Being anti-state does not equal being pro-freedom: Misogyny and the imagined "Circle of Protection" in progressive communities

This post is not intended to be a blind celebration of the police. Let’s not pretend as though the police are not largely representative of  white male power and authority. But that does not mean I am anti-criminalization or anti-state. As feminists and as women, we need the state on our side.

When I read two posts published recently, addressing “safe space” and misogyny in activist communities, specifically in the Occupy Vancouver community, I had high hopes. But that sentiment was quickly replaced by a sinking feeling. Building a safer space, according to these two pieces, “Safety Within Social Movements Is Everyone’s Responsibility” & “On Safer Spaces,” meant depending on the activist community to protect you. Specifically, women and other marginalized folks were meant to rely on a “Circle of Protection” to defend them from harassers and abusers.

It sounds nice in theory. As a young person, first delving into radical theory and, specifically, anarchism, I too dreamed of a utopian community that would defend their own. No need for the cops! Abusive and violent men would be shunned and ostracized by egalitarian communities – “kicked off the island,” one might say.

On one hand I was glad that activists were addressing the fact that oppressive structures and behaviours like racism and misogyny are often replicated in progressive spaces:

“The fluid community of Occupy Vancouver has been plagued by abuse, neutrality towards that abuse and even support of that abuse. Calls to “just let it go” or “move on” are demeaning to the safety of the women, people of color and other marginalized groups in our movement and will no longer be tolerated. “

But the solution troubled me. The suggestion that women in progressive movements should depend on a “Circle of Protection” that exists within those communities  is one that, from my perspective, misses the fact that women are often violated and assaulted by the very people who are meant to protect them. It is not uncommon for assault to go unreported in anarchist and activist communities specifically because women are discouraged from calling the cops, essentially leaving these men free from accountability.

When women are abused by those who claim to be their protectors and then are told not to involve the police because the police are the real oppressors, where do they go?

There have been numerous accounts of women being raped in situations and settings that are meant to be freeing or liberating. Festivals like Woodstock ’99 saw horrific accounts of women being gang raped while bystanders continued with their fun and dancing. Rainbow Gatherings, the hippie-peace-free-love ethos is pushed on women in order to pressure them into letting go of their boundaries (aka: letting douchey dreadlocked white dudes give them massages). There are many accounts of attempted (and, I’m sure, successful) rapes at these Gatherings. The entire “free love” movement of the 60s has been called out repeatedly by feminists who say that all it did was to apply “a new set of imperatives on women’s behavior, a compulsion to say yes that was as inhibiting as the injunction to say no.”

And even if we we don’t consider these events or movements to be necessarily activist movements, the point remains that self-described progressive communities have never protected women from abusive men. Often, a libertarian or anarchist ethos has been used to pressure women into accepting misogynistic treatment silently and peacefully.

Above all that, I just have a really big problem with discouraging women from involving the police when they’ve been victimized. Under reporting is a huge problem – many statistics say that between 75%-95% of rapes go unreported. We are all well aware that most women who experience domestic violence don’t report either. Basically, men who abuse think they will get away with it because they do, for the most part, get away with it.

Let me tell you a story about a self-proclaimed “progressive,” anti-cop community. During my mid-twenties urban-girl-has-quarter-life-crisis-that-leads-her-to-believe-she-must-live-in-a-tent phase, I moved to a small, rural, island community. These places are attractive to city folks who have fantasies that, somehow, these kinds of places have escaped hierarchy and are more liberated, community-minded, progressive, and peacey than cities are. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. In part, because these communities often hang on to these fantasies themselves.

In my experience, the “oh how wonderful that all the adults and the kids and the teenagers all go to the same parties – we’re breaking boundaries!” thing is less “good, clean, community fun” than it is “old drunk guy offering to drive young drunk girl home while everyone turns a blind eye or is too high to care”.

