Yes, all women are vulnerable to male violence

Cricketer Mustafa Bashir leaving Manchester Crown Court (Image: Cavendish Press/Pat Isaacs)

What makes a woman invulnerable to male violence? Apparently, if she is “an intelligent woman with a network of friends” and has a university degree.

Despite having beaten his wife with a cricket bat, poured bleach down her throat, and forced her to take tablets while ordering to kill herself, Mustafa Bashir was spared jail time. Judge Richard Mansell QC defended his ruling based on the fact he was “not convinced [Fakhara Karim was] a vulnerable person.”

The notion that intelligent, educated women cannot be victims is an incredibly dangerous one (never mind untrue). It plays into all sorts of stereotypes around what a proper victim should look like — that she should be helpless, meek, passive, isolated, and naive. In making these statements, we not only tell women they should be ashamed and will not be believed, but we erase the fact of male power. These presumptions say that agency erases victimization and that male violence is about the individual circumstances of women, rather than about systems of domination.

Women who have been abused by men have likely already heard things said to or about them that, at their root, question whether the abuse counts — “Why did she stay?” “Why would she let him get away with that?” “She’s a smart woman — she should have known better…”

Smart, strong women with friends and agency are abused all the time by men, and with all this talk of “victim blaming” in recent years, one would think there would be a universal understanding that any woman can be a victim. Yet, this judge is far from alone in his opinions.

In fact, third wavers and the left have been busily constructing an invulnerable woman themselves: the “cis” woman. “Cis” says that all females who understand that they are women or girls are born with privilege — an odd concept to get one’s head around considering that it is specifically being born female that places women in a subordinate class, under patriarchy. But this is, of course, the point. The so-called left, as it has manifested itself among young college students and queer activists,  has adopted the term specifically to dismantle the notion of patriarchy itself. If being born female in this world and being socialized as such equates to holding power and privilege, patriarchy ceases to exist as a true and legitimate system of power.

While certainly there are groups of women on this planet who are particularly vulnerable — poor women, women of colour, and disabled women, for example — it is also true that simply being born female ensures you a lifetime of vulnerability, harassment, fear, and discrimination. But today, “cis” has effectively erased that reality — it has erased the systemic nature of women’s oppression, and the fact that we have no choice in the matter. “Cis” says that it is not females who are oppressed under patriarchy, but people (or folx, if you prefer) — and that oppression is based not on what class of people you are born into, but on one’s internal, chosen, or expressed “identity.” So, for example, if you choose to identify as “non-binary” or “transgender,” you can claim women who are just regular old females hold power and privilege over you. I mean, tell that to a girl born into a brothel, or the countless girls who are sexually abused by male family members, or the girls who are subjected to FGM, or trafficked within their communities. Tell that to a woman who must endure pregnancy because she can’t access an abortion or who is thrown in jail for miscarrying. Tell the women murdered by their partners or ex-partners every day, across the globe. Tell the hundreds of Indigenous women who have gone missing or been murdered, on account of male violence. Do tell these girls and women about their “cis” privilege.

There are other labels queer activists and third wavers use to erase female oppression, like “white” and “middle class.” Trans activist Paris Lees made use of both recently, as a means to dismiss feminist discourse about womanhood.

While white, middle class women do, of course, hold white privilege and class privilege, this does not erase their femaleness. In this case, Lees, like so many liberals are fond of doing, evoked the “middle class white cis woman” trope to imply a lack of vulnerability. In other words, on a scale of one to Paris Lees, the “middle class white cis woman” is at the bottom, in terms of vulnerability. She is irrelevant in terms of conversations about systemic oppression and victimization.

These various labels are used intentionally in order to silence women. They are used consistently by other white, middle class men and women who wish to dismiss and shut down feminist speech. Lees, who was born both white and male, but identifies as a transwoman, wrote a piece a couple of years ago called, “Ban sex work? Fuck off white feminism.”  Of course, the movement to end sexual exploitation of women is led by all kinds of women, including women of colour, exited prostituted women, and working class women, but for the sake of Lees’ argument, it was more effective to pretend otherwise:

“I am both white and a feminist. But I am not what you would call a White Feminist, capital letters, for I am also trans. White Feminism is a special club but membership doesn’t rest solely on race. White Feminism is about privilege. Ladies who lunch and feel hard done by because a man held the door open for them on their way in to the Four Seasons.”

In other words, despite the fact that Lees was born white and male, it is women who hold all the privilege and should not speak about an issue like the sex trade, which predominantly victimizes women and girls (indeed, “cis” women and girls, as Lees would call them). By identifying out of the category “cis,” Lees is able to claim Most Oppressed status, and demand those with the great luck of being born female shut up. Specifically, it is anyone who puts forth a feminist analysis of male violence that names the problem who must shut up, on account of the intentionally invented trope of the “rich white cis female.”

Any woman who takes a feminist position against prostitution or the notion of “gender identity,” you’ll notice, is characterized in this way, in order to position her as “privileged” and therefore a person who couldn’t possibly know a thing about oppression. Beyond that, a “cis” woman cannot express fear of male violence or even name male violence as such, if the male in question has identified his way out of cisism. Once a woman does this, she is discriminating against a vulnerable person — she is even characterized as the perpetrator of violence herself. If this is true, any male who perpetrates violence against women could claim to not be “cis,” thereby identifying into oppressed status, and no longer guilty of a misogynist crime.

Even simply speaking about our female bodies is harmful, oppressive, and violent, these days.

“I doubt that most of the marchers realized they were participating in gender essentialism and violence against transgender people,” Nian Hu wrote for The Harvard Crimson, in reference to the pussy hats and uterus signs so many brought along to the Women’s March in January.

I mean, really. Let’s think about this…

Women wore pussy hats in protest of Donald Trump’s infamous “grab them by the pussy” line. That is to say, women were protesting sexual assault perpetrated against women, not because they identified with femininity, but because they had vaginas, which, in a rape culture, are seen as up for grabs. They carried signs with uteruses on them because the Trump administration doesn’t believe women should have control over their own reproductive capacity. And this somehow constitutes “privilege” and “violence”??

The ongoing use of the “privileged woman” trope, as it is used by third wavers and leftists, does not exist to address systems of oppression — it exists to erase them, and to silence those who dare center women in their activism.

If we refuse to understand that male violence is something that targets all women — that we are all vulnerable to simply on account of being female — we accept and normalize it.

Mary Mason, CEO of Solace Women’s Aid, told The Independent that “One of the things that a lot of victims of domestic abuse say is that they’ve not been believed because either they’re well educated, or they’re well-dressed, or they’re middle class or they speak English.” Mason said that 33-year-old Fakhara Karim “felt humiliated and now feared for her life,” yet Judge Mansell felt confident in determining that because of what would be described as “privilege” by the liberal feminist brigade, she could not possibly be a victim.

Karim was not choked in public, hit in the back with a cricket bat, called a “slag” for socializing with her friends, and threatened with murder by a person, as a person — she was attacked as a woman, by a man. That is how domestic violence works, time and time again. It is not gender neutral, nor does it care about a woman’s education, intelligence, or internal “identity.”

It is here we can see how dangerous identity politics can be — in applying these particular identities to women in order to construct them as invulnerable, we fail to protect them and offer them justice. We fail to address the socialization, institutions, industries, and systems that allow and encourage male violence against women. We fail to understand that patriarchy doesn’t care about a woman’s feelings or about whether or not she identifies with the gender imposed on her — it cares only that she was born with a vagina.

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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