Women and Violence

“I’m interested in many of the ideas you explore but must complain that you’ve dismissed all of feminism in less than a full sentence. Of course dependence is viewed as a disaster for women. Of course it is. This is one of the core issues faced by women in patriarchy–the extent to which women are dis-empowered by their dependence on men. I’m forced to ask who it is who doesn’t see women’s dependence (and concomitantly, their frustration) as disastrous. Men?

I’m referring to this:

“Dependence is not usually seen as a disaster for women—and women are historically much less prone to violence than men.”

The notion that “women are historically much less prone to violence than men” is nearly as equally problematic. Which women? When? Where? Women like HRC, advocating hawkishly for the war in Iraq?

But I am interested in this notion that violence is an expression of freedom.”

These paragraphs in quotations are a comment from Randi Davenport.  So let me try to respond.

I was trying to say that women have traditionally been viewed as more dependent, not that they are essentially or correctly viewed as dependent.

More than that, however, I was trying to say that rage against dependence has been more tied to masculine pathologies because being dependent was usually seen as more shameful for men.

The next step in the argument is to say that autonomy is a good thing–but it is also not possible to achieve fully.  So people must find some way to come to grips with the failure to achieve full self-sufficiency.  Violence has often been, I am saying, the way people have responded to their vulnerability to and dependence on others.  And that violence has been connected to a heightened emphasis on self-sufficiency for “being a man.”

So, as Randi pushes me to acknowledge, when women begin to demand more autonomy, we can expect that they will also become more violent (if my argument is in the right ballpark).  Certainly, when we think of domestic and sexual violence as ways that men have exerted power over women, as ways that men have tried to keep women dependent, then women exercising violence against those men would seem a perfect case of the “necessary violence against oppression” that I talked about in my earlier post for today.

But Dustin’s goal is to find ways we can exercise and express freedom without violence.  Are there other ways, then, to experience our dependence on others, ways that don’t involve lashing out against them?  To ask that question leads, it seems to me, to considering what kinds of dependence, what kinds of non-autonomy, are simply insufferable, not to be tolerated?  A tough question.  How to come to terms with our neediness, with our weaknesses?

Feminism (I think here especially of Adrienne Rich’s essays on anger) often tried to claim for women a right to rage and violence, a right that had been exclusively held by men.  A feminist like Rich found that expressing anger was liberating.

But I wonder if that becomes another case where women’s behavior is thinkable, allowable, only if it conforms to predominantly male standards.  Again, the question is whether there is another way to occupy dependence–and maybe feminism can be about exploring those alternatives to traditional male patterns.

Two things occur to me here.  The first is that I have never seen it as very liberating for women to be able to become soldiers.  That doesn’t seem like a right very worth having.  Is becoming like men the only path to freedom?  Especially when the fact that men are responsible for most of the world’s violence is taken into account?

The second is the double bind that bedeviled Hilary Clinton this past election.  If she isn’t a hawk about Syria etc., then she is “too weak” to be leader of the free world (to use an anachronistic phrase).  But when she talks tough, she seems to people a “nasty woman,” unfeminine because not being the nurturing type we want our women to be.

So, yes, it is unfair to ask women to save the world from male pathologies.  But I can’t really endorse women just assuming those pathologies.  That hardly seems like liberation.  To return to Dustin then: the quest is for non-violent expressions of freedom, and the disentanglement of freedom from fantasies of self-sufficiency and sovereignty.

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