When I arrived on this island, I was told almost immediately, by several people, that there were no cops on the island for a reason. Not only did “we” not want them, but “we” didn’t need them. The “we” who were telling me this were, in large part, white men. These men also explained to me that there was no need for police on the island because “the community” would take care of its own. That “we” (again, the “we” = white men) would take care of abusive men by physically throwing them off the island and/or by insuring these misogynists knew they were not welcome. And yet, strangely, there were still stories of assault and abuse on the island. Many of these men still lived and partied in this community while many others turned a blind eye. No one wanted to upset the fantasy, which also meant that a lot of oppressive behaviour and abuse went unaddressed.

The truth was that many in the community believed themselves to be above the law and/or wanted to avoid the law because they were doing illegal things. They weren’t about protecting women, they were about protecting themselves.

We heard rumours about teenage girls being violated at parties and hit on by 50 year old men. And yet no one was being kicked off the island. And still, according the white men, “we” still didn’t need cops sniffing around on the island.

Eventually, when I left an abusive relationship, I called the cops. And, strange thing – people stopped speaking to me. They stopped making eye contact with me. I was being ostracized. Not the abusive man. Nope. He was still at all those parties, driving home drunk with teenage girls in his truck. I was uninvited. I was longer welcome on the island.

The men who had explained to me that “we” didn’t need cops because “we” lived in a progressive community wherein “we” took care of one another turned out to be either the abusers or the ones who protected the abusers. It was a greater crime to go to the police than it was to abuse women.

And therein lies my concern with “Circles of Protection”. I simply don’t trust a “Circle” of anarchists or radicals to protect me. If I am assaulted I want to not only be able to call the cops and expect them to address the issue, but I want to be encouraged and supported in doing that. Not shamed for “going to the man”. I want the state on my side. I need the state on my side.

In one of the posts I reference above “On Safer Spaces,” the author writes that this “Circle of Protection” is based on four goals:

1.Empowerment – To trust in our possibilities, in our concepts and our own definitions. We must build this power because we come from dis-empowered positions.

2.Autonomy – The refusal to rely on existing structures to act from our own positions of empowerment outside of institutions entrenched in oppressive power structures. Building our own methods and structures so that we are creating the world we want now.

3.Self-Defense – Our inherent right to defend ourselves from aggressors/abusers.

4.Safety/Safer Spaces – A space where emotional, physical and spiritual well-being are respected. When these are challenged, we are able to maintain our autonomy and right to self-defense so that we may act to make our spaces safer.

Let me just start by saying this. I do not want to have to defend myself from my abuser. I simply don’t want to be abused. I want existing structures and institutions to understand power and the dynamics and gendered nature of abuse and assault and to address that via legislation. I do not want, in any way, to have to rely on some self-declared “Circle of Protection” that may or may not include abusers, to defend me.

Having the “right to self-defense” and having “autonomy” in a space that discourages state intervention or criminalization of abusers does not feel safe to me. To me, making progressive change and creating an equitable society must move beyond individualism, which is what this statement seems to represent. Maintaining my autonomy means that my government, the government that is meant to represent me, creates laws that protect me.

I appreciate the goal of creating a equitable society but I also believe that the only people in society who have the freedom to reject the state and to denounce the criminalization of abusers are people who already have a huge level of privilege and who already feel safe in progressive communities. If you walk around this world feeling free, then it’s easy to say that you don’t need the protection of the state and that you don’t need the law. If you already have power and privilege it’s easy to argue that you can protect yourself, that you don’t need the police to protect you.

Michael Laxer wrote, in a similar vein:

“Rules and law protect regular and innocent people. They are safeguards against arbitrary actions by corporations, governments or self-appointed vanguards and we should not get rid of them. Our forebears on the left died to create the context in which we now work and joining the right in trying to rip it down will help no one.”

In other words, structure and law is not the enemy. Those who oppose the state and who are opposed to criminalization in it’s entirety* are fooling themselves if they think this is a progressive move. Wonder why the far right is anti-state? Because without it, the privileged and the powerful would have even more freedom to reign without restriction.

Ostracizing abusive men from progressive communities doesn’t work because progressive communities are full of abusive men (just like everywhere else in this world). Feminists have fought for decades to get legislation that protects their rights – and we are supposed to give this up in favour of relying on activist men to protect us?? I don’t think so. You don’t get to protect your weed crop at my expense, my hippie friend. Your illegal activity does not take precedence over my right not to be abused.

