Feminist Archiving in the Face of the Patriarchal System’s Suppression
Since the patriarchal system extended its power over societies, it has adopted multiple mechanisms to legitimize the violence that accompanies it as a political and social system.
So it was necessary to tame societies to accept violations and harm and normalize them, as part of building the values of individuals so that they are not held accountable or objected to.
After centuries of control of this system, it succeeded in presenting violence against women as a natural and legislated given.
Cisgender men can physically, sexually, and psychologically abuse women, and non-normative people.
They can kill them if they want too, and they will get away with it.
There is a valuable, political and religious arsenal, ready to justify these violations, and present them in the light of gender inequalities, the right of men to “discipline”, and even under the umbrella of the most egregious mandate of violence: “defending honor.”
This normalization has historically led to societies thirsting for violence, but also adept at denying it.
With the growth of feminist resistance against male assaults and assassinations, to confront this systematic obliteration, repeated attempts to cover up issues of violence, from the dominant political and social hierarchy, increased in a strange paradox.
The same system that sanctifies in laws, legislations, daily customs, and cultural and religious values, that violence against women is a legitimate right for men, justifies the aggressor and protects him every time the voice of denunciation and protest against a crime of assault or patriarchal assassination rises, using political and media mobilization to deny it.
The Patriarchal System: Between the Dialectic of Normalizing and Denying Violence
Violence is synonymous with repressive regimes that seek to root it in societies, and bet on it to tighten more control and create hierarchies among individuals.
And between the hierarchy of class, ethnicity, capabilities, and colonialism created by these regimes, comes the gender hierarchy, as a complement to the cycles of persecution.
The patriarchal system would not have continued without the use of violence, and its implantation in the social relations between individuals.
And it wouldn’t have been able to legitimize discrimination and persecution based on gender.
Establishing men as having the power, by which they impose their desires on women, and control them, would not have happened, had it not been for a long process of normalizing violence and making it a natural given that has justifications and rationalizations and protection for those who commit it, even if the violence went as far as the point of killing.
The normalization of violence began with the smallest forms of power, which are usually unconsidered and seen as self-evident in the social hierarchy between individuals.
From the circles of play in which girls are prevented from going out, or from playing certain games in front of boys.
Then, they were introduced to mothers in the form of free care work, while their brothers stood and watched them, further normalizing future gender roles.
Starting from turning children’s fights into stages of competition over who is the strongest, that is, who is the “man”.
Then it turned their small bodies into sexual and gender production laboratories, dividing and separating them according to expectations beyond their control.
This hostile system had to start sowing harm from childhood, and normalizing violence from the first years of people’s upbringing, so that it would not be suspected of being unnatural, or that it should stop.
It is part of our lives, the heritage of our societies, and our daily habits.
Violence against women seems normal when we get used to discrimination against them from a young age.
In order for sexual violence to be a realistic perception of interpersonal relationships.
We also get used to force and submission, as the engine of these relationships, and to use it to impose power.
Physical and psychological violence, emotional blackmail, and control are prerequisites for intimate and family relationships.
A brother hitting his sister, or a father hitting his daughter, or a partner hitting his partner, is a “legitimate right” by virtue of authority, entitlement, and superiority. And it has justifications that absolve the perpetrator from accountability.
Those against whom violence is practiced, including women, girls, and queer people, do not appear in the social imagination except through narratives of demonization and discipline.
They are always in a position of suspicion, and the man has the right, whatever his relationship with them, to exercise his influence to bring them back into the circle of discipline.
Or present himself to society as consistent with masculine values, which necessitate the practice of violence as proof of “masculinity.”
Sometimes women, as well as every person who does not conform to gender and sexuality, and children are the scene of “immorality.”
A man gets angry due to external circumstances, so he finds someone to take out his anger on. This brings us back to the beginning.
The upbringing of children in which one of them is strong and can do whatever he wants, and control those who are less powerful than him, produces individuals who are able to use harm to achieve their desires. Or take advantage of the privileges in exchange for violence and the control that patriarchy offers.
