Saturday, 16 February 2013

How to protest against violence on women

There's been a lot of talk about protests against the pandemic of violence against women in the last few days, what with February 14th being celebrated worldwide as V-Day, and Eve Ensler (author of The Vagina Monologues) calling for a billion women (and those who love them) to rise up in the streets and dance to demand an end to sexual violence and all forms of repression of and violence against women. (On the same day, South African lawyer,  model and campaigner for empowerment of women, Reeva Steenkamp was murdered, apparently by her athlete boyfriend.)

At the same time there have been more direct, forceful (and arguably more effective) protests all over the world, notably in Egypt (where women, some wielding knives or acting as bodyguards, organised demonstrations to end the epidemic of street harassment and sexual assault that sadly accompanied the Arab Spring-inspired revolution of the last couple of years), India (where women's protests against the government and police's unwillingness to put an end to the rape culture in the country often turned violent themselves) and Ireland (where the needless death of a young woman brought the campaign to legalise abortion once more to the fore, and the institutional violence against thousands of women in church-run "refuges" has caused public outcry).

Journalist Laurie Penny has reported on some of these protests (e.g. in this Guardian article comparing them positively to Ensler's campaign), and characterises them with the opening line, "I'm sick of being ashamed." Other voices (including Fatihah, here, and many others on Twitter) have lambasted the Billion Rising dance as a "public dance-off", as a "feel-good exercise", as "playing into the vilification of women's anger by being nice", and as "steeped in privilege". Foxvertebrae added, "Protesting violence against women in a way that makes men and the government still feel comfortable is not a protest."

If any women I knew had been interested in taking part in the dance-off, I'd have liked to go along to support them, but I do appreciate that it would have been more useful and probably more effective if it had involved knives.


aliqot said...

Violence tends to beget violence, and I'm sick of it. There has to be a better way - though admittedly in some people's cases, it's hard to see one.

And still, men are physically stronger than women in most cases, and so using violence in return, unless in a directed attack on particular people, will probably result in women taking a back seat yet again.

Djibril said...

I don't think women should carry knives because I think it's a good way to defend themselves against men. Women shouldn't have to defend themselves against sexual assault; society should defend everyone against any kind of assault.

But in a world where sexual assault is committed with impunity, with the indulgence or even connivance of the forces of law, as so many women are living in today, then carrying a weapon, and even using that weapon, can be a way to make the rest of society sit up and take notice. (I'll cite Laurie Penny again: With Tasers and placards, the women of Egypt are fighting back against sexism.)

I don't think that the right way to deal with and prevent rape culture is for a mob of women in a courthouse to hack a serial rapist to pieces with kitchen knives, or for a women to behead a man who has repeatedly raped her in her home with the connivance of her community. Where these crimes are not being dealt with or prevented in any other way, however, I totally stand beside the women who do respond with knives, and I believe that this violence (however deplorable, however sickening) has a better chance of shocking us into *doing* something than any number of people dancing in a park.