When I am assaulted I will call the cops, not the anarchists.


*edited on May 5, 2012 for clarity



Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • Mary Sunshine

    Legislation will not protect us. Female strongholds will. Females will *never* be safe in the presence of human males.

    • Mary’s right. These “power structures” will always inevitably lead to women’s victimization by men as long as they are of male origin and composition. The victim of abuse turns to Power Structures That Do Not Consist Primarily Of The Abuser’s Friends, in this case, the cops. When the abuser is The Cops, the victim turns to civil court. And so on. The critical failure in all of these models? Men. Men will ever fall into lock-step with other men in defense of men’s right to rape women.

  • euroReader
  • This was a great post, Meghan. Your story on the Island is very creepy, has a manson-family feel to it, actually. I understand the resentment towards the police, though, but i do not think that means anarchists should be protecting women. It bothers me how much rape and abuse goes on in the occupy movement – do they think they can create change while shitting on women? I know a lot of anarchist groups tend to go to random, remote locations – farms etc, to have these massive gatherings…but the whole idea sounds scary to me, who the hell is keeping the drunk dudes in check? When there’s forest all around, out in the middle of nowhere, it’s easy to get away with anything…that’s horrifying to me. That’s not progressive. I think more women need to realize that men on the left are not without faults – many of them still take part in woman-hating behaviors, under the guise of being “free” and “uninhibited”

    • Meghan Murphy

      I completely understand the resentment towards the police. Completely. The police have never been on the side of the marginalized – people of colour have, particularly, been further marginalized and abused by the cops. That said, I really hate the implication that people should *not* call the cops and report assault or rape for the reason that it’s “selling out” or something. And I think we need to hold the cops accountable for their behaviour, not just say “oh, we’re above the law – we will deal with this on our own.”

      I mean, I remember someone saying to me that what we should do to “resolve” the situation between me and my abusive ex would be to have some kind of community circle of accountability or something which would be me, sitting in a room with my abuser – basically an opportunity to for him to further attack and manipulate me and the community and re-victimize me. I mean, that’s not a solution to me. Women shouldn’t have to do mediation with abusive partners, they should be protected from them. Solutions like that just show a complete lack of understanding around the dynamics of abuse/abusers.

      • Some Dude

        While I’m 99.9% with you on this subject(I only dispute some of your analysis on the nature of the state, and a couple statements which could be construed as a sweeping generalization of the entire radical left), don’t you think that aside from the fact that the state can physically force the convicted rapist from society and into prison, a rape trial could have the same results as this “circle of accountability” nonsense? For one thing I have read many rape victims’ complaints about their treatment by police, then there are DA’s who won’t prosecute(wouldn’t want to ruin Johnny’s life so early, he got a full-ride scholarship to play football!), and then the victim is likely going to be compelled to recount the event in court, in the presence of the perpetrator, whose defense attorney is going to hammer her on cross(and like it or not, that’s his or her job).

        As for these communes(I have no love for them), I think it’s bullshit how they say they’ll take care of those problems and kick those people out- then they don’t kick anybody out. I remember watching an anarchist video which basically made a similar argument. Sorry guys, but until the revolution(which will inevitably require the replacement of the state with another), rape is a criminal matter which must be dealt with. The idea that a movement which “isn’t based on power” will somehow eliminate rape or abuse based on that alone is simply childish. Moreover, groups which advertise that they avoid all interactions with police are basically putting out ads to predators. It’s one thing to not admit cops into the organization, or tell people not to talk to police(to avoid self-incrimination), but it’s wholly inappropriate to tell women not to report a rape to the police. In fact I would suggest that activists encourage women to report a rape if a female member brings it up.

        Now here’s where I need your help. Suppose I’m a member of an activist organization. We do no illegal activity but we do have to worry about cops because these days, one need not engage in anything illegal to get arrested or at the least, constantly harassed and sabotaged. Suppose I am tasked by the group with writing a policy dealing with the subject of rape and sexual abuse and how it should be dealt with by the group and in conjunction with the law. What advice can you give which would A. Protect the integrity of the group from the ill-will of the state, and B. Ensure that female members can have full confidence of their safety within the group.

