While it is probably safe to theorize that violence has been an inherent characteristic of the human race, it is then also safe to assume that nonviolence did not make its human debut via Gandhi, Thoreau, Tolstoy, King or a myriad of others (Wikipedia, 2017).  While Gandhi’s borrowed principles are valid for the analysis of nonviolence, it is difficult to separate the man, the person, from his actions, before and after his personal and public activist activities.  Instead, this essay will examine the nonviolent activities of the Feminism and Nonviolence Study Group (2010), henceforth FNSG.  From a pro-feminist lens, I will explore the group’s core philosophical tenets and beliefs relating to human nature and society overall, and within specific context, principles I also support.  The application of their principles will be examined through a framework emphasizing various aspects of an individual’s lived experiences, including interpersonal relationships, economics, and politics.

Core Philosophies and Beliefs

For some feminists (since there is disagreement among feminists regarding certain aspects of social life and embedded linguistic propaganda), war, and nuclear weapons are linked to violence, sexism, racism, and imperialism.  The FNSG (2010) admits that there are times where nonviolence engenders extreme violence and even death, as in the case of Steven Biko, an anti-apartheid activist who was murdered at the hands of South African police.  The band U2 commemorated him in a song several years ago. As a practicing vegan, my own ontological framework is a non-violent approach towards all living beings and a spiritual acknowledgement of beings that have suffered.  However, like many anti-authoritarians and anarchists, my feelings towards corporations that have little to lose by giving up practices of violence against humans and animals and continue to perpetuate the violence against both are frankly not very nonviolent.  The same can be said for the other partners in the military-industrial complex.  I am eager to learn of any viable alternatives to this from FNSG.


The Authoritarian and Corporatist Triad

The core of FNSG’s (2010) nonviolent stance against the outer representations of the inequities and iniquities cited earlier is linked to a triad, patriarchy, capitalism, and the State. Patriarchy, to me and to FNSG, is responsible for the male domination of women, children, political minorities, and the disadvantaged, and it is restrictive to men.  The State, according to FNSG, arises from both patriarchy’s urge to control and dominate and a way to perpetuate and organize the bureaucratic economic and social relations of capitalism.  Capitalism, according to FNSG, is the exploitation of one group over another, but it is corporate capitalism that is the dangerous and dominating force here.  The implication here is that through the linking of the three, all are equally evil or in the vicinity.  But let’s break down, even further, the underlying ideas and relations of these core tenets and separate them from their propaganda if possible.

FNSG (2010) states that the State arises from both patriarchy and from capitalism, yet offers no alternative to the form of government presently in place or to the form of exchange currently in place.  If a group of individuals are going to challenge what they think is a repressive regime or aspects of a repressive regime, they must offer an alternative to it, in order to work towards it.  And if they are offering no alternatives, they are, at the very least, supporting the current regime and power structure in place, in spite of their protestations to the contrary.  I will be reviewing FNSG throughout this essay to learn more about their criticisms and their solutions.  It is the solutions I am most concerned with.


The Militarist Arm

Implicit within the FNSG’s triad of oppression above is the military-industrial complex of partners that keep the triad in place, with ‘structural violence.’  These include, government-legal institutions, media propaganda, and the welfare state, “a government in which the state plays a key role in the protection and promotion of the social and economic well-being of its citizens” (Wikipedia, 2017).  While this seems to be innocuous and altruistic, consider who controls the government, who controls the government-legal institutions, and who controls media propaganda.  FNSG (2010) calls these ideological controls, controls. They function on two levels, provide advantages to the individual, at least superficially, regulate an individual’s perceptions and actions, and convey the belief that we’re all in this together, and we should support the existing social and power structure of class, gender, and race.  The latter should be clear to everyone as a form of propaganda.  FNSG laments the reality of this situation but doesn’t seem to acknowledge how deeply the propaganda in place influences those in power, those benefitting from it, and the rest of us.  They also acknowledge its influence within education, religion, and law. But they offer no solutions, no concrete alternatives to this reality anywhere in their manifesto, except nonviolent protest.

There are institutionalized forms of violence that are subject to the rules of patriarchal control that are obvious to anyone who is able to see beyond the social norms of racism and sexism that are embedded into the “traditional” family structure of husband, wife, and child/ren.  Gender roles, the tradition of ownership of women and children as chattel slaves, and laws that are at least technically neutral but in practice discriminate against political minorities, especially women, are all socially and legally constructed to prevent women and children from having an independent and critical voice.  While I would argue that the construction of gender roles and marriage are subject to socially constructed propaganda that is so embedded in our society and others that it is difficult to see unless one can train themselves to see it, it is possible to negotiate that space with one’s partners and children.  Most cannot see this, but it is possible to teach individuals over time to consider alternatives to the systematic oppression and within a marriage, to make it a partnership of equals rather than one with an individual who rules like a tyrannical leader.  FNSG writes of absolutes rather than alternatives to the status quo as there are for all of us in daily life.  This is an additional flaw of their manifesto.


