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Violence Against Women
"Bitches From Hell: The Politics of Self-Defense"
by Kay Leigh Hagan

Pamphlet from Escapadia Press, P.O. Box 217, Sante Fe, NM 87501

"Warning: The Media May Be Hazardous To Your Health"
Video by Media Watch, P.O. Box 618, Santa Cruz, CA 95061.

Background on the context in which this essay was written.

Date Readings and Video Were Discussed: November 2, 1992
Present: Catherine C., Colleen M., Robin Z., Stephanie R., Kalisa, Gina B., Lisa F., Bobby C., & Cathleen M.

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.

Although 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.

Another festival 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 violence.

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 violence.

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 living arrangements!

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 normalize—and glamorize—violence 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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