The Victim Fights Back: Women, Politics, Fiction, Crime

By Levy, Bronwen | Hecate, November 30, 1983 | Go to article overview

The Victim Fights Back: Women, Politics, Fiction, Crime


Levy, Bronwen, Hecate


Women's fiction has often dealt with the lives and situations of women in a manner that explores their struggles as well as their oppression. These women's texts have often been concerned with women who break the unwritten laws of society. There has appeared of late, however, a number of texts by women which feature women who have broken the written laws, women criminals and lawbreakers. That the authors aim to provoke readings of a specifically political nature is suggested, moreover, by the attitudes displayed in the various texts to questions of women's "criminality," which range from qualified sympathy to approval and admiration and are never, at the least, conventional views. The intention of producing readings that will help to politicise the discussion of material that is often, in the dominant ideology, relegated to a marginal area is supported by further evidence outside the texts; all except two of the texts I shall discuss are published by feminist presses. Of the other two, one is published by a small press and only one by a mainstream press; the latter in a country isolated from the country described, so that it is possible, though by no means advisable to read the text in an Australocentric way, as an-artefact of distant events, hence reducing its political impact.(1)

The "crimes" committed, the context in which the "crimes" occur and the centrality of the "crimes" to the plots of the various texts are disparate. So, too, are the political analyses and the nationalities(2) of the authors, although there does appear to be a connection here, with most of the American writers being strongly influenced by radical feminism, for example. Nevertheless, the authors' political analyses cover the wide spectrum of positions on feminism and other political questions taken by those outside as well as inside the Women's Liberation Movement. That law-breaking and violence are often presented in these novels as justifiable because instrumental in achieving social change does suggest, however, a widespread dissatisfaction amongst feminists of varying political persuasions with the achievements and the methods of the past few years. Reformism, using traditional pressure group or party politics tactics, appears to have had only limited success. Hence, it is not surprising that, in the fictional domain at least, the potentialities and the problems of more violent forms of action are beginning to be raised. Such tactics have not normally been adopted recently by feminists in the "real world," although there have been some incidents in Canada, for example, where radical feminists have set fire to stores selling pornographic films and magazines. In the fictional world, however, it is possible to rearrange events to see what might have been.

Feminist science fiction has been exploring utopian "possibilities" for some time now; I would argue that the treatment of women and political crime in feminist fiction raises questions that are equally serious and important. What is the nature of women's (fictional) political violence? What are its relations to the various feminist politics: for example, the theoretical and practical disagreements among those organising for women's liberation? Does women's (fictional) violence represent the "romantic delusion of terrorism"(3) held by women such as Ulrike Meinhof whose activities isolated her from organised left or women's politics and which, some would argue, were based on an elitist despair over the possibilities of organisation itself? Or is it terrorism defined and justified in a manner similar to the classical class-based analysis of Trotsky, violence in the service of an organised and powerful revolutionary class?(4) Or is women's fictional political violence analysed from quite different viewpoints?

I shall begin with a novel that suggests that an examination of feminist questions takes place most convincingly when questions of race, class or ethnicity are also examined: Vida, by Marge Piercy. …

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