Synopsis (1994) for
No Fallen Angels: women, violence and responsibility
by Tom Graves
Violence is a major problem in our society; and as many feminist authors have argued, men bear a crucial responsibility for facing it and for creating a less violent world. But as this book demonstrates, our culture’s violence is by no means only men’s fault or men’s problem: and as long as we continue to regard it as such, solutions to other problems that women face will continue to elude us. Power, violence and responsibility are deeply interwoven: without responsibility, power inevitably collapses into violence. Women’s violence is the forgotten aspect of the problem: and unless women face it and, like men, face their own responsibility, women will continue to feel powerless and ‘oppressed’.
This book shows that women can face the fact of women’s violence – including their own – in ways which are practical, constructive and empowering. It uses a direct focus on individual experience to counteract common confusions about statistics on violence, and to break free from the usual notions of blame and self-blame.
Although the book is written by a man, and will be challenging and confronting for most women, its intended result is that women should reclaim a real sense of personal power and personal choice that is otherwise currently expended, almost invisibly, on ineffectual and destructive violence. As the author comments to the reader, in the book’s Introduction, “I wish you to be powerful, and for that power to be real”: a power which would be more genuine and durable than most common concepts of ‘woman-power’ promoted elsewhere.
- emphasis on practical rather than theoretical approaches
- firmly grounded in established developmental psychology: constructive criticism of common theories of violence – especially the circular definition of ‘violence is male; maleness is violence’
- detailed discussion on relationship between power, violence and responsibility
- challenging, yet respectful, realistic and non-blaming – focus is on women’s empowerment
This explains why a book on women’s violence is written by a man, and emphasises that the book’s aim is to empower women to break free from their violence, not to blame them. It also includes a brief comment on working method, showing how an attitude to women’s power and women’s violence can be practical without itself being violent.
PART I: It’s a violent world
[This section focuses on the problem of violence, and on women’s involvement and responsibility.]
- The threads of violence
- Power, violence and other central concepts, and the relationships between them, are defined and described; this chapter also emphasises the importance of understanding and facing both physical and non-physical violence.
- Lies, damned lies and… facts?
- We know that men’s violence is a problem, but it’s hard to find any reliable data on women’s violence – it’s hard to get it acknowledged as a problem at all, let alone identify the scale of the problem. It’s best to bypass most ‘official’ statistics, and concentrate on what is known in our own lives.
- The Angel Factor
- The picture of violence is greatly distorted by cultural prejudices and expectations, particularly in the media. Women are presented as ‘angels of purity’ in constant need of protection, and incapable of acting responsibly. These myths, which feminists rightly identify as a stultifying kind of sexism, also work to women’s apparent advantage – especially in the way they’ve been used to conceal women’s violence – but in ways that ultimately do not help women at all.
- A matter of responsibility
- One of the central areas of confusion in feminist theory is the problem of responsibility. A number of crucial issues of women’s responsibility have been dismissed as ‘myths’ – which leads directly, however, to the felt sense of powerlessness of which the same women complain. To break free from this trap, a better understanding is needed of the relationship between responsibility and the personal experience of power.
- Invisible assault
- Because of cultural perceptions about the reality of women’s violence, women are often ignored if they try, like men, to use physical violence as a tactic to gain attention, and hence tend to turn to alternative forms of violence. Women’s stereotypical violence is non-physical, with a high degree of ‘deniability’: combined with the Angel Factor, this often makes it difficult for anyone to identify it as violence; yet – as we know with men’s violence – that constructive action cannot be taken until it is acknowledged as such.
- The mirror-man
- Women often complain that they don’t feel heard: the reality is that, by comparison with men, they most certainly are. For a variety of reasons men’s personal stories are, in effect, suppressed: when they are at last allowed to tell their own side of each story, the picture of gender violence turns out to be far more balanced – a balance of terror – than the conventional notions suppose.
- The forgotten victims
- Men’s violence is mainly taken out on other men; likewise women’s violence is perhaps mainly taken out on other women. One of the bleakest side-effects of the political pressure to deny the facts of women’s violence is that women abused by other women are often ignored, or even actively silenced: their stories, too, need to be heard and understood.
Part II: Towards a gentler world
[This section focuses on practical and constructive solutions to the problem of violence, at both the personal and political levels, in ways that fully include and acknowledge women’s violence as much as men’s.]
- No fallen angels
- Violent women are not ‘fallen angels’, but simply women being human, and learning to be more fully human – like all of us. We know the illusory ‘gains’ and real costs of men’s violence; we need to make the same kind of assessment of the costs of women’s violence and women’s denial before developing any kind of long-term strategies.
- Facing our own violence
- For all its problems, men’s stereotypical conditioning provides them with tools to face and come to terms with their own tendencies to violence; women can apply similar skills towards their own empowerment. In particular, an explicit acceptance of responsibility and a clear distinction between aggression and assertion need to be learnt before women can truly claim their own power.
- Personal and political
- Current political strategies such as the (Australian) National Strategy on Violence Against Women are based on misconceptions such as the Angel Factor, and in practice are proving worse than useless, blaming men for all violence whilst entrapping women in a downward spiral of powerlessness. A new approach is needed: this final section reworks the National Strategy document into a form which takes both men’s and women’s violence into account, and which is more concerned with creating practical solutions than with apportioning blame.
- Book-list and index
About the author and the book
Tom Graves, M.A., DipAD, is a British writer and researcher with an unusually broad range of experience. With a background in medical education and graphic design, he is perhaps best known for his books on intuitive skills – such as “The Diviner’s Handbook” and “Needles of Stone” – but is also a computer specialist, widely regarded in Britain as one of the pioneers of desktop publishing. He currently lives in Melbourne, Australia, where he works as a freelance consultant in computer applications – especially the human aspects of complex systems.
His latest book, “Positively Wyrd” (published by Gothic Image in Spring 1994), is a ground-breaking new approach to the process of personal development, based on a re-visioning of the ancient Nordic concept of ‘wyrd’ or fate. “Positively Wyrd” is the first in a three-part series, to be published by Gothic Image, exploring the interrelationship of power, chance and choice in the personal, interpersonal and transpersonal realms.
This book is an offshoot from that research. Feminist theory dominates the interpersonal realm: yet much of it is based on premises which, with a more realistic understanding of the nature of power and choice, can be seen to contain fundamental flaws – and hence dangerously impractical. Where the “Wyrd’ series explores interpersonal issues in general, from a personal-development perspective, this book concentrates on the inter-gender aspects of those themes in a more conventional manner, aimed at the mainstream ‘gender issues’ market.