Self-defense, that is, direct resistance to male violence by women, has become a neglected topic in feminism recently. Somewhere along the line advocating for women to be as strong and self-protective as we can be became equated with blaming victims of rape, battering and abuse — which it most decidedly is not. The Nicola Griffith quote was meant to demonstrate the ways in which patriarchy keeps us believing in our own physical helplessness in the face of all evidence to the contrary. Will every woman be able to fight off an attacker? No, and no woman should ever feel guilty for being attacked or hurt, since complete responsibility always lies with the attacker. Will knowing self defense help a woman protect herself within an ongoing battering relationship, or when facing systemic violence, such as attacks by prison guards or INS agents? Maybe not. But what if men became only half as worried about being hurt by women they attack, as women are all the time of being attacked and hurt by men? That, to me, is a fascinating scenario, perhaps the point at which a real anti-sexist revolution finally becomes possible. Because, as I and others have said over and over, power and privilege, and those who hold them, aren’t going to give anything away. We have to take our freedom, and we have to take it together.
We cannot give our work away…proponents of the right wing have no problem with the existence of shelters for battered women, they simply do not want feminists directing them, or any hint of a feminist analysis of patriarchal violence at the core of the programs. Shelters and rape crisis centers that have purged Lesbians, tokenized or ignored Third World women, and censured politically experienced feminists no longer challenge the status quo. Lesbians, Third World women and activist feminists do challenge the status quo. We are our greatest resource in creating true havens of safety from patriarchal violence, and in preventing the humiliation and suffocation inherent to the hierarchical nature of the “social service” analysis of shelter and rape crisis work. Likewise, we cannot unwittingly become tools of racism by looking to the state for solutions to male violence. We must be conscious that giving unlimited power to a racist, classist, and violent judicial system perpetuates our own oppression.**
From the preface to Fight Back! Feminist Resistance to Male Violence, edited by Frédérique Delacoste and Felice Newman (Cleis Press, 1981)
**Yeah, those second-wavers — no understanding of the intersection of oppressions. Whatta buncha racist classist jerks. Snort.
Originally published on FR 8/1/2008.