Dilar Dirik: Feminist pacifism or passive-ism?

Rally for #BlackLivesMatter in New York City on February 13, 2017. Credit: Erik McGregor/PA Images

Feminist pacifism or passive-ism?

Dilar Dirik, openDemocracy, March 7, 2017

In the face of increasing femicide, sexual violence and rape culture, we need to confront the question of women’s self-defence.

When some white women celebrate the non-violence of women’s marches against Trump and then pose for photographs with police officers while police violence specifically targets people of colour, when Nazi-punchers are accused of being no different from fascists, when feminists in relative safety accuse militant women in the Middle East facing sex slavery under ISIS of militarism, we must problematize the liberal notion of non-violence which disregards intersecting power systems and mechanisms of structural violence. By dogmatically clinging onto a pacifism (or passive-ism?) that has a classed and racial character, and demonising violent anti-system rage, feminists exclude themselves from a much needed debate on alternative forms of self-defence whose objective and aesthetic serve liberationist politics. In a global era of femicide, sexual violence and rape culture, who can afford not to think about women’s self-defence?

Feminism has played an important role in anti-war movements and achieved political victories in peace-building. The feminist critique of militarism as a patriarchal instrument renders understandable the rejection of women’s participation in state-armies as being ‘empowering’. But liberal feminists’ blanket rejection of women’s violence, no matter the objective, fails to qualitatively distinguish between statist, colonialist, imperialist, interventionist militarism and necessary, legitimate self-defence.

The monopoly on violence as a fundamental characteristic of the state protects the latter from accusations of injustice, while criminalising people’s basic attempts at self-preservation. Depending on strategies and politics, non-state actors are labelled as ‘disruptive to public order’ at best, or ‘terrorists’ at worst. The tendency to uphold examples like Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King to make the case for non-violent resistance often blurs historical facts to the point of sanitising the radical and sometimes violent elements of legitimate anti-colonial or anti-racist resistance.

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