        • Meghan Murphy

          My advice would be to support the female members in reporting rapes and assaults to the police as well as ensure that all members of the group know that rape, assault, and abuse will not be tolerated.

          • Some Dude

            Thank you. I also think that education aimed at the men in the group would be more effective and pro-active. I would want to prevent these incidents from happening in the first place.

  • Nezumi

    The idea that a community would just kick out the abusive people should be creepy even if it was done flawlessly. What would keep him from finding a new group and a new set of potential victims somewhere he wouldn’t have to worry about his bad reputation? It’s a really shortsighted and irresponsible way to handle a problem.

    • Hari

      I hear you in one way, Nezumi. And yet banishment has been a time-honored way for people to deal with those who violate others and the social code. Prison time has pretty serious limitations on ‘healing’ violators (and some would say it only makes them worse), and it’s also hard to get–working through the justice system is no guarantee of conviction. Over time, if someone is banished and moves on, gets banished again–well then, either that person will change in order to have a community, or at least word will get around to other communities. That said, I completely agree that the police should be involved in this stuff. I don’t think its enough, given its limitations, so I like the idea of banishment as well.

      But, from what I’ve experienced of so called progressive (bro-gressive, man-archist) movements as long ago as the 80s and as recently as Occupy, misogyny and male privilege are exceedingly alive and well still. My main recommendation to womyn tends to echo Mary Sunshine–organize and work on our own. Don’t count on respect and accountability from the men, and take care of our own safety. Maybe if we do that, eventually the men will look around and realize how few womyn will actually work with them, and how many womyn-only groups are operating. It might help open their eyes. Not that we should hold our breath, not in the least–only that we should get on with our business in all ways, with NO reliance on the men for our safety, and trusting ourselves to do a great job without men’s input if that’s what it takes to insure our safety while promoting social change. It will be irrelevant whether or not the men’s eyes get opened.

      Great piece, Megan.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Thanks Hari. In this situation it wasn’t only the men but also some of the women who supported the abuser (and supported other abusers on the island). The community didn’t have any understanding around how abusive men work, how manipulative they could be and did a lot of victim blaming stuff. Women also stopped speaking to me because I called the cops and because that was breaking an unsaid rule on the island. Again, part of it was concern for protecting their illegal activities – the other part was just plain ignorance.

        • Hari

          Megan–” it wasn’t only the men but also some of the women who supported the abuser (and supported other abusers on the island). The community didn’t have any understanding around how abusive men work, how manipulative they could be and did a lot of victim blaming stuff.”

          This was my experience as well, and something I’ve seen play out a lot for other womyn victimized by abusive men. The thing is, among reasonably emotionally healthy people, we recognize that there is such a thing as a ‘relationship problem’–that is, problems that arise between 2 people due to incompatibility or by mutual contributions to strife. The responsibility is generally assumed to be shared–we think, typically, either these 2 people need to agree they are incompatible and break up, or they both need to work on the relationship together…each deal with their own faults, each become more loving, better communicators, whatever.

          But when someone is abusive, this is not a relationship problem created equally by both parties. Being abusive is the abuser’s problem alone; the problem is the abuser’s intense need for control over his partner. Most people do not understand this difference between reasonably emotionally healthy people, and abusers, from outside the relationship. Often, even strong intelligent womyn with self respect do not understand the difference until it’s too late and they are sucked into the cycle of abuse–be that physical, emotional or both.

          Womyn, I’ve found, often do not really get this difference until they get into an abusive relationship themselves. Men may not ever get it, unless they are witness to overt abuse of someone they care about and it really makes them think–because men so seldom are exposed to abuse by womyn in the same manner as womyn are exposed to abuse by men. They don’t usually see it, because abusers usually save their worst for behind closed doors–and because they are so good at manipulating others’ perceptions of events, and of themselves. That very skill at manipulation is what allows them to get close to womyn in the first place. They know very well that what they do is cruel and hateful, and they know just how it is so–because they are quick to pick up cues from their prey on how best to manipulate her feelings. The abuser seeks control over everyone around him, in his quest to have control over his target–he figures out from a womyn how best to get control and he does what he does intentionally.

