Will there ever be an end to it?

I read the headlines of the morning paper: “Attack on Colorado School, Up to 25 Killed in the Rampage.”

I realize instantly that it is this the news that will push the NATO bombings of Yugoslavia to lesser headlines for the next couple of weeks–more violence, closer to home violence, shocking violence.

“What is wrong with these kids?” the country asks as the bombs continue to fall on the civilians of Serbia, as the deadly sanctions against Iraq continue to kill Iraqi children, as the US population gleefully protects a president it believes is guilty of serial sexual assault and rape.

“What went wrong?” the pundits of this violent country ask. Gun control is again discussed. Increased surveillance of schools is implemented. A list of “warning signs” to detect violent kids is put forth. We take it all in, as if something is being done. And we continue to passively watch the grief of the parents and surviving schoolchildren, asking “How could this have happened? What is wrong with these kids?”

What is wrong? At some point, if we ever want this question to lead us to helpful answers, we need to realize that this violence–the violence against Serbians, against ethnic Albanians, the violence committed against women who find themselves alone in a room with the President, the violence committed against children in a school building–is committed by males, by boys and men.

“What is wrong with males?” is a question few are willing to ask. But it is one of the questions that needs to be asked so that the dynamic of violence in this patriarchal society can be addressed.

It is a question that leads to more questions: Is this violence, this male violence, an inevitable part of human nature, of male nature, of male human nature? Is this the violence of machinery, machinery which humans–human males–have organized and implemented until it replaced their humanness?

The launching of carefully designed, carefully built, carefully paid for cruise missiles into civilian territory.

The racist attacks on ethnic Albanians: the carefully organized campaign to rape women and children, shoot and kill young men, drive families from their homes.

The carefully executed plan by a politician to lure a woman into being alone in a hotel room with him and then raping her.

The careful preparation by teenage boys to acquire guns, sneak them into school, and then blast away the lives of 15 of their peers, killing until they kill themselves.

Is this a violence of “human nature?” Do the never-ending explosions of violence indicate that something, one thing, maybe two or three things, went wrong?

This violence is male violence, indisputably–male violence with occasional direct female participation and token leadershep. No one is suppose to mention the gender composition of the violence, unless to ask: “What more can we do for these males? What more can we give to them so that they will no longer want to be violent?”

Should we give them more affection? More understanding? More affirmation? More money? More space to move around in?

Organized male violence is exasperated by boys’ and men’s experience of pain, of bullying, of deprivation. But what we need to understand is: that is its purpose. Oppression, deprivation, hazing is part of the violent machinery. But the resulting organized and deliberate approach to violence is specific to males. Oppression and deprivation are not specific to males.This organized violence is. The organized violence is carried out to perpetuate organized deprivation. This is not simply a vicious cycle, or a question of the chicken or the egg. It is organized machinery. It is the underpinning of patriarchy, of male supremacy.

Women don’t want to name the gender of violence because we see men’s humanity first and foremost. We want to see their humanity first and foremost. Men are our loved ones. They are part of our families and communities. They are diverse, we can see. Not all of them are violent, and the ones who direcly act with violence are often not violent at all. We don’t want to make men violent, or even more violent, especially not against us, by identifying their organized violence,the maleness of their organized violence, and hold them accountable, insist that they dismantle the man-made, male supremacist machine.

But herein lies women’s violence. It is here, in our deliberate naivity, in our shortsighted hope for ourselves–our hope for love, for acceptance, for safety–within the machinery, that the violence, the collaboration of women, often begins.

Women are certainly capable of direct violence–of using force to destroy the innocent. Women have just as much potential to wield weapons, to hate, to dominate, to kill in aggression. Yet women’s violence within this patriarchal machinery is different. Women’s violence is one of reaction, not organization. It is violence of accommodation, rather than direct participation. If women’s insistence on other women’s passivity can be called violence, then women participate in violence.

Women are not the decision-makers in this society. Yet like every other oppressed group, we participate in violence for the promise of short term, individual safety. Patriarchy, and its machinery of violence, cannot continue without this participation. Patriarchal violence depends on the participation, the indirect violence, of the female journalist who ridicules and scolds a woman just murdered by her batterer for not leaving him to protect her children before she was murdered.

The patriachal machinery of violence depends on women who take men’s violence for granted, and blame their female victims. It depends on the women who are charmed by, and then give their energy and support to, the men who acquire power through violence. It depends on women who support and protect men during and after their violence–violence against girls and women, violence against other races, violence against other countries. It also depends on the indirect violence committed when women pressure other women not to fight back when attacked, lest their attacker gets mutilated or killed, lest women’s effective resistance raises the stakes in men’s war against women, and men’s violence thus becomes a bit less predictable, putting these “pacifist” women’s personal selves at greater risk.

Women are not the decision-makers in this society, but we have the power to change that. We are not the ones who organize violent episode after violent episode, but we have–or rather, can take–the power to resist. We can refuse to collude with male organized violence. We can refuse to excuse male violence. We can refuse to react violently against those with less power than ourselves. We can recognize and support every woman’s and girl’s right to effective self-defense, regardless of the men’s subsequent response. We can insist that men do everything they can do to dismantle it patriarchy and its violent machinery.


This leaves some hard questions: How can we move toward ending the violence? How can women begin to refuse to collude with male violence? Can we resist without resorting to force? Can we legitimately claim to be “non-violent” when more violence results from our refusal to organize resistance? Are we truly “non-violent” if we choose to do nothing when we can do something? At what point does “non-violence” serve the same goal as violence?

Will the violence ever end if we leave it up to men to end it? Can women bring it to an end without a confrontation with male power? Can we confront both effectively and peacefully? What are the non-violent possiblilites? What kind of violence might effective, non-violent resistance expose us to? Are we getting away with calling ourselves peaceful and non-violent when we are simply afraid and unwilling to effectively confront?

As the NATO bombs continue to fall on Yugoslavia, as a president accused of rape continues to run this country, as racists in Serbia continue to rape and kill those of the “wrong” ethnicity, as teenage boys plan their killing rampages on other teenagers, as male violence continues everywhere–everywhere–women need to ask these questions of ourselves and each other. We need to reassess our role within the carefully planned and executed violence of men. And then we need to figure out how to effectively resist.

(c) 1999 Adriene Sere