Views on Nonviolence

The core of FNSG’s manifesto (2010) is their position on nonviolence.  While they argue on one hand, that sometimes in desperation violence is necessary for an oppressed people to gain their freedom, they dismiss it in the next when they concede that violence begets violence.  In spite of their position on gender inequality and racism, they still seem to be operating within the philosophical confines of privilege when they refuse to acknowledge that generally speaking, the dominant force in power, the White Patriarchy in this case, will not give up its power unless it is forced to give it up.  Look hard at the Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson, MO and Baltimore among others and the actions that preceded the protests.  Police are one of many military arms of the state and paid and charged to do its bidding, the isolated actions of any so-called good cop, notwithstanding.

Underlying the assumption of using violence against violence is that the masses should behave and they will be rewarded, another white patriarchal belief that has filtered easily into white feminist thought.  Intersectional feminists, while preferring nonviolence, understand that the reality for their peoples and daily lives is quite different and a lot more violent.  If only it were possible, and it is possible on some level, for a whole people to rise up, protest forcefully, nonviolently, and overthrow a government.  However, the anti-government actions or protests, violent or nonviolent have to be so united in thought and action that they eventually force the power that is in place to acknowledge that their continued efforts to suppress the people will cost them more than they have in patience, resources, or counter media propaganda.  While there have been many protest movements, both violent and nonviolent, not all violent movements have been dictatorial, and while most nonviolent movements have been successful, it is naïve to believe that there has been no violence, deliberate or accidental, associated with them.  Chenoweth & Stephan (2011) seem to insist that any violence associated with a nonviolent movement was a deliberate attempt by the regime in power to discredit the nonviolent movement, with the possible exception of the Apartheid movement and the military arm of the South African Black Congress.  Even Occupy Wall Street, the anarchist occupation movement, with their alternative successes, would not have seen as much those without the Anarchist Black Bloc’s violent actions to protect the occupiers  and attack the inanimate symbols of control that represent the power elite.  The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s represents a similar and slightly less violent illustration.  While King and the other leaders and followers of the movement may have carried no guns during the protests, there were protectors that did, proving that it is sometimes necessary to protect the pursuit of nonviolence. King was also no fool. (Cobb, 2014).

FNSG seem to begrudgingly acknowledge this contradiction and the reality of the oppressed having no means to overthrow the institutionalized violence without violence, quoting Barbara Deming, “Can you call degrading the violence used by the oppressed to throw off oppression?” (The Feminism and Nonviolence Study Group, 2010).  Violence or nonviolence is both a slippery slope and a dangerous place to be, but like the Black Lives Matter and Civil Rights Movement above, that is a decision that I am not qualified to make regarding a group that has suffered more oppression than I.  Even Chenoweth & Stephan (2011) acknowledge this fact with a handful of armed struggles that ended successfully for the oppressed, including the emergence of the state of Zimbabwe that FNSG references.  Each struggle is based within different circumstances and establishing an overriding nonviolence morals board will end badly.  FNSG does not advocate for this, but reading their manifesto, one is given the impression that while they won’t police openly, they give the impression that they do so silently.

Further, they insist that the police who attack are not the real enemy, not the real opponent but part of the system that creates their job.  Given what I have seen the police act on video and in person, I would have to question the altruistic impression that the FNSG have of the police and the military.  There are times that the military arms of the government can be swayed, but those are extremely rare.  While they make an extremely good point of nonviolent methods being more practical than violent; given that power has an infinitely greater means of violent persuasion than the nonviolent, an argument can be made for an unofficial alliance of a nonviolent arm as well as a violent arm of a movement, as in the case of historical and contemporary anarchists.


Privileged Feminism?

FNSG also assert that they are a part of the Women’s Liberation Movement.  Their manifesto reads as if it is extremely dated and not contemporary to the 21st Century.  As I mentioned above, the group and the manifesto, unfortunately reads, in part, at least, as if it is a privileged White Feminist manifesto.  Nowhere in their reiteration of the Women’s Liberation Movement demands, from equal pay to freedom from violence, is there any demand that asserts the rights of people of color, of women of color.  It is currently 2017, yet, people of color are only mentioned on passing, and only the men, not the women.  Sadly, this manifesto does not seem to have been updated.  I don’t flatter myself that mine is the only criticism they have ever received, but I am surprised that this document has not been updated.  They also have not separated the concept of capitalism from the state and do not acknowledge small anarcho-capitalistic collectives which function on anarchist principles with a capitalist fair exchange of labor or goods mutually agreed upon.  This will be elaborated upon later during FNSG’s discussion of alternative forms of social organization and exchange.

