Beyond Eve Ensler: What Should Organizing Against Gender Violence Look Like?

by Andrea Smith

There has been much discussion of late about the racist, imperialist, and just generally atrocious writings of Eve Ensler and the 1 Billion Rising campaign.  For some great analysis see

One Billion Rising, Eve Ensler and the Contradictions of Carceral Feminism(s)

Why I Won’t Support 1 Billion Rising

An Open Letter to Eve Ensler

#OneBillionRising to end violence against women: right campaign, wrong leader?

Eve Ensler and Congo Stigmata

To add this discussion, I would like to speak to what should or could a justice-based movement to end gender violence actually look like? In many ways, the Eve Ensler industrial complex is just a symptom of the politically and morally bankrupt approach the white western mainstream feminist movement has adopted for addressing gender violence.  As Beth Richie notes in Arrested Justice, this movement has been successful in becoming mainstream, but has ceased to actually be a movement.  It is more concerned with passing laws (that generally don’t work and often increase violence for marginalized communities) than in actually ending violence through uprooting oppression.   It focuses on photo-ops and dramatic PR gestures rather than on political organizing.  It seeks corporate sponsorship rather than grassroots mobilization.  So, we may know we don’t want the Eve Ensler approach, but what do we want instead?  Obviously, this is not a question that can be addressed by one person or organization.  This question will be answered through the building of networks, solidarities and conversations among movements on a global scale.  The outrage from the Eve Ensler shenanigans provides an opportunity to continue developing the principles necessary to build a real movement to end gender violence.  Here are a few principles that I have seen emerge from my particular organizing history to add to the list to be developed by all those organizing to end violence. I suggest these principles (which are very partial, limited and subject to much debate) in order to continue the collective conversation about how we can best further our anti-violence struggles.

Please feel free to change or add to the list -

What would a justice-based movement to end gender violence look like?

1) This movement would interrogate how the very category of “woman” has served as a tool of violence.  It would examine how colonialism has operated by imposing a gender binary system in indigenous communities in order to facilitate the imposition of colonial heteropatriarchy.  It would thus see organizing around violence against trans peoples as central to any struggle against gender violence.

2) This movement would recognize the state as a primary perpetrator of gender violence.  Through chattel slavery, the sexual colonization of Indigenous women, the sexualized exploitation of immigrant workers, gender-based crimes in war, etc., the state has continually used and benefited from gender violence as a strategy to enforce white supremacy, imperialism and anti-Black racism.  Thus, the state is not and cannot be the solution to gender violence.

3) This movement would recognize capitalism as inextricably linked to gender violence through the constant commodification of bodies, identities, lands, and resources.  We would no longer think this movement is going to be corporate sponsored.

4) This movement would not be organized primarily around getting the state to do something for us.  Instead, it would actually be a political movement designed to build communities in which violence becomes unthinkable.   This does not mean we may never pursue legal strategies, but these strategies would always be critically evaluated in terms of how effectively they further a political movement to end social, economic and political structures of violence.

5) This movement would recognize mass incarceration as a central organizing principle of violence.  It would stop seeking criminal legal solutions to ending violence such as “reporting your rape.”  It would not situate the problem of mass incarceration as one of violence within prisons, but would instead recognize prisons as violence.

6) The movement would recognize the central role of western imperialism in contributing to gender violence globally.  It would thus stop presuming a simple solidarity with victims of violence in countries around the world without a critical examination of how people in Western countries benefit from the imperialism that helps shape conditions of gender violence globally.

7) This movement would recognize ending anti-Black racism as central to ending gender violence by addressing how Black peoples, and by extension Black struggles, become seen as the property of other social justice struggles.  It would cease using Black people’s bodies in particular as an empty signifier to talk about the plight of non-Black women and actually organize in defense of Black peoples (such as Marissa Alexander) who are survivors of gender violence.

8) This movement would recognize war as a central strategy for enforcing gender violence – both in terms of the gender violence committed on the battlefield as well as the gender violence committed within the military.  It would thus no longer support wars in order to “free” people from gender violence being committed within their countries.

9) This movement would recognize that freeing people from gender violence is often used as a strategy to justify war and military intervention, particularly in Arab and Muslim communities that get marked as socially primitive. It would thus reject pinkwashing attempts in particular to mark Palestine as “backward” and Israel as “progressive” in terms of gender politics that erases the gender violence being committed against Palestinian peoples under Israeli occupation.

10) The movement would recognize ending settler colonialism as central to ending gender violence.  It would recognize that gender violence was a primary strategy by which indigenous peoples have been colonized through rape and sexual mutilation during massacres as well as institutionalized sexual violence committed in boarding/residential schools.  It would no longer presume the givenness of settler states, but begin to organize new forms of governance that do not operate based on the logics of sexual violence. In doing so, it would also respect and support indigenous nations’ land claims.

11) This movement would refuse its collaborations with the anti-trafficking movement that consistently criminalizes sex workers and increases their vulnerability to violence.

12) This movement would target the violence of the border as a site of sexual violence as well the violence of nation-state borders that renders some peoples as inherently “illegal.”

13) This movement would center the sexual violence committed against peoples with disabilities whose bodily integrity is not respected in the medical industrial complex and other institutional systems of control.

14) This movement would recognize environmental racism as a form of sexual violence in which the territorial and bodily integrity of racialized and colonized communities are violated through toxic waste dumping and resource extraction.

15) This movement would take seriously the histories and legacies of organizing already happening in towns, cities, and countries around the world. It would never presume to be “giving voice” to people who already have their own. It would never commit violence against indigenous populations by erasing their work or claiming to invent it. It would not presume solidarity between diverse anti-violence organizing struggles or subsume them under one banner, but would actually do the work to create solidarity.

16) This movement would seek to complicate our understanding of the lived experiences of gender violence globally by respecting the integrity of these stories rather than use them as a means to support a singular narrative about gender violence.

17) This movement would not be centered on the celebrity status of a few and what they learned while traveling around the world.  It would not be organized around a few spokespeople who act as curators for communities of color and indigenous communities.  It would instead center on the actual organizing work all of us need to do to end white supremacist, capitalist, colonialist and imperialist gender violence.

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