          The same thing happened to me as to you–womyn I’d been friends with for years stopped speaking to me on behalf of my abuser, whom no one had known long at all. The way I broke their rules was different from the way you did–but I broke their rules for dealing with what they thought was ‘just a relationship problem’, and this was a serious offense of our unspoken community rules. The interesting thing in my case is that some womyn I hardly knew ended up coming to my side to give support–because they’d been in abusive relationships themselves. They believed me and saw signs in all of it that they recognized.

          What I’ve seen in the progressive community though, as male dominated as it is, is that often even womyn who have been abused in some way by their fellow activists (whether personally, or in the general way of being silenced and expected to follow and wait on the men) will not support a womyn who says she’s being victimized by a man in their ranks. They want the men’s validation and ‘friendship’–they want the guys to think they’re just as cool and transgressive and idealistic as the men are–and they want to remain involved in work they feel is important, even if their place in it is subordinate to the men. Womyn in progressive groups that include men seem to have little or no sense that womyn on our own could make as important an impact on the world by ourselves, as we can with men on board. And no wonder–in patriarchy, men are the real human beings and womyn are merely the sex-class.

      • Nezumi

        It depends on how the prisons work. Putting people in an abusive environment where criminality is the norm and often the only way to move through social circles (i.e. modern US prisons) obviously doesn’t help people learn pro-social behavior. Norway is experimenting with more humane prisons that actually work toward building social and life skills without giving abusers free access to victims. Pupils, they don’t call people “prisoners,” spend most of the day working, playing and learning skills like cooking rather than staring at a blank wall. Guards, half of whom are women, regularly sit down to meals and talk with their charges.

        Our justice system is revenge centered, and I have a hard time seeing banishment as much different. Much better to keep the person under watch and provide the help they need.

        “Over time, if someone is banished and moves on, gets banished again–well then, either that person will change in order to have a community, or at least word will get around to other communities.”

        I’m just not seeing it. Why would he improve his behavior rather than target communities that will ignore it, or learn to better manipulate people, or create a community of his own where he controls the social order (see Manson, Warren Jeffs, etc)? Without some kind of centralized system there’s really nothing to limit how unfair a community can be except their ability to keep members, and we see how easy it is to get people to stay if they’re kept ignorant and afraid. I’d have a hard time believing that all, or even most, groups would do a better job than is done now.

        • Hari

          You make a good point, Nezumi. I agree, our penal system is largely revenge based, and clearly does not work to rehabilitate most–quite the opposite in too many cases. The Norway experiment sounds great, and I hope we hear good results come out of it as years go by.

          The issues with men who abuse womyn are somewhat different than others convicted of crimes like stealing or assault. The latter might well learn more skills–social and vocational/educational–and thus be far better prepared to live a reasonably normal, productive life. Those who seek to exert power and control over those more vulnerable than themselves, as years of evidence shows, have especially deep-seated psychological issues that are extremely difficult to access for change. One of the primary issues is that these men only very rarely will admit they have a problem and do serious therapy to heal themselves. Of course, part of the problem is social, in that they are so good at finding support from people who don’t see their problems. With any social support at all, these people are able to uphold their belief that they don’t have a problem.

          Which of course means that getting them banished would be unlikely to happen anyway. A long time ago, banishment (and threat of it) would have been more effective than it can be now. This is partly because societies were smaller and tended to have more unified value systems–everyone agreed what was right and wrong. Also, to be cast out was a serious risk–to seek community elsewhere would give no guarantee of finding it, because other groups would be wary of someone all alone, an outsider (because they might have been cast out elsewhere, for one thing. Now, people are so mobile and it is not uncommon to travel alone to new places to work and otherwise integrate into a new community.

