The Militants

Black Friday- Suffragettes are beaten and molested by police

Feminism has been called the peaceful revolution, because it has been able to make huge social changes in the west without using violence against individuals: riots, beatings and bombings etc. But is this reluctance to use violence, or more militant aggressive tactics holding us back from further progress? Does it mean that feminism isn’t taken seriously by men as a political movement because its not threatening enough? Although some women might join in with male-lead movements, including riots and violent protests, its pretty much inconceivable to imagine an all-woman riot in which hundreds or thousands of masked women take to the streets to smash shit up, spit at the police and throw homemade Molotov cocktails at cars for The Cause.

The Suffragettes can be split [or should i say patriarchy wants to split them] into two factions- those who used peaceful methods like protests and petitions and worked together democratically, and those headed by Emmeline Pankhurst who used aggressive tactics. They smashed shop windows, torched postboxes and abandoned buildings, broke into private property, grafittied, and cut telegraph lines. They also worked in a hierarchy- like and army. Emmeline Pankhurst demanded total loyalty to the cause and she was nicknamed ‘the General’ by her followers. In her famous speech ‘Freedom or Death’ in 1913 she says ‘I am here as a soldier who has temporarily left the field of battle in order to explain … what civil war is like when civil war is waged by women’.

Just before the outbreak of World War I the campaign for the vote had been going for almost 100 years in Britain and The Suffragettes were becoming increasingly desperate. They had been using explosives as suitcase bombs to blow up empty buildings and it’s my impression they were coming close to real violent action i.e. attacking others, rather than attacking property, but had not crossed that line yet. Without a say in the democratic process this became the only option. These actions are never lauded as the justifiable and courageous acts of freedom fighters, but undermined even now in literature about The Suffragettes as ‘a step too far’ or ‘a hysterical overreaction’.

Do we refuse on principle to use violence because it is so routinely used against us by men? Because we know that a violent retaliation from men is promised everywhere we step out of line? Or are we too afraid to take militant action because of the feminine conditioning we receive: submissiveness, ladylikeness, to be kind and nurturing and to never show anger or aggression? Feminist women are often told that if we just toned it down, used less strident language or behaved more reasonably [i.e. demurely/deferentially] then our ideas would be comprehended and progress would be made. Or, to translate out of patriarchy-speak: ‘if you plead and cajole in a way that is sufficiently feminine we might MIGHT consider giving you that individual thing you want on this one occasion, but first you must demonstrate your commitment to the idea of our superiority and your inferiority by being pleasing to us’.

Could there ever be a justification for feminism having a paramilitary wing? For example, by forming a Women’s Army for our collective defence, whose job is to harm- by literal attack- those systems/governments/organisations and people that oppress/exploit/degrade us? No revolutionary movement related to class oppression- the French/Russian/American Revolutions for example, has had to justify using these methods. And no movement to do with racial oppression- Anti-apartheid in South Africa or Civil Rights in the US, has had to either. There was regrettable violence that was ultimately necessary for wider human freedom and rights, is the tagline of these movements. If women become militarised as a group for the women’s movement [currently unacceptable] instead of being armed individually as part of a state army [currently acceptable in small numbers in some places], will there be such a thing as feminist extremism? Or is it necessary for our full freedom that we have a body of women who will literally police men’s violence towards us where they will not police themselves?

Andrea Dworkin said that for women, the concept of non-violence has to begin with the refusal to be violated, because male notions of non-violence or pacifism never condemned systemic violence against women. In the over-culture it is considered over-aggressive for women to even defend themselves from violence on an individual level. It is called militant to even suggest in writing that women could fight back. To come together and use force as a group is culturally barred for us.
The blogger Nine Deuce has an interesting collection of writings about the war on terror, in which she redefines the American Constitution as belonging to/including women, states that Patriarchy is therefore terrorism against the women-people of America, and declares a real War On Terror:

Edith Garrud- The Suffragette who knew JuJitsu



4 Comments on “The Militants”

  1. KM says:

    I think there have always been feminists who were ‘militant’, in some sense of the word or other. In my own life I’ve witnesses a man who had groped a woman at a party driven out by a crowd of women who literally pushed him out the door chanting ‘out! out! out!’, which felt pretty good. There are plenty of women subvertising sexist ads. German feminist terrorists Rote Zora (I’m not recommending their tactics, but they were definitely militant). And the Canadian Wimmins Fire Brigade who firebombed porn shops in the 80s.

  2. KM says:

    Sorry, more thoughts keep coming into my head… women who work in women’s shelter are seriously hardcore, since they know very well their job puts them in danger of being attacked. And many feminists have had the experience where you see a man being verbally or physically abusive to his partner and you intervene even though this feels like a dangerous thing to do. Lots of small but courageous acts of resistance going on day to day I think, and little acknowledged or talked about.

  3. KM says:

    And I just came across this article about a Mexican activist who was shot 5 times as a result of her work investigating women being trafficked:

    I’m definitely done commenting now!

  4. rachelette says:

    A few months ago I heard about a group of feminists in Vancouver who got sick of how, when women leave abusive relationships, the man almost always gets to keep the house while the woman ends up destitute. So, at the request of survivors, where an abuser is refusing to move out they all move in en masse – so the man comes home, and every room in the house is full of women who tell him they’re not going to go away until he moves out. I love creative direct action.

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