International Women’s Day: can we imagine prioritising violence?

Today is international womens’ day. I could talk about the history of the day, changes since its foundation, how it was established most strongly in the USSR, and so forth. But I would just be re-gurgitating wikipedia.

I’ll just leave a tangentially related comment.

People (like the UN, or amnesty international) often talk about ‘ending violence against women’. What about just ending violence? That’s not a facetious play on words. It’s the thought: what if the overriding aim of our society and its politics were to as far as possible eliminate violence?

So much of our society works by deploying and using violence. To punish crime, to regulate drug use, to enforce property, to control movement, to resolve geopolitical rivalries, to produce food, to control dissent. It’s like a multi-purpose tool!

And at the same time, so much violence goes on which the system can’t be bothered to stop, despite occasional claims that it wants to. Violence in homes, violence on dates, violence against children. Violence against sex workers and immigrants. Violence against rule-breakers, trans people, homeless people, mentally ill people. Violence by intimidation and mockery and harassment and manipulation. Violence against domestic animals, against food animals, against wild animals. Violent self-harm.

What if the first question asked in every policy decision was, will this increase or decrease the sum of violence in the world? Are we planning how to use violence to solve a problem, or how to heal the victims of violence and change the structure that enabled it?

What if nothing else mattered?

If it didn’t matter what she was wearing, or how many people would enter the country, or what familiar ‘order’ will break down. If it didn’t matter whether they deserved it, or how nice they tasted, or who would be intolerably inconvenienced. If the only accepted arguments were ‘this will mean more violence’ and ‘this will mean less violence’, and everything else only considered as a tie-breaker.

On the one hand, it sounds like a simple, trivial, cliche idea. Of course everyone is against violence, it’s not like you ever hear anyone stand up and say “I support violence!”

But at the same time, I don’t know if I can even imagine what a society like that would look like. A society where the dominant model wasn’t one of authority and order, of “I’m tough enough to bring things under control”, but of healing and nurturing and not trying to control but to soothe and listen.

Because although people are rarely explicit in supporting violence, they are very ready to excuse it, to explain how, regrettably, in this case, under these conditions, against these targets, there’s no alternative. I.e., whatever that alternative is, preventing it is more important than preventing violence.

I fear this is merely a wordstew, and I’m almost certain that it will have little force without a more specific discussion of particular facets of societal violence (it was largely provoked by going to a talk on prison abolition). But that’s what I thought on international women’s day.

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