          Maybe I’m just dreaming of groups forming (such as the progressive groups) which at the outset develop codes of conduct with real consequences involved for failing to live by that code. There is an American-based environmental movement now forming, called Deep Green Resistance, a radical call to action based on Derrick Jensen’s work (see One thing that initially attracted me to it was the fact that they have such a code of conduct and desire to be non-patriarchal. They talk about the great failing of contemporary anarchist/leftist groups in rejecting the idea of a social code, the interpersonal abuses that tend to be rampant and how this shows the necessity for having one. It would be great to be part of a group like that, knowing that abuse would not be tolerated.

  • Stewart

    Quoting the article:

    “I appreciate the goal of creating a equitable society but I also believe that the only people in society who have the freedom to reject the state and to denounce the criminalization of abusers are people who already have a huge level of privilege and who already feel safe in progressive communities. If you walk around this world feeling free, then it’s easy to say that you don’t need the protection of the state and that you don’t need the law. If you already have power and privilege it’s easy to argue that you can protect yourself, that you don’t need the police to protect you.

    Ostracizing abusive men from progressive communities doesn’t work because progressive communities are full of abusive men (just like everywhere else in this world). Feminists have fought for decades to get legislation that protects their rights – and we are supposed to give this up in favour of relying on activist men to protect us?? I don’t think so. You don’t get to protect your weed crop at my expense, my hippie friend. Your illegal activity does not take precedence over my right not to be abused.”

    It is correct that the freedom to reject the state and the measures it provides to keep people safe is definitely a freedom that is larger for those who already have power and privilege in society. At the same time, however, the same state and police also simultaneously contributes and facilitates the oppression of marginalized peoples.

    I have personally witnessed in social movements women who have been sexually assaulted and who have attempted to utilize alternatives to engaging the police and the state’s legal system in response. And I have seen these women, who didn’t involve the police and state’s legal system, subsequently ostracized and/or the assaulting man’s side be overwhelmingly supported over that of the woman in question and/or the issue to merely be dealt by pretending to ignore the metaphorical 800 pound gorilla in the middle of the room.

    The reality is that the dominant culture of capitalist/imperialist/hierarchist societies like that we live in means that it shapes and influences *everybody* that exists within it — even people who believe they have rejected such ideologies. This is why that progressive/radical movements are yet full of abusive relations and individuals. And this reality isn’t going to be transcended any time soon.

    The fear and consequence of social ostracization is grounded in actual experiences and real social dynamics — **even when the police and the state’s legal system are not involved**. Now, I am all for the abolishing of the police state and hierarchist legal systems. The four goals that the authors alludes to “On Safer Spaces” needs a conditional clause that also makes it safe for people who despite the stated goals and sentiments of the activists which agree to it — also makes the space safe for a person if the person yet doesn’t feel that the space is safe for them and the responses to the perpetrator have failed. We have to both aspire and develop mechanisms and spaces which are effectively safe, but we have to also be realistic and prepared for when those safer spaces fail and the supposed responses against threats fail within the community. Until we reach a solution for this, until violated women do indeed feel safe and violators are indeed effectively and meaningfully dealt with, it is pragmatic that we don’t make women feel unsafe and powerless when supposed safe spaces actually aren’t and the responses in fact fail to address the violator and violation sufficiently, especially when the responses actually further traumatize the woman in question by making her feel even more unsafe and even more powerless. Rather than punishing a woman for resorting to the police and legal system because the real world environment and responses of supposed safe spaces have failed, activist/radical communities should take it as a cue that they have serious contradictions and toxic dynamics within their community sphere that has manifested itself by the community’s failure to effectively deal with it — and that the woman’s choice to involve the police and the state’s legal system is an indication that the community needs to do some serious house cleaning and soul searching

    As an anarchist, I do understand this. This, however, doesn’t mean that all anarchists understand this, of course. This is a serious problem and a serious issue within social movements in general. My opposition against centralized, verticalized forms of governance notwithstanding, I am also opposed to fostering dynamics that make those with less privilege and less power end up feeling even more powerless. If a woman within my radical community feels unsafe to rely upon the radical community and/or the radical community’s response fails to make the woman feel empowered and safe, I am not going to ostracize her for involving the state’s legal system. I am going to take it as a blaring klaxon that the radical community has failed her — and not that she has failed the radical community.

