Back in the Seventies I had a study grant from the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration. This was during the first wave of feminism, the theme of which was that women could do, and had the right to do, anything that mainly men had always done. Women were entering law school and medical school and earning MBAs in numbers never before seen, and I wondered whether the same trend would apply to violent crime, another area in which women had never been prominent compared with men. What I found was that feminism was something of a bust in the darker regions. Female criminals were not remotely as violent as male criminals. When women did perform violent acts, they targeted their own bodies more than those of others.
But that was then. Now we’ve had more waves of feminism and women can join the combat units of the military, there was an Oscar-winning movie about a women prize-fighters, every other action movie has a gun-toting female shooter . . . and there’s Wonder Woman! Yet despite all this media encouragement, women still lag behind men in the commission of violence. We have three women on the Supreme Court and yet when someone takes a machine gun and mows down a crowd it’s always a guy. And it’s not that women are inherently nicer than men or less capable of killing. From teens bullying their peers to suicide to Soviet snipers in World War II, it’s hard to argue for a biological barrier to female violence.
And yet we still don’t see it, at least not in real life, at least not to scale. On an average day in America two or three women are murdered by their loved ones; once in a blue moon, a woman strikes back. When women are abused, they cry, they complain, they go to the authorities, they punish themselves, but they almost never draw blood from the man. We talk a lot about “glass ceilings” in business, art, academia and politics, but hardly ever about that one. This, rather than the White House, is the real last frontier of feminism.
Now that the media are full of stories about the sexual depredations of famous men, I have to wonder whether a tad more violence on the part of victims would have led to a different set of stories. If someone had worked Harvey Weinstein’s face over with an icepick way back when, if one of the women drugged and raped by Bill Cosby had gone back to his house with a pistol, if one of the women assaulted in a fraternity house had, instead of uselessly complaining to the university, returned to the scene of the crime with a gasoline bomb, we would be having a different conversation today.
And yeah, it’s against the law and women would go to prison and that’s not fair. The law, or public indignation should suffice to deter men from sexual assault. But it doesn’t, and despite the current revelations, I doubt it will in the future. Think about this: if Donald Trump had hideous scars over his face and one ear and a surgically reconstructed nose, all demonstrably the result of assaulting women, he probably wouldn’t be President today. If you really want to stop the rape culture, it’ll take a revolution and revolutions don’t happen unless lots of people go to jail. Or die. It was true of women’s suffrage, it was true of civil rights, it was true of anti-colonialism and ending apartheid and it’s true here too.
Striking back and risking jail for it is a kind of guarantee of good faith. It destroys both the consensual argument and the “it never happened argument.” It’s hard to argue to the cops, “Hey, I thought it was consensual until she sliced off my dick,” or “I never touched that woman—the fact that I have a nail file jammed into my ear with her fingerprints on it is pure coincidence.” Obviously, if only a few women do this, it will be “those crazy bitches.” If hundreds or thousands do it, it’s a movement and it will change the world.
Or women could decide that, in the end it’s not worth it. At the higher social levels, violent resistance may reduce career opportunities. At the lower, it might take out an abusive breadwinner. That’s an individual choice. But we live in a nation whose primal myth is redemption through violence, in which a bloodbath is worth a dozen lawsuits. Women, think about always carrying something sharp. Go for the face.