Melanie Kaye’s “Women and Violence” was written in 1979 and published in Sinister Wisdom #43/44 in summer 1991. Kaye, a prominent Jewish and feminist activist, was also an editor for Sinister Wisdom from 1983-1987. “Women and Violence” is a theoretical piece aimed at discussing the reasons that rape culture persists in the US and suggests ways women can combat it collectively. Kaye quotes Ellen Willis before beginning: “men don’t take us seriously because they’re not physically afraid of us” (80). Kaye’s inclusion of this quote is very intentional; “Women and Violence” uses examples of men assuming power over women in order to make the broader claim that women should fight back against men whenever possible in order to dismantle the power hierarchies that allow rape culture to thrive.
Kaye makes her case by highlighting the battle-like nature of gender dynamics in the United States. She states that “yesterday in Portland between 2-20 women got raped,” “between 6-60 women got beaten,” and “every day in this country a woman gets raped every minute,” using horrifying statistics to then ask the question “what am I counting if not causalities of battle?” (Kaye 81). She uses the metaphor of a battle, comparing rape culture to war, in order to emphasize how urgent it is that individuals take action to stop it. Then, she states: “rapists and batterers are the military arm of the patriarchy” (Kaye 81). Here she is implying that abusive men are the visible part of a system that oppresses women but they are not the only people contributing to and benefiting from that system. All men, not just those who abuse women, benefit from the power dynamics rape culture affords them, from feeling safe walking alone at night, and from being able to form friendships with other men without immediately fearing an ulterior motive. The idea of all men being on the beneficial side of rape culture further backs up Kaye’s idea of US gender dynamics as a “war.” If all men are on one side then all women, by default are somewhere on the other and what is this if not a war.
Upon setting up her view of rape culture as war, Kaye moves into her proposed solution. She believes that “our task” is to “make abuse of women more and more risky; something men can’t get away with” (Kaye 82). She clarifies what she means by “risky” by listing names of women who have killed their abusers and claiming that the list continues to grow, that these women represent the resistance to rape. She believes that only if men are “afraid of women” will their “consciousness change” (Kaye 83). So, Kaye intends to fight rape culture by literally fighting men; she intends to flip the power dynamic. Through her essay, she is attempting to empower more women to physically fight men. She is urging a violent revolution. Her approach to fighting rape culture is very broad; she wants to help women change their mindsets in relation to men as a group. “Women and Violence” is an attempt to make sweeping changes to gender dynamics in America. It does not urge specific action but attempts to empower women to fight back in any way that they can.
Sinister Wisdom, vol. 43/44, Summer 1991
Kaye, Melanie. “Women and Violence.” Sinister Wisdom, vol. 43/44, p. 81-84.