  • Ramona

    Thanks for another honest and thought-provoking piece, Meghan. Once again you’ve addressed the elephant in the room.

    There was a story that made the rounds on Facebook regarding a girl here in Toronto who had been completely ignored by the police (who were everywhere, BTW, and hanging out chatting in groups) during the last Nuit Blanche, directly after being pursued and intimidated by two men in a public bathroom. It really just demonstrates that women’s concerns are routinely minimized and/or dismissed by the police.

    I was stalked myself for a period of time. He was delusional and drug-addicted casual acquaintance, who actually believed I had no right to (very politely) reject his advances. I contacted the police after a very scary encounter in public (which, surprise surprise, not one bystander deigned to help me with.) The male police officer actually made a casual joke about what had happened (a move which was, predictably, not attempted by his female cohort.) I mean, there are times when humour is appropriate, and then there are times when it really is not. I didn’t pursue any charges, frankly, because I was afraid. Just hoped they would contact him and scare him away. Sometimes I see him in public, and each time he makes some kind of creepy comment, and I walk the other way while my adrenaline races and nausea sets in.

    Hari, I completely identify with what you’ve said about “bro-gressive” misogyny. Unfortunately the culture is so steeped in misogyny, that it isn’t even recognizable as such and very difficult to point out in a concise and easily digestible way. At least in my experience, some of these guys are so busy painstakingly identifying with “subversive” subcultural tropes (often involving substance abuse and the consumption of women in the sex industry/glamorized forms of violence against women) that they are in complete denial about who is the real underdog here (i.e. women.) They really have to go out on a limb to assume our point of view, and in fact, accept a complete reversal of their taken-for-granted reality, which is nothing less than mind-blowing.

    So many of us have encountered situations wherein men’s behaviour goes inexplicably beyond our boundaries, where he simply does not comprehend the logic of respect and dignity, and where reasoning is utterly useless despite the best and most drawn-out efforts. I think we like to believe the best of people, but how to deal with the worst? And whom do we trust? I’m encouraged by the efforts you cited. Clearly there is a lot of work to be done.

    • Hari

      Ramona: “They really have to go out on a limb to assume our point of view, and in fact, accept a complete reversal of their taken-for-granted reality, which is nothing less than mind-blowing.”

      You said it. It IS mind blowing, and it involves realizing how much of an entitled asshat you’ve acted like toward womyn for most of your life. Way too painful for most to entertain, regardless of the good for themselves and everyone else that can result from travelling through that stage.

  • AD

    Good article! I will say, as an anarchist, I would be pretty intensely pissed if any victim of abuse was given the least bit of shit for calling the cops or using the legal system. Anti-capitalist movements in the U.S. are at an embryonic stage, plagued by patriarchy and definitely do not have the alternative institutions, experience or consciousness in place to deal with these issues. The difference between a traditionally-stateless society or a revolutionary society that has gone through generations of culture-building & change – and current movements perhaps should be emphasized by more folks within them..instead of pretending these activist “communities” accurately reflect what we want to build.

  • na

    One thing that’s not being said here: what if the person being abused/stalked CHOOSES not to involve the police? Should the activists around hir force a social reconciliation so that all involved can ‘move on’ for the ‘greater good of the movement’? no. I don’t think anyone here is suggesting that, are they? So what then? Should not those who care about the safety of non-conforming folks, those who are often made marginal by the structural/automatic violence of the society that affirms patriarchy (…etc/hegemony), simply refuse to take a stand together and make a written and physical statement of solidarity and strength in diversity? A circle of protection isn’t an agency, a gang, or a police squad — it’s the presence of comrades who have your back and want to share their support for you and your decisions.

    sounds terrible, I suppose, to anyone willing to accept safety on the basis of conformity.

    feminist separatists who persist in using a gender binary to define who and where is safe within social movements poison the well for any non-binarist/genderqueer/trans/gender liberated person who might share their struggle. too bad patriarchy’s’ not the only form of social hierarchy and oppression…

    • Meghan Murphy

      “Feminist separatists”? To whom are you referring? What what exactly does my post have to do with any feminist “persisting in using gender binaries”? I think you are a little confused?