Constructing patriarchal justifications for violence created transgenerational violence, just as it created transgenerational trauma and crisis.
And it created worlds of the ability to hurt and to accept it, and worlds of fear in the lives of the people who are exposed to it.
The surprising paradox appears in this context, that the same regime that has historically harnessed laws, policies, resources, and religious and cultural laws to justify violence and make it part of the cultural, value, and relational structure of individuals, uses the mechanism of denial in the face of any confrontation, and exposure of violations based on gender.
Including physical, sexual, and psychological violence, and patriarchal assassination crimes.
The system presents itself through several narratives. And between the broken record of “honor”, and considering that the crimes are “individual cases” and not systematic, its political and social arms flounder, in the struggle of failing to deny or justify the reality of violence.
Among the most dangerous mechanisms in the patriarchal attempts to deny and obliterate violence is the denial of the victims/survivors.
Then questioning their narrative, placing them under the patriarchal microscope, narrating their history, and using all means of patriarchal shame and stigmatization, to obliterate the crime that was committed against them.
When the victim is dead, this system tries other means to cover up the outbreak of violence.
So the victim is unique in her case, and the perpetrator is “a disturbed male, not a man, who belongs to a decrepit class that does not represent society.”
And the narratives of justice are lost, and we return to condemnation and the effort to confront a system that is not only violent, but is capable of belittling us, branding us insane, and imprisoning us, if we dare to confront it.
On the other hand, rape culture contributed to transforming gender-based violence from an unacceptable act into a social structure that cannot be called violence.
And it takes root over time as a practice that does not call for questioning. Rather, the system has become the one that determines what violence is, and what act is considered part of the customs and traditions, and the “biological composition of men.”
This system, through multiple mechanisms, including medicine and psychology, as well as cultural and religious legislation, portrayed that manhood, with all the violent values that were incorporated into it, is not a social construct, but a biological given.
So that violence is part of the “biological structure of cisgender men,” and sexual assault is “an instinct that they have no control over.”
Physical abuse “is due to the hormones of power,” of which there is no evidence, and psychological and emotional manipulation, are linked to imaginary chromosomes that are important to the functioning of societies.
Despite the fading of the arguments of the patriarchal system, all these mechanisms were important for its continuation.
Gender inequality cannot continue, were it not for the patriarchal ideological machine, which spreads violence but obscures it so that we do not condemn it.
It spreads terror and blames the victims/survivors, so that we don’t dare break the curse of persecution.
Feminist Archiving as Resistance
For too long, issues of male violence have been covered in silence, complicity, and systematic obliteration.
Physical, sexual and psychological abuse takes place every day. Women are being killed and forcibly disappeared every single day.
Lives are stolen, and terror spreads among the weakest in the political, economic, and social hierarchies, and no one bats an eyelash.
This historical silence was a historical engine of persecution, which contributed to the perpetuation of an unstoppable patriarchal crushing machine.
How will it stop if it can continue without interference or objection?
Complete comfort in committing harm, and masculine entitlement that produced terrifying generations, filled the streets and dark corners. In institutions and homes, and in cities and villages.
Generations practice violence as a method of restraint and control, sometimes as a game of competition to prove “manhood”, and at other times for fun.
This situation did not pass without objection. Women, like the gender-oppressed groups in every society, protested in their own ways.
They’re also trying to survive by constantly exposing patriarchal abuses, and crystallizing strategies for survival as much as possible for each group; in stories told between the female neighbors during the gatherings, the secret conversations between the female students in the class break, the gatherings of women farmers in the fields, or under the shade of trees in a remote desert, or among people who fled the hell of heterosexual and patriarchal violence, and established alternative families. Despite the importance of these histories in resisting patriarchal violence, they were unable to document it by defining who was responsible for its spread, or did not present it based on the historical and material analysis of it as a violent system.
