This month's topic on violence against women deeply
touched those of us present because almost all of us had
experienced at least one sexual assault. Not surprisingly,
our discussion centered in large part on sharing our personal
stories of pain, fear, and violation.
In commenting on the
staggering number of femicides each year, activist Ann
Simonton asks, "Where is our quilt?" One
woman mentioned an editorial in which October was singled out
as the cruelest month for women. With clocks set back an
hour, increased darkness compels many women (especially the
elderly) to retreat into the home at earlier hours.
nighttime renders us more vulnerable to street assaults by
strangers, none of us overlooked the fact that most violence
against women occurs in the home or by familiar attackers
regardless of the hour. One woman asserted that the only
times she has ever truly experienced what safe space feels
like has been at women-only festivals.
veteran described the almost exotic sensation of walking
alone at night without that omnipresent shield of guardedness
every woman subconsciously wears. As The Age of Sex Crime
author Jane Caputi writes, ". . . sex crime functions
not only to obliterate individual female lives, but . . .
[also] aims to continually murder female divinity, i.e., the
creativity, integrity, and spirit of living women."
Kay Hagan suggests that since women are socialized to have
low self-worth, we as a gender are not self-defense oriented.
She wonders, "Could it be that as women in a
woman-hating society, we do not believe we have a self to
defend?" One woman recalled how powerless she felt when
she was once attacked and could not even cry out for help.
Several women noted, though, that plenty of men likewise lack
self-esteem; this partially explains why they assault
females. Another woman insisted that many of us are not
in denial and do want to defend ourselves, though not
necessarily with a lethal weapon. It was Hagan's essay that
challenged us to consider guns as an antidote to male
Even though several of us had handled firearms,
Audre Lord's classic line best captured our sentiments:
"The master's tools can never dismantle the master's
house." Many of us looked to martial arts as the most
appealing form of self-defense. It's proactive, relatively
nonviolent, always "at hand," physically
challenging, and promotes confidence and self-esteem.
Several women, however, resented that we should be
the ones addressing male violence. Why must women have to
allocate precious time to learn karate, for example? Why
don't men just stop being abusive? We tried to envision
creative ways society at large can counteract male-on-female
One woman resurrected an idea similar to Lysistrata
of ancient Greece wherein masses of (straight) women hold a
moratorium on sex until the men in our lives decisively
confront their male brethren. She also suggested that
self-defense be taught in girls phys. ed. classes, while boys
regularly attend anti-sexism workshops.
Subsequent to our
meeting, several EVE women were at a conference on violence
against women and heard how a group of feminists in Nicaragua
responded to an incident of wife battering. Instead of the
woman fleeing her own house to seek refuge in a shelter,
about 30 of her compaņeras descended on the family home and
evicted the husband, forcing him to seek alternative
In an effort to subvert the misogynist
messages of the dominant culture, EVE sponsors graffiti
actions. Armed with "magic" markers, we take to the
streets once a month and "correct" offensive
billboards. To clarify the target of our missions, we have
renamed our action group the "MADison Avenue Graffiti
Squad." If you're looking for a creative and empowering
way to take back our image, link up with the "MAD
Squad" for an evening of fiercely feminist fun.
We all agreed that the media and advertising
normalizeand glamorizeviolence against women by
constantly depicting females in varying states of nakedness
and dependency. Several of us noted that such portrayals of
women are clearly political acts of domination, resulting in
the disempowerment of all women.
As a corollary, all men
benefit from a climate in which a woman's worth is routinely
reduced to her body parts. One woman informed our group that
a Violence Against Women Act recently introduced in Congress
makes gender offenses a violation of a woman's civil rights.
Incredibly enough, violence against women is so pervasive
that lawmakers were previously unwilling to categorize it as
a bias crime alongside other hate crimes.
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