In 1983 Andrea Dworkin spoke to male activists about a day of truce, asking for a single 24 hour period in which male sexual violence against women ceased. Stating that equality between men and women could not coexist with rape, she said:
“And on that day, that day of truce, that day when not one woman is raped, we will begin the real practice of equality, because we can’t begin it before that day. Before that day it means nothing because it is nothing: it is not real; it is not true. But on that day it becomes real. And then, instead of rape we will for the first time in our lives–both men and women–begin to experience freedom.”
When I discuss the idea of a truce with women, the response is that this is never going to happen, that it is simply not possible. Men rape women every minute of every day around the world.
The fact that it is simply unimaginable for women to be free of the threat of sexual violence for even a day, as a group, speaks volumes about the prevalence of violence against us. It is everywhere, expressed in subtle ways, expressed as murderous explosions that teach women about their place and their safety, expressed in the brutal progress of rape across the female population.
It is officially estimated that one fifth to a third of women are raped in their lifetime. Rape is chronically underreported, and this figure is likely to be a lot higher.
And violence against women is collective, unpredictable. We do not know when we will experience violence against us, when our sisters and mothers and daughters will, when the women we know and the women we don’t know will. This means that on a literal level, we may not be able to recognise a day without violence against women. After all, since it is largely invisibilised on a collective level, we miss it unless it happens to us, and then we often view it through a personal lense, rather than seeing the big picture.
Even when individual instances of violence against women are publicised, it isn’t named as such – the agent is excused or erased completely and the real meaning of the violence is entirely hidden, as is the overall pattern.
The agent is even the focus of sympathy in many cases – such a good father, loving husband, was really stressed… Neighbours express surprise that such a loving husband and father killed his wife and children… And in that expression of surprise, that excusing of the male perpetrator, that viewing of incidents of male pattern violence as mysterious is an expression of misogyny.
That we can so little imagine a world without violence against women is the point. It is the very air we breathe.
The ubiquity of violence against women makes me wonder how many of us have experienced a place that is so safe that violence against women, systemic belittling of women, and misogyny is unthinkable?
If such a space existed, imagine the experience of being there, and imagine what that experience would illuminate about the rest of the world. Even more than experiencing it individually, imagine experiencing it with thousands of other women.
Such a place did exist, for 40 years.
Every August, from 1976 to 2015, women gathered at a small, privately held parcel of land in Michigan and celebrated community and music together.
Women have written of their relief at identifying and letting go of their fear:
It’s like carrying a huge pack of rocks on your back and it being there so long you don’t even realize you are carrying it. And then someone says “hey… you can put that down now.” And you don’t even know what they are talking about. And then when you actually take it off… you can’t believe how big and heavy it was… you can’t believe it was just your normal.
~ Nedra Johnson, I Value Separate Spaces
Women experienced silence and peace and safety.
After a week at the Michigan Women’s Music Festival, in safe female only space and culture, I realised both how ever-present male aggression and violence is, and how invisible it had become to me as a result.
We need that absence of male violence to see the presence of male violence – it allows us to experience feeling and living and breathing without it.
We need to experience knowing that absence of violence to even begin to understand what it feels like to be truly safe.
None of us know what it is like growing up and living permanently like that, but we can begin to think about it.
What a day of truce gives us is space to imagine, the ability to set up a standard in our head and measure current reality against it.
Living without male supremacy for a week, then returning to it, shows you many things, not least of which is how internalised our reactions are. We know what is coming. We expect it. We change our behaviour to compensate, without even realising that we are doing it. We brace ourselves for the known onslaught.
Free from that, we stop. We breathe. We embrace freely. We are more creative. We name things confidently.
Our girls run free.
Right now, we can barely even imagine the broader consequences of living without violence.
Calling for a day of truce, and never being allowed to experience it, shows us how entrenched male violence is.
In the absence of truce, we need to recognise and name our world as toxic for women and act to change it as a matter of urgency.