The Rebel Girl: “Normal” Domestic Violence?

Against the Current, No. 100, September/October 2002

Catherine Sameh

FOUR WOMEN ARE dead: Andrea Floyd, Teresa Nieves, Jennifer Wright and Marilyn Griffin. During a period of seven weeks this summer, each of these women was killed by her husband, each husband a military man stationed at Fort Bragg Army Base in North Carolina. One woman was strangled, another stabbed to death, and two shot. Two of the men also killed themselves. Little is known still about the sequence of events that led to these four women’s deaths.

What is known is that three of the men had recently served in Afghanistan and one had requested leave from the army to take care of family problems. While the army has been quick to deny any link between the war abroad and this bloodshed at home — claiming that these killings simply reflect the “normal” domestic violence trend in the United States — national domestic violence agencies have been calling for more family counseling on military bases.

Surprise, surprise, no one is demanding that the institution of militarism come up for review.

The army has a point: over 2,000 women are killed each year by their intimate partners or spouses. Military men have close to the same rate of spousal abuse as their civilian cohorts.

The domestic violence agencies have another point: counseling services for military families are far from adequate.

But between these two cursory analysis of the Fort Bragg killings is the elephant in the room no one is talking about: domestic violence against women and state-sponsored violence abroad spring from, among other things, highly gendered notions of what it means to be a woman and what it means to be a man.

Violence and the State

Participating in the movement against domestic violence has always been tricky for socialist-feminists. Since the 1970s that movement has chosen to build alliances with the very forces that enforce and perpetuate violence and terror against women and other oppressed groups instead of challenging state power and patriarchy. Police are called upon to both save individual women from their abusive partners/spouses and to train women to defend themselves against male violence.

Different, but equally challenging, questions arise when we participate in antiwar and peace movements. Historically, some feminists have used essentialist arguments about men and women’s inherent differences to challenge international politics. They say: Men are violent, have power on the international stage, and are therefore responsible for wars.

While there is some ring of truth to this idea as it is played out in international politics, essentialist arguments reinforce the myths of gender that require both men and women to submit their full humanity to artificially constructed hyper-masculine and hyper-feminine versions of themselves.

As socialist-feminists active in domestic and international movements, we can link the killing of military wives to the war in Afghanistan by asking how patriarchy and imperialism intersect to create systems of domination and control. What is required of men to serve in the military and what is required of women to support their husbands’ careers? What happens when military wives question their roles? How do husbands/male partners, both civilian and military, resolve tension and conflict? How does this gender division at home support, reflect and parallel a war that has been justified by sexist and racist notions of liberating “passive” Arab and Muslim female victims from demonized Arab and Muslim male “others?”

Truly raising feminist questions central to this war would link the fate of Afghan women to that of their U.S. sisters by asking what real safety and liberation would look like. Lives free from both the threat of your home being bombed and the threat of your husband murdering you would require an end to a militarized and violent world, an end to global patriarchy, racism, imperialism, homophobia and gender violence.

The Fort Bragg killings have everything to do with the kind of world we live in, where violence is used to amass power and wealth for a few, and where murder and suicide are often the only way out of despair.

ATC 100, September-October 2002