This is due, of course, to the political, economic and historical contexts, and the time periods of each society.
Before the establishment of feminism as a political, intellectual, and revolutionary movement, there was no critical lexicon available for the patriarchal system that would define it in its political, economic, cultural, and religious formations.
And holds it responsible for the epidemic of violence that ravages women, girls, queer groups, and children, and brings it to account, dismantlement, and confronts it revolutionarily to end it.
In the midst of the emergence of feminist struggles, violence was a major theme for it, whether in theory, organization, or demands.
But, these frameworks saw ideological differences between feminists, according to each one’s references and perceptions of justice.
In the global south, these struggles varied against gender, militaristic, colonial, class, racial, environmental, and cultural violence.
And through the margins, queer nativist black feminist movements emerged, waging unequal battles with regimes that used all this violence in an organized and epidemic manner.
Perhaps the most powerful of them in pleading and confrontation are the feminist struggles that target feminist archiving by documenting and exposing patriarchal violence, and confronting the systematic obliteration that has prevailed for centuries.
These efforts, over the years, had many stations, gradations, and obstacles as well.
It was not easy for oppressed groups to confront huge political, economic, and media machines that play a single role, which is to cover up violations and silence voices against them, whether by imprisonment, assassination, or even through demonization campaigns and moral assassination.
In the Arabic-speaking region, initiatives to document gender-based violence have had many obstacles.
Some that are institutional, related to the rule of patriarchal regimes that control resources, and thus prevent or reduce the presence of specialized centers in the census of violence.
The police and militarization of public spaces, which contribute to preventing any revolutionary activity that threatens the stability of the existing political and social system.
And others are what I would call “dehumanization of documentation.”
It is a trend prevailing in feminist organizations affiliated with international bodies, or associated with liberal funds, that portray violence from a classless, humanitarian, or political perspective.
It presents it through statistics, which transform victims/survivors into dry numbers separated from the historical, political, and economic context of their environment.
It also depicts the patriarchy as isolated individuals, who perform heinous acts that end with their imprisonment and personal accountability, and demand that the systems that produced them act against them.
Police, the criminalization of revolutionary action in public spaces, and the predominance of feminist currents that dehumanize victims/survivors were factors capable of undermining the documenting work of patriarchal violence in our contexts.
But there is always a revolutionary hope, not only to restore public space according to our objective conditions, but also to restore our right to form anti-violence narratives from a feminist perspective, humanizing the victims/survivors, in light of a system that is constantly trying to shape the human being according to class, ethnicity, gender, and capabilities hierarchies.
We Lost One of Us: The Feminist Narrative Despite Militarization
In Algeria, a group of feminists created a campaign on social media called “We lost one of us.”
The aim of the campaign is to document the crimes of assassination and male violence.
The page makes great efforts to collect complete information about each victim, such as name, age, education, profession, if any, living testimonies about her from her acquaintances, her love of life, her dreams, her relationships, and who killed her.
The initiative makes political sense on the power of feminist solidarity in the face of violence. It reminds us that this violence concerns us both personally and politically.
Everyone we lose is part of our feminist society, part of our soul, and we are potential victims of this loss.
It reminds the patriarchal system that the victims are not isolated from a social custody that recognizes their pain, and knows who is responsible for it and confronts it.
The public feminist space in Algeria suffers from military and patriarchal repression, and the shrinking of spaces for political action, including initiatives that attempt to dismantle violence.
The existing system is in itself a patriarchal system, which makes any attempt to break these imperatives vulnerable to targeting and restrictions.
But the militant horizon of movements can always expand, whether in the form of campaigns or digital initiatives that protest, document, and normalize the rejection of violence.
Mourning Female Martyrs of Male Treachery.. Naming is a Political Act
Mourning the Martyrs of Male Treachery is a feminist campaign launched by Saudi female activists, and a platform towards feminist awareness, to mourn the women who were killed by the patriarchal system.
