Where Is the Women’s Army I Was Promised?

The rising recognition of “incels” as a distinct type of domestic terrorist, while disturbing, is not completely surprising to me. Men who are violent against women because women deny them something they think they are entitled to are sadly common. Incels are a particularly disgusting version of misogynist; they have formed communities which organize online and glorify the act of killing women.  They are committing acts of terror – acts of stateless war – against women.

Incels have declared war on women – real war, with attacks and martyrs and so forth. Despite this, no one is suggesting that we organize and fight real battles with incels, marshaling weapons of the state against them. Why not?

The other woman in my writing group is writing a play about how women react to the accumulation of – in the #MeToo era, and the story includes a female vigilante who commits acts of violence against men who harass or harm women. I’m fascinated by this unseen character who is revealed through news clips sprinkled through the play. She reminds me of the women in the movie Born in Flames.

Born in Flames was a sci-fi fantasy movie released in 1983. Society has undergone a socialist revolution and yet violence against women persists which the state does nothing to curtail. Crucially, a women’s army forms and the two heroines must decide whether to join in. The Women’s Army polices the streets, disrupting acts of violence against women. In one memorable scene, a group of women on bikes swarm two guys who are assaulting a woman. You can watch the scene HERE. I loved this movie when I saw it in college, mainly because the two heroines ran radio stations, and so did I. But I also fascinated by the idea of women taking action against violence, and wondered then, as I do now, what form it could take.

Around the time I saw that movie, I took a great self-defense class for women. Thankfully I haven’t had an occasion to use those skills since I took the class twenty-plus years ago, but I hope that I could. Remarkably few women that I know have taken self-defense. Why not?

Why no female vigilantes, no feminist armies, no widespread self-defense training? A lot of the answers to these questions bother me. “Women are less violent, less inclined to fight, less likely to own guns, not as strong as men.” All of these are reductive and stereotypical. Gina Haspel, for example, oversaw torture in her career with the CIA, and may have directly participated in it. Thousands of women abuse their children and their partners. Women fight each other all the time. Tens of thousands of women own guns, posing with them in their college graduation pictures. These stereotypes don’t explain why we have not seen a feminist army or vigilante. And maybe I shouldn’t lump self-defense into this.

I think women don’t take self-defense because it’s not offered as a form of physical education in schools, classes are not widely available and inexpensive, and women may not feel they need it until after they’ve already been threatened. This could be remedied more easily if it were an educational priority, but feminists would need to make it a priority. Since it’s not a panacea for ending violence or solving a host of other problems women face, it’s probably not going to rise on the priorities list.

As for why we don’t have female vigilantes or armies, maybe women who own weapons don’t have the time or inclination to travel the streets at night looking for micro-aggressions to vindicate. Or maybe some of them find another outlet, like joining the military or police force. Or maybe they don’t want to help other women. Or maybe they’re motivated by other mundane reasons, like they have a conscience, or a full time job, or a fear of getting caught.

There are dozens of other movies and books that feature a female vigilante. Another favorite of mine is Imperator Furiosa, the heroine of Mad Max Fury Road. Ironically, Furiosa comes the closest to the type of women who are the real vigilantes in our world by rescuing enslaved girls and fleeing with them to a Promised Land of feminists. Like women who run shelters for battered women, and provide clinic escort services at abortion clinics, she puts herself in danger to protect and liberate women.

Furiosa has no problem using a weapon, even if she has only one hand. She wields a gun and a track better than Mad Max himself at times. But the real heroines of our world keep their vigilance without weapons. They teach, they parent, they heal, they organize, they take back the night. They write, paint, dance, sing, act. Maybe the #MeToo movement and #BlackLivesMatter are our armies.


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