Women, Feminism, and Fear, #13: The Worth of Women

Dear Nancy:

Hope you’re having a ball at WisCon !

I think we’re pretty much in agreement about weapons as tools, and pretty serious ones at that. While I actually tend to accept the NRA’s figures on handguns being very useful for self-defense, their political agenda is somewhat different from mine. My agenda is that women are full human beings and should be legally recognized as complete citizens; one part of that is bearing arms in the common defense as part of the community to be defended. While I hold that Title X of the United States Code should be amended to recognize women as members of the unorganized militia, I do not believe that members of the unorganized militia need to be able to own, oh, .50 caliber machine guns. Or even my old friend the 7.62 mm M60. To reduce the right to bear arms to the owning any machine gun one damned well pleases is not only to engage in a reductio ad absurdum, it is also a display of enormous political and intellectual poverty.

I favor handguns as the preferred means of self-defense for the very practical reason that they are such an effective physical equalizer. Even granted that most crimes against women take place in a different context than most crimes against men: i.e., the sexual, which is fraught with all kinds of social values and judgments that have little to do with the actual severity of the crime. Given the disparity in height and weight between the average male and the average female, to discourage women from owning and training with firearms, especially handguns, is to deprive women of our most effective means of self-defense.

My point, however, is not that women who aren’t gun owners are sheep, etc., which I’ve heard said. It’s not only counter-productive, if your purpose is to reduce the number of victims, it’s also wrong. Owning, carrying, and committing yourself to use a weapon to deadly effect is a serious step, not to be done lightly, and far from all people can take it. No more than everyone can commit themselves to the serious study of unarmed self-defense, or weight-lifting. We all have our limits.

However, I do believe that feminism as we currently know and understand it has failed women by refusing to state plainly: just like a man, a woman has an absolute interest in her life and liberty and property, regardless of her relationships. (Like men, women are obligated to fulfill their responsibilities to their dependents.) And just like men, a woman has the absolute right to defend her life and liberty and sometimes her property (for her property is the tangible expression of her time, which is to say her life) by any means necessary. We see the consequences of this refusal played out in the Washington Post article you linked to in Women, Feminism and Fear, #9, in which a female blogger was shut down by threats of sexual torture and murder, and no one in the article suggested that she (or her supporters) take prudent steps to defend herself and warn the man who terrorized her that his behavior would not be tolerated. (Amongst other, far broader, contexts as well.)

I have come to believe that feminism refused to adopt such a position of encouraging women to violently defend themselves against violence, to include vigorously defending them in court to force the law to recognize women’s “special” circumstances because this meant accepting the physical, emotional and moral burdens (some) men pay to keep what is theirs. And as a politically organized movement (and far too many individuals), in the aftermath of the anti-Vietnam War movement, feminism could simply not do such a thing: our war in and against Vietnam was a dreadful tragedy but the protest movement was an ugly, grotesque carnival superimposed upon the tragedy of that war that has tainted everything it touched.

But that as they say, was then; this is now. In the end, how we got to this point is moot: in the Wars of the Ways that are now upon us, the human and civic status of women, especially in the developing world, is one of the most important and yet least remarked-upon issues. If feminism is to have any future, especially American feminism, it must assert women’s equal human worth, which includes their equal right and responsibility to self-defense and participation in the common defense. (I write this as opponent of the Iraq War since before it was begun.)

What matters is less with what particular means a woman chooses to exercise that right and responsibility, than the flat repudiation of the notion that engaging in effective self-defense means stooping to the level of our attackers or our enemies.

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