Feminist nonviolence, for FNSG, thankfully, is a little more balanced and nuanced.  They discuss the contradictions of nonviolence and abortion very briefly, but there is no space to discuss that at length here, except to say that there are overriding logical arguments to both sides of the issue.  You know where you stand, and I know where I stand.  It’s a difficult issue for everyone that is taken lightly by no one, the propaganda from both sides, notwithstanding.  They do make a measured distinction between traditional nonviolence and feminist nonviolence, primarily because male nonviolence space tends to historically exclude and devalue feminist nonviolent space as not as significant and unimportant to the “struggle”.  Let me clarify this for those that either don’t understand or don’t share this view.  Violence against all peoples considered political minorities is generally obvious except for those in power who desire to keep it at all costs.  When feminism activists clearly point out violence against women that is generally the same or worse than those against minorities, it is generally ignored because it is embedded into social constructs and normalized by most men and some women in the struggle and by those in power.  They generally don’t see it, and the laws reflect this.  FNSG, surprisingly, do not advocate for any exclusive space for feminist nonviolent activism or reflection, possibly because that would only help to perpetuate the embedded nature of such normalized violence.


Activism over Passivity

What is key to FNSG’s position on nonviolence is action rather than passivity.  King practiced something similar, refusing to be the victim of anyone, least of all the white patriarchy.  While there isn’t enough space to elaborate here that the Civil Rights movement was successful on a few levels, it failed on many others.  Recently a Black American colleague commented that while King and others relied on the favors of the political majority, they should have relied more upon themselves and confronted that majority with the only thing they understand:  Money enough to pay the majority to leave Black America alone.  Claud Anderson (2001) makes the same argument and offers an outline to get  it done.

It is abundantly clear to me as it is to FNSG (2010) that the bigger the movement, generally the larger the success, the more violent tactics are unnecessary, though some movements belie that observation (the recent Standing Rock protests among others). But, among many other elements, other forms of protest, in my view, should also be used or should be on standby, in the event that the military arms of the government decide to use violence against peaceful protesters.  And like any other successful movement in recent years, there should be no centralized leader.  King or general Civil Rights’ Movement protestors made this mistake, and Al Qaida has not.  King was assassinated and that act didn’t quite destroy the movement, but it dismantled it.  The United States government made that mistake with Osama Bin Laden.  Bin Laden is just a martyr and a symbol at this point which should be important to the United States government as it is to followers of Al Qaida.  FNSG emphasizes a similar decentralized organization that acts to engage the most people in nonviolent protests and also acts as an incentive for anyone in the movement to commit to what they able to on a day to day basis.  This also serves to effectively dismantle the hierarchal structural habits of the personal lives of the participants in the movement.


Society Reorganized

FNSG concludes with a rough outlined suggestion for a reorganization of state power. They don’t advocate a complete dismantling of this behemoth, here or elsewhere.  They advocate for much smaller units of regional organization answering to larger organizations.  This doesn’t seem to be any different than what is in place now.  While they advocate the suggestions of Alexander Berman, an anarcho-communist, they fall short of actually putting the ideas and practical organization of small communities, whether homestead intentional communities or co-housing organizations, into actual practice. The emphasis on Berman in the text (Feminism and Nonviolence Study Group, 2010), seems to be primarily for the non-anarchist unfamiliar with what anarchism in practice actually is, rather than what governments worldwide would like people to think of the concept.  However, they advocate the dismantling of armed forces, and unreasonably don’t even consider that utilizing weapons for hunting community food. They don’t even consider the necessity of community or personal protection.

They admit that such a society would not be perfect and that there would be conflicts, but the underlying assumption is that there will be no groups bent on controlling other groups.  Until that is programmed out of us all, and if anarchism is allowed to flourish, lack of conflict is an impossibility.  FNSG indirectly emphasizes the elimination of capitalism, though they don’t seem to realize that an exchange of goods or services for other goods, services, or a form of money is also an exchange.  Technically capitalism is a form of exchange.  However, capitalism as it is practiced currently, is controlled by corporations and government, by hierarchal bureaucratic entities, not by individuals.  That is the problem.  On a small scale, each community may not have the means to create, grow, or make everything they need.  That may come from another community that will either chose to exchange, trade, or sell for something that another community may not have.



FNSG and their manifesto is but a small chapter in the long and storied history of feminism and nonviolence.  While it covers many aspects of recent combined movements, challenges, and aspirations, there are many missing elements.  It rarely addresses violence against people of color except almost an afterthought. While quite long, it is also evident that a much more detailed analysis of the historical underpinnings of the movement and the strategic objectives of the present such as experiments in intentional communities or other forms of alternative goods and services exchanges.  There are plenty of valuable ideas here that can motivate activists and movements, but it doesn’t go far enough.  The text is presented like a handbook or a how-to book, but it is little more than a laundry-list of past and [dated] present issues plaguing women, primarily white women, with a passing reference to men and women of color.



Anderson, C. (2001). PowerNomics: The national plan to empower Black America. Powernomics Corporation of Amer.

Chenoweth, E., & Stephan, M. J. (2011). Why civil resistance works: The strategic logic of nonviolent conflict. Columbia University Press.

Cobb Jr, C. E. (2014). This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible. Basic Books.

Nonviolence. (2017, March 06). Retrieved March 10, 2017, from


The Feminism and Nonviolence Study Group (2010). Piecing It Together: Feminism and Nonviolence.  Retrieved from


Welfare state. (2017, March 06). Retrieved March 11, 2017, from