The campaign was launched on Twitter on August 22, 2020, on the anniversary of the assassination of Israa Gharib.
Then social media was full of the hashtag #martyrs_of_male_treachery.
Pictures spread with the hashtag of feminists from everywhere, wearing black in mourning, raising the names of the victims, and reminding people of their stories and lives. And how the hands of patriarchal treachery assassinated them in the worst way.
Mourning was not isolated from the historical narrative of all the victims of patriarchal violence.
It was accompanied by great efforts to collect as many stories as possible, and to recall all the pains and hopes experienced by the martyrs.
The concept of “martyrs of male treachery” appeared in the article “Lamentation for Female Martyrs of Male Treachery” on the Platform Feminist Consciousness Revolution.
And naming in the feminist field, as the comrades taught us in the “Charter of Feminist Principles for African Feminists,” is a political matter.
We reclaim language, and shape it, to express our anger, our revolutionary hope, and our perceptions of ourselves in the face of a hostile regime.
When I coined the phrase “martyrs of male treachery” during the assassination of Israa Gharib, I wanted to emphasize the symbolism of the female victim for us.
In a patriarchal system, with men clothed in political power, we must raise the names of the martyrs, and also confirm that they were martyred for the crime of life, and the crime of being women in patriarchal states.
Their assassination is a political act, and I argue here that the assassination of women, the violence against them, and robbing them of their lives is not a single act, but rather a part of a political power granted to men to exercise in the state, society, and the family.
We cannot consider political systems to be neutral in all that we experience, but rather they are part of this violence, authorize it, protect it, and continue through it.
Emphasizing the political aspect and the systematic targeting of women is very important to stop justification under the name of “honor” or any other justification.
We affirm that most of them were treacherously killed by people they trusted, from a family member or a partner, or a stranger from whom they did not expect harm.
Calling them martyrs allows us to stand up to this justification, which takes on another political character, which is the determination of the patriarchal system, through the state and its institutions, that violence accompanies societies. It facilitates the control and distraction of people.
When men are targeted by a tyrannical political authority that kills them, whether they were in confrontation with it or not, we agree that everyone who was assassinated is a martyr, and we, as popular masses, have his symbolism and carry his cause.
But when the political power, represented by men, targets women in the streets and homes and kills them, we have no right to call them martyrs, carry their cause, and fight for justice for them.
Patriarchal Crimes Mapper: So That The Story Doesn’t Get Lost
The “Sharika Walaken” platform launched a weekly bulletin, under the name “Patriarchal Crimes Mapper”, through which it documents assassination crimes in most countries of the region.
The bulletin keeps pace with all issues that are published, and documents them with numbers and names on a regular basis.
Usually, dealing with gender-based violence in light of capitalist crises, political repression, and epidemics is secondary or subject to order priorities.
In the case of social normalization, which used to see the violence, killing, and assault of women as part of daily habits, there is rarely any interest in it, but rather it gets lost in the whirlwind of daily news, which depicts body parts, blood, and violated lives and bodies, in the form of numbers and individual cases, without giving time to analyze it, or time to mourn and remember.
News agencies get over it quickly, and murders get boring if they’re talked about for more than 24 hours.
If the victim is at the bottom of the hierarchy, she will undergo social dissection before she can gain solidarity.
It’s a frightening kind of complicity with violence, and the success of repressive regimes in turning people against each other, and even distorting the fear of death and its tragedy in the social imagination.
Patriarchal Crimes Mapper, as the rest of the documentation initiatives, reminds us that feminist documentation is not only a resistance to patriarchal obliteration, but rather a continuous training of our consciousness not to be subject to the oppressive distortion of emotions, feelings, and of our reactions to death, violence and harm.
And to take back what patriarchal, colonial, capitalist, and racist regimes have constantly tried to take from us; our immense capacity for empathy, our sensitivity to each other’s pain, our refusal to let all this violence pass. Without anger, without annoyance, without pathos, without justice.
Written by: Suad Aswelem