible to identify new objects and at the same time to shed light on the contemporary situation. These are all areas of research that deserve to be opened or re-opened.
1. Materiality of violence, quantifications, definitions
The increased visibility of violence has made it possible to encompass male violence against women, institutional violence that is not necessarily male against women and girls, but also violence that is described as transphobic, homophobic or lesbophobic. In addition to the specifications of violence according to the addressees, we have added those whose qualification is based on the physical or social spaces of perpetration (domestic violence, family violence, conjugal violence, street harassment), those which primarily qualify attacks on the body and the psyche (sexual and emotional violence), those which have been problematised according to their systemic and extreme nature (‘systemic sexual feminicide’) or according to their links with organised crime networks (trafficking, sexual and commercial exploitation). Feminist epistemology has attempted to identify the common logic of all these phenomena, in particular by putting forward the concept of a continuum, which makes it possible to decompartmentalise the artificially separate life settings (public, private, work, street) in which violence can be exercised; to show that although verbal-psychological-sexual-physical-economic violence can be classified in order to better classify them, they can nevertheless be exercised jointly, whether or not physical force is used (Kelly, 1988). Finally, although the sex of the recipients of violence is not always female, the fact remains that violence based on gender is mostly male against women, or male against ‘feminised’ people. This in turn structures the conditions for the exercise of violence and self-defence by subjects who have not been socialised into it.
How do the most recent events around the phenomena Niunamenos, #metoo (and its variations #metoogay, #metooinceste etc.) #balancetonporc, characterise in a new way gendered male violence and gender-based violence? Which forms of violence have become more visible or more audible, for which controversies and for which understanding of their materiality? How do so many media of enunciation and specification of violence, such as militant actions, personal testimonies, literary accounts, operations of quantification of violence, legal qualifications themselves interpreted by judicial actors, intersect and confront each other? How do the concepts and methods of characterising this violence travel through time and space, between feminist intellectuals, collective actions, and legal actors, such as femi(ni)cide, whose use is becoming increasingly commonplace, not without controversy concerning its legal translation? Twenty-one years after the national survey on violence against women in France (ENVEFF, 2000), which was followed by the Life Events and Health survey (2006) and the Violence and Gender Relations survey (VIRAGE, 2017), what qualitative and quantitative work remains to be done? At the international level, the quantification and qualification of gender-based violence have been carried out in particular through international public health policies since the 1990s. What assessments have been made today, and what are the current effects on research into the relationship between violence, health institutions, epidemiology, sexual and reproductive health and demographic policies? More recently, the consideration of violence experienced on mental health has been at the heart of the re-politicisation of incest. What exchanges or cognitive stumbling blocks exist today between bio-medical approaches and epidemiology? Finally, ‘artivism’, literature, sound and visual creations are all expressions that renew the expression of violence experienced and the right to self-defence. How do they intervene in the public (and private) sphere, and to what effect?
2. Violence, forms of politics, impunity
The issue of the punitive, preventive and generally regulatory translation of violence is the subject of intense controversy. The way in which public, educational, university, administrative, police and judicial institutions effectively deal with – or treat with indifference – reports and complaints of violence is at the heart of the latest mobilisations against gender violence and its impunity. Although a few studies have already explored the way in which the voluntary sector takes care of victims, the public institutional sphere and the way in which it implements state and legal action still constitute a “black box” that calls for more in-depth investigations. How do legal doctrine and the ordinary characterisation of violence by the police, the judiciary and any actor linked to public authority compare, and to what effect? A second area of questioning relates to the way in which the state’s punitive tradition can both redouble the violence against complainants and impose selective and biased sanctions according to the social characteristics and background of the aggressors. Criminal sanctioning mechanisms thus reproduce class, race and gender relations. How does the abolitionist perspective inform research and debate on these issues? Similarly, what assessments and perspectives does restorative justice present today?
Other questions concerning the construction of political power will be addressed, such as the relationship between elected office, the exercise of gender-based violence and the conditions of impunity.
3. Historical gender regimes, (geo)politics and the economy of violence
This axis also invites us to reinterrogate the past through the filter of the unveiling of the present, which is in turn explained by long-term history. It suggests initiating or continuing definitional and methodological research on the gender of violence according to national contexts, political regimes, and the status and roles of the actors holding state violence or belligerent actors, in times of war as well as in times of ‘peace’. This approach invites us to re-examine the intersectional approach in order to question which bodies and subjects are legitimised to defend themselves and to exercise violence, and which others are supposed to exercise or suffer it. It suggests exploring the continuities between economic exploitation and gender-based violence. In short, this axis invites us to grasp violence and its gender as revealing acts, and at the heart of other systemic violence, historically and politically situated.