Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Acts and Facts of Gendered Violence

The notion that women are very often their own worst enemy is a common line of fire aimed at feminists. This line is not wrong necessarily, as this article in yesterday’s Independent, about female sex traffickers, illustrates. But my bugbear is with how these acts of cruelty committed by women against women are almost ‘rarefied’: as if their acts are somehow worse than men’s acts against women because they are committed against their own sex – a type of behaviour considered somehow ‘unnatural’, and a supposed spanner in the works of the (mis)perceived feminist agenda for solidarity among women. This ‘rarefication’ can be seen as an attempt to ‘let men off the hook’, by positioning women as a sex uniquely cruel to their own.

Which is of course bullshit.

Less than 24 hours before the Independent’s article, I read an equally depressing article in the Guardian about the widespread use of rape as a weapon of war employed by men, against men. The examples used were acts that had taken place in Congo and Uganda, but the article implies this practice may be far more commonplace in countries experiencing conflict than anyone has hitherto supposed.

Rape is a direct act of sexual violence, where the weapon very clearly is the penis. Sex trafficking is an indirect act of sexual violence – the power player is female but (as the women are traded by women predominantly for the convenience of men) the weapon is still the penis. In other words, the weapon (the phallus represented by the penis) can be wielded by women as well as by men, but the long and short of it is (no pun intended… ok that’s a lie), the weapon remains the penis.

In the Independent’s article, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown writes:

“We feminists, with our neat critiques of male dominance, are pathologically unable to deal with the fact that females… can and do viciously hurt their own sex. Who dares within the sisterhood to revise the assumptions on which so much of that belief system rests? If we say that women must not be judged as harshly as men when they destroy those who are vulnerable, or that a woman must have the right to be as evil as a man, what kind of world is that? Perhaps I am coming round to the view that no, women shouldn't behave as badly as bad men, and when they do, they should be judged more harshly.”

 As much as I’m grateful to the article for highlighting this little known and crucial aspect of sex trafficking, Alibhai-Brown’s perception of feminism is outmoded. The injustice and discrimination humans face from one another are so layered and diverse that attempts to create forces of unity out of one sex or the other is unhelpful, largely pointless and even backwards. For example, plenty of men call themselves feminists these days. But Alibhai-Brown’s version of feminism as a ‘sisterhood’ would exclude these men from being feminism’s allies on account of their being the wrong sex. This is, of course, sexual discrimination.

Ideas about ‘sisterhoods’ are na├»ve. It is a ‘Stage 1’ format of feminism that may well still have uses in countries that still face fundamental segregation between the sexes, but in the West, its uses have been exhausted and efforts to re-employ it usually have the opposite outcome, effectively holding women back.

Women commit acts of violence against one another for many reasons: because women, like men, hate women; because just as men sometimes behave like women, so women sometimes behave like men; because humans, regardless of sex, engage in pursuits of power, domination and control that far surpass any flimsy connections of vague biological similarity.

As a response to the ‘horror’ any revelations about women’s cruelty to other women can invoke in people, it seems necessary to point out that there is an elephant in the room when it comes to one sex’s unique ability to commit acts of violence against their own sex:

The elephant is war.

Perhaps this will change, but for the moment, despite the rapidly increasing numbers of women fighting on the frontline, the armies of every country are overwhelmingly the domain of men, and with only a few exceptions, the governments that declare these wars are predominantly the domain of men as well. War is a collective, relentless, concentrated, merciless, limitless assault committed by armies of men against armies of other men. (Yes, of course, women are also victims of war, but they are not the primary target. The aim of war is to punish, disassemble and decimate the bodies of men.)

The variant of weapon used in these assaults range from machine guns, rifles, handguns and rockets to knives, bayonets, spears, machetes and arrows. Women may fight in wars, but the phallus remains the weapon.*

The phallus doesn’t care who falls victim to it – men or women. In this aspect, the phallus is un-gendered. As to which sex commits the greatest acts of violence; that accolade will always go to whoever holds the largest phallus in any given situation… In other words, to whoever is the Greatest Dick. 

*This is not to imply that all men, simply by having the misfortune to be anatomically connected to a penis, are somehow ‘naturally’ inclined towards violence. Not at all. Just as women should not be slaves to their bodies or guided by a perceived biological destiny, so men also should be free from biological determinism. IMHO the penis needs a new image. I’m thinking of starting a movement called Penises for Peace… Would that work? 


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