In Antifeminism and Family Terrorism Rhonda Hammer argues convincingly that there is a serious failure in certain strands of postfeminist and academic theory and practice to adequately address and redress male violence against women and abuse of children. She analyzes the conservative backlash against feminism and investigates the relationship between violence against women and children and notions of family terrorism, colonization and patriarchy to promote a tranformative politics.
’Yes, I’m a feminist is much more unladylike than telling somebody, for example to ‘fuck off ’ (Catherine R. Stimpson, Ms., 1991, 177).
According to Hammer, the backlash that plagued the feminist movement since its inception, continues to escalate in the 90s. Indeed, the very word feminist is losing its meaning because it is appropriated and perverted by a number of self-serving feminist impersonators such as Camilla Paglia, Christina Hoff Sommers, Katie Roiphe and Naomi Wolf who assume the guise of feminism in order to attack its most emancipatory politics. The media and the mainstream publishing industry in particular welcome lifestyle feminists who cleverly merge consumer values and narcissistic individualism. In order to expose/unmask the impersonators as collaborators in the colonization of women worldwide Hammer dissects their reactionary discours which is rooted in dualistic thought, elitism, individualism and projection. Paglia’s carefullyorchestrated public sexual persona as a revolutionary, intellectual rebel and her mode of discourse aims to distract from her conservative and often misogynistic agenda that consistently valorizes the masculine over the feminine. In Fire With Fire Naomi Wolf pits the enemy feminist camp of victim feminism against power feminism asserting that women should use their money, their votes, and their inner nature (as aggressive as men’s) to play equally in the arena of power, thus fostering an individualism that undermines women’s solidarity.
Christina Hoff Sommers whose work is funded by rightwing sponsors crusades against the gender feminists and aims to undermine women’s studies programs. Hammer identifies and labels the most common strategy deployed by antifeminists as the MacGuffin. This Hitchcockian term refers to an empty plot device that distracts the audience from recognizing a complex array of pressing issues. As such, the construction of a mythical creature of the feminist as a femi-nazi who attempts to indoctrinate women into a state of victimhood and the stereotype of the puritanical, manhating woman function as MacGuffins in the antifeminist rhetoric. Overall, Wolf, Paglia, Hoff Sommers and Roiphe exploit many women’s aversion to the feminist label by endorsing or promoting the caricature of the extremist unattractive feminist/monolithic reductive feminism with considering help from the mainstream news media while bolstering their own image as courageous, and independent individuals.
Having shown how empirical studies concerning violence against women are consistently abused by betrayal feminists to deny or minimize the nature and extent of rape and other forms of brutality, Hammer analyzes the mainstream reactions to/effects of the Hedda Nussbaum/Joel Steinberg trial to reveal the problems in formulating issues of family violence. The author proposes the term family terrorism to indicate the severity and structural position of patriarchal violence that is covered up by abstract, euphemistic terms such as domestic violence, partner abuse or intimate partner violence . The Nussbaum/Steinberg case came to public attention in November 1987 when Hedda Nussbaum and her husband, Joel Steinberg, were arrested for the murder of their six-year old, illegally adopted daughter Lisa, in New York City. The controversial televized trial revealed the pathological nature of the Steinberg-Nussbaum relationship. Hedda who had suffered escalating physical and psychological abuse in her relationship was granted immunity on the grounds that she was physically and emotionally incapable either of harming Lisa or coming to her aid. The immunity decision and Hedda’s testimony about her unconditional love and devotion for Steinberg transformed her into one of the most hated women in America who was morally convicted for her own assault at the hands of her husband which lead, in turn, to serious questions and arguments concerning the credibility and legitimacy of the so called battered wife syndrome. Hammer contextualizes this extreme case and Hedda’s attitude in the wider framework of torture and terrorism. She criticizes analyses of the battery of women which put particular emphasis on the investigation of the so called victims of abuse rather than on the abuser or the systematic conditions that mediate and perpetuate family terrorism, thus endorsing the popular belief that battered women are willing victims, which is to say, not victims at all.
According to Hammer, race, ethnicity and class bigotry magnify and compound the blamingthe- victim mentality that permeate many public social agencies and institutions. Indeed, the category of women does not even include the large majority of marginalized (black, lesbian, working-class) women within the ideological dominant code and when battered women do leave and seek help, social institutions and services are ill-prepared to meet their demands. Drawing on Ann Jones argument, Hammer points out that violence against women is not considered a real crime because the battered woman provides a necessary service for the maintenance of our current sociopolitical economic system : In the aggregate, battered women are to sexism what the poor are to capitalism – always with us. They are a source of cheap labor and sexual service to those with the power to buy and control them, a ‘problem’ for the righteous to lament, a topic to provide employment for academic researchers, a sponge to soak up the surplus violence of men, a conduit to carry off the political energy of other women who must care for them, an example of what awaits all women who don’t behave as prescribed, and a pariah group to amplify by contrast our good opinion of ourselves. And for all their social uitility, they remain largely, and conveniently, invisible the battered women is a scapegoat. Man vents his violence upon her and blames her for it. And so do we… Like prostitutes (who commonly are battered women themselves),battered women serve to drain away excess male violence and assaultive sexuality. (Ann Jones, Next Time She’ll Be Dead : Battering and How to Stop It, 1994, 205, 207-8).
In the last chapter, Hammer draws on colonization theory and transformative Borderland feminisms (developed predominantly by men and women of colour and lesbians) to address issues of violence against women and children in a contextual, dialectical fashion. This implies interrogating the borderlands between race, gender, class, and sexuality, and being acutely aware of the border between oppressors and oppressed and the global and systemic nature of domination. Furthermore, colonization should be considered as both an individual and a collective experience. All women, regardless of race, class, or culture, share a colonized position in different ways, in accordance with their own particular contexts of being subordinate to men. Yet, women also belong to different classes, races, and organizations of men as defined by particular contextual relations and constraints and thus suffer oppression differently. Hence, women should be aware of the often paradoxical and contradictory reality that they are often both colonized and colonizer, agent and victim. Hammer also points out that the unpredictable and chaotic transfigurations generated by globalization have not significantly improved the majority of women’s status. Viewed on a global scale, the majority of the poor and underclassed are women and children who are increasingly recolonized (a response to global crises of capitalism that requires new modes of disciplining and controlling subject peoples) in the global labour market as a prime export item whose reproductive labour - domestic and sex work – is in growing demand. Decolonization, as a theory and practice, would involve struggles against capitalist and patriarchal global oppression and the liberation of minds and bodies. Rhonda Hammer’s sharp analysis and progressive politics definitely prepares the ground for a much needed transformative feminism in an era of globalization.
Rhonda Hammer ; Antifeminism and Family Terrorism. A Critical Feminist Perspective. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Lanham/Boulder/New York/Oxford, 2002.