Our mission is to provide a platform for documenting and sharing the daily experience of gender-based violence. We hope that by sharing our stories, we can cultivate empathy for the daily grind of living in a patriarchal society.
Our ultimate goal is to put an end to the normalization of gender-based violence. We envision a world in which everyone is able to identify gender-based violence in all of its forms and understand that it should not be accepted as normal. We hope that by doing our part to eradicate the normalization of GBV, we are helping to create a world where all people can move through it on their own terms and without the threat of violence.
We are a motley crew of brilliant and passionate women from all over the world. We find each other through Facebook, mutual friends, the global network of gender activists, and, most importantly, a shared vision for a more equitable world. We are from different cultures and we speak different languages, but we all agree that gender-based violence is far too normalized and needs to stop. Read more about our origin story in our first blog post.
GBV stands for gender-based violence. Gender-based violence is a part of the global system of oppression known as patriarchy that privileges masculinity and dehumanizes and devalues femininity and anyone who doesn't fit into the gender binary. GBV is any act of violence, whether interpersonal or structural, that is enacted against a person based on their real or perceived gender identity. Even though in every day use the word "violence" usually only refers to someone being physically harmed, the word "violence" within the term GBV refers to any experience that makes you feel devalued because of your gender, that makes you feel unsafe or disrespected, that is non-consensual, or that reflects a larger system of unfairness or injustice.
For example, when a female student feels unwelcome in her engineering class because the majority of the students are male and the professor frequently makes jokes about the frailty and stupidity of women, she is experiencing a form of violence even though no one is physically harming her. Many feminine and nonbinary people frequently experience gender-based violence in the form of street harassment, like, for example, people making kissing noises at them or yelling unsolicited remarks at them as they walk down the street. Even though some might say these experiences are "just words", they reflect the same cultural attitude behind unequal pay, curtailed opportunities, and also physical violence. Once you've been objectified or made to feel unsafe as a result of harassment, it can be difficult to know whether that instance will become physically violent.
If you're still confused about why something as common as being called "hey baby!" on the street can be considered gender-based violence, check out this article: 6 Things You Might Not Think Are Harassment But Definitely Are by Kat George in Bustle.
Many people who are seen as feminine or as upsetting gender norms develop an accumulation of violating and dehumanizing experiences which can create a state of mind in which each new experience of GBV triggers the memory of others, so that all experiences of GBV, no matter how insignificant they might seem to an outsider, have the potential to feel unsafe or simply exhausting to those who regularly experience it. Surviving GBV can have an impact on mental health, even including the development of PTSD.
Because GBV happens so often and so regularly, it can be difficult to recognize it when it's happening. Even to someone who is actively experiencing GBV, it might just register as an elevated heart rate or a vague sense of unease or feeling unsafe rather than as a specifically identified act of violence. Just as a fish can't see that it's in water, we often can't see GBV because it surrounds us so completely.
By documenting the daily reality of GBV, BOPM seeks to challenge the normalization of every day acts of gender-based violence and microagressions. It’s time to stop accepting GBV as part of the normal experience for those who do not have male privilege and instead call GBV out for what it really is: a tool of oppression.
BOPM participants record their experiences with gender-based violence for 30 consecutive days, and their daily observations are published on the BOPM website.
The BOPM website will also include written reflections from people who benefit from gender privilege and who may have never experienced the daily grind of gender-based violence themselves. We encourage these participants to reflect on the daily observations they read on the website and to try to identify GBV in the world around them. The goal is not to ask people with gender privilege to answer for patriarchy as a system or to justify themselves, but rather to generate dialogue and critical reflection throughout society about gender-based violence.
We hope to collect 30 days of observations of GBV from people all over the world. We hope that by publishing a longitudinal database of daily observations of GBV, we can teach people how to identify GBV more easily and thus stop considering GBV a normal, inevitable, and expected part of daily life. In other words, we must first be able to see and identify the problem before we can begin to solve it.
While there are other fantastic organizations that are already doing incredible work to document gender-based violence (see our list of a few of these organizations here), the Burden of Proof Movement is the only organization that we know of that's attempting to create an longitudinal record of the daily experience of GBV, thus documenting the accumulative nature of the trauma that can come as a result of the relentlessness of GBV. The founders of BOPM realized that while it is usually easy for people to understand the severity of more physically violent instances of gender-based violence, such as rape and domestic abuse, the types of gender-based violence that result in less physical harm yet that occur very frequently, like street harassment, are often dismissed with an, “Oh, that sucks,” or even, “You should take the attention as a compliment!”. In particular, people who benefit from gender privilege can find it difficult to understand how the relentlessness of gender-based violence can impact the daily activities and physical and mental health of the people who experience it. By creating a compilation of daily observations of gender-based violence over the course of one month, we are building a body of evidence to show how these daily instances of gender-based violence profoundly impact our perspectives, our emotional and physical well being, and the way we navigate through our patriarchal world.
In a court of law, the term “burden of proof” refers to what the accuser must prove to shift the court’s decision away from the default position of innocent until proven guilty. BOPM uses the concept of burden of proof as a metaphor for how the normalization of gender-based violence requires survivors go to great lengths to prove the pervasiveness of gender-based violence. When survivors of gender-based violence speak out about their experiences, the onus is on them to prove, in the court of public opinion and otherwise, that gender-based violence occurs, that it is violating, that they did nothing to deserve it, that their experiences are credible, and that gender-based violence is an unacceptable status quo for society. Women, feminine-perceived people, and non binary people often struggle to be believed when they challenge the normalization of GBV, and survivors are often blamed for their own trauma. BOPM is taking on this burden of proof by compiling a body of evidence that reflects the daily reality of living in a patriarchal society and experiencing some form of gender-based violence nearly every day.
We are working to build a movement that is intersectional, inclusive, and makes room for complexity. We recognize that each person has a unique identity that can impact their experience of gender-based violence due to the intersectional nature of transphobia, homophobia, racism, classism, ableism, and other systems of oppression. For example, a black woman in the United States might experience gender-based violence much differently from a white woman. Alternatively, a Rwandan woman living in a rural area will likely have a different experience of gender-based violence than a Rwandan woman living in an urban area. Trans people, queer people, people with limited mobility, and nonbinary people might also have very different types of experiences with GBV. Because our project encourages participants to tell their own stories, we allow room for participants to openly discuss their experiences with various forms of oppression and to address how they experience gender-based violence at every intersection of their identity.
Additionally, we recognize that women are not the only people who experience gender-based violence. Anyone who is not traditionally masculine, which can include boys and men, anyone who defies traditional gender norms or the gender binary, and anyone who is perceived to be feminine can become the target of gender-based violence. Even people perceived to be masculine are not immune, and it can be difficult for masculine-perceived people to have their experiences with sexual violence taken seriously.
BOPM does NOT support criminalization, imprisonment, and policing. Because the policing and prison system unfairly target and commit violence against people of color, trans people, and queer people, particularly in the United States, we believe that increasing policing and imprisonment would ultimately counteract a movement for ending gender-based violence. Replacing one type of violence with another doesn't reduce the amount of violence in the world.
We admire the work that Collective Action for Safe Spaces is doing to end street harassment in DC without relying on criminalization and police involvement. We appreciate the thought leadership that Hollaback! has shared on their website and in the Huffington Post about their stance that street harassment should not be criminalized. In the future, BOPM will share additional resources on how to address gender-based violence without relying on criminalization and policing.