"My pacifism was first challenged when, working on my book on pornography in the late 1970s, Pornography: Men Possessing Women, I read a half dozen biographies ...of the Marquis de Sade. A life of rape and sexual violence, including kidnapping and possibly murder, would have been stopped short if his first (known) victim, Jeanne Testard, had killed him.
I will say here what I have never said before: my
pacifism was not challenged by the beating and torture I experienced in
marriage some thirty years ago; I finally got away not because I knew that he
would kill me but because I thought I would kill him. Understand: this is true
generally of women—his life meant more to me than my own; but also I was not
willing to kill, even to escape beating and his own promise, which I believed,
that he would kill me.
Once having had the serious and true thought that
one of his victims should have offed the good Marquis, it was impossible not to
apply that insight to the widespread, contemporary beatings and rapes that
women sustain. Especially, I have seen a legal system designed to protect male
privilege work to do just that. I have seen a generation of anti-rape activists
and anti-battery activists sit through trials of guilty men who almost always
walk. Like those advocates, I have seen rapists acquitted, batterers put back
in the home, child-rapers given custody of the incested child. The legal system
is so genuinely perverse that women rarely report crimes involving either rape
I am, as a result, a lapsed pacifist. I truly abhor
violence and I believe that both nationalism and male dominance are systems
that promote and produce violence. With extreme difficulty and reluctance I
have come to believe that women have to be literate in both strategic violence
and the violence of self-defense. It is one thing to choose not to kill; it is
quite another to be defenseless by virtue of ignorance and socialization."