    • Ramona

      Na, there’s no question that everyone, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or class, should be equally supported in cases of intimidation, abuse or worse. But please keep in mind that, when we actually identify our attackers and the cultural dynamic surrounding the abuse, we are not “oppressing” or enforcing a hierarchy or conformity, nor are we misusing “gender binaries.”

    • Missfit

      na: ‘too bad patriarchy’s’ not the only form of social hierarchy and oppression…’

      Too bad feminism’s raison d’être is to fight the specific oppressions women face because of patriarchy…

      This post illustrates exactly why, in any social ‘progressive’ movement, feminism must always be a priority if women ever want to be free.

    • I have seen anarchist communities again and again fail to hold males accountable for sexual violence against women, so thank you, Meaghan, for writing this post.

      No, I don’t like the cops, but there needs to be a way to get some outsiders involved when people within a community don’t care about some individual(s), whether that person be female, male, or transgendered. In my experience, though, it ends up being a female experiencing sexual violation from a male who gets threatened, bullied, and shunned (as if the actual violence she is/was experiencing isn’t bad enough). How does naming what we have witnessed (or experienced) “poison the well” for transgendered individuals? Are we supposed to just say “some people sexually violate other people?” Funny how that invisibilizes the perps…and who benefits from that?

  • Radfem

    I think , na, you’re also very confused about what separatist feminists stand for. We’re not talking “gender binary” , identity ,we’re talking politics and political strategies. You may not agree with it , that’s ur prob , sorry , ur “choice” , but plz , avoid caricaturing .Radical feminism in general tackles all the issues : sexism, capitalism, racism . I have never heard a third waver being an “anti-capitalist” , or even anti-sexit , u know , it’s all about being subversive, should we go for trans-racism ???? , and most of you guys , found nothing better than being cultural relativists . So , plz , radical feminism is complex , lesbianism is complex , learn , and then we talk .

  • While the claim that anarchist and other alternative community justice structures manifest fail can hardly be contested, that doesn’t mean the state succeeds. Promoting law as the feminist choice has wildly pernicious implications on both the theoretical and practical level. Using the cops as a weapon against another violent folks may turn out well at times, but trusting police makes no more sense than trusting manarchists.

    • In my opinion, doing what supports women, especially women in desperate circumstances, is supporting women. If the alternative community “structures” fail, I do support women calling the cops. We don’t live in an egalitarian utopia, so we end up making use of the structures available to us.

      I find it interesting how for things such as prostitution, DV, and non-paid rape, women are told, “the law can do no good.” I do not see men scolded in the same way. In general, people do not talk about how there should not be laws against murder, even though such laws are employed disproportionately against the disenfranchised.

  • Uh… you do know what cops do to women, especially prostitutes, right? The cops are not a solution. I have to agree with Mary Sunshine as well.

    I wrote this entry for funfems who coo about the cops. You’re not a funfem by any stretch, but my arguments would be similar:

  • a very late response to this article:

    • Meghan Murphy

      Aw. The ‘male-bodied’ human is all choked that a lady would dare critique anarchists 🙁

      This response has lots of funny parts (the ‘male-bodied’ identification was pretty cute), but the funniest is when the author accuses me of defending capitalism. Good one.

  • What a fantastic piece of truth-telling, Meghan. Your accumulated archive of writing here is so incredibly rich! Again, my deepest thanks to you for your amazing work.

  • Jess

    This is exactly *why* I’m becoming a police officer and applying to the VPD sex crimes unit. I don’t care how much occupational sexism or harassment I face, we need more women in the police force who give a shit about victims of sexual violence. I grew up in the alternative/anti-establishment scene, and I know I shouldn’t be shocked but I am saddened at how many people have reacted when they found out about my career choice, as if carrying a badge means I leave my feminism and my experiences as a woman and as a victim of sexual violence at the door. I can assure you that I will do everything in my power to punish offenders.

  • Mmmeee

    It’s fascinating, I mean your life, your experiences…