The following article was written in response to media attacks on Dirty Weekend. It was commissioned by The Guardian and published in February 1992:

Revenge is a dirty word these days and one tries not to mention it in polite company. Decent people with decent, wholesome lives are not, it seems, attuned to vengeance. So refined have they become, so acute their moral sense, that the very concept, let alone the word, is enough to turn their well-filled, decent stomachs.

But there's another kind of vengeance. A purer, sweeter, hidden kind. An outlawed, subterranean vengeance that festers unacknowledged. We lock it up inside ourselves and seldom know it's there. We nail down the lid on the female id.

She erupts, from time to time, the vengeance-woman. She does outrageous things. She lies beneath a sleeping sadist, takes out a polished blade and sticks it, very gently, between his ribs. She watches, in the night, a stranger climbing through her window. She has a shotgun in her hands and points it at the bulky shape. She holds her breath, smiles fondly in the dark and pulls the trigger.

A vicious, vengeful woman, they'll say. Twisted. She didn't have to do it. What makes her think she's got a right to self-defence? She could have shut her eyes and thought of human values. She could have done what decent women do.

Because you mustn't go against the grain. You mustn't cause offence. You mustn't think you've got a right to break the mould. For if you do, if you wander off too far from the trodden, liberal path, the whole enlightened herd will trample you to dust.

A year ago, I had the gall to wander off. I wrote a piece of fiction. It went against the grain. It caused offence. Perhaps it even sought to break the mould. It shows an ordinary woman sloughing off docility. She's had enough, and goes out in the night, and hopes the freaks will find her. She sends the perverts off to perverts' paradise and makes them stiff forever. She treats them like the rabid dogs they are. If they want to batter, rape or murder her, she wipes them out. A reasonable response to unreasonable demands.

Or so I thought. What could be nicer, cleaner, less offensive than bumping off some social retards? What better kind of aversion therapy could ever be devised? What's wrong, to be precise, with killing rapists?

Quite a lot, apparently. Some things must not be said. Some views should not be held. For even liberals have their limits. Even pluralists draw a line, and woe betide the rash presumption that steps beyond it. Even those who claim to be free thinkers have their cherished values, a graven image carved in stone, and woe betide the heretic who comes to smash it.

Those tender-hearted humanists, who write with such comviction of the freedom to dissent, draw the line at writing off a rapist. Those who rush to challenge every moral certainty cannot face a challenge to their own. Some things, it seems, are sacred.

The defenders of the liberal faith tend to hunt in packs. The most stylish yobs in town, they like to be mob-handed when they go looking for a ruck. A year ago they shaved their heads, brought out the leather cosh, pulled on their steel-capped boots and mugged my book.

Nicci Gerrard in The Observer found it "more offensive than pornography". The Independent's Angela Lambert declared it "obscene" and "repellent". Guardian columnist Melanie Phillips wrote an exquisitely balanced review for the Jewish Chronicle: "When I finished with this book," she began, "I threw it in the bin," while Private Eye's brave yet anonymous critic came to the brave yet defamatory conclusion that "Zahavi is disturbed". The Sunday Times went even further, prompting Naomi Wolf to write in New Statesman & Society: "You know you have stumbled against a taboo when a newspaper . . . publishes a poll of psychiatrists debating if you are mentally ill."

Such was the reaction to a novel of female revenge. The vitriolic nature of this reaction, and its hysteria, are perhaps more revealing of the critics than their target. "What is genuinely subversive," Wolf noted, "is ritually punished." The priestly caste of pluralism had spoken. They danced around their golden calf and burned the unbelieving book. One wonders whether, buried in their bourgeois souls, they have the wit to recognise what binds them to the Bradford Muslims.

For there is a status quo in literature, a cultural norm, by which the woman is degraded, violated, mutilated and murdered. It is an extreme reflection of reality, but it does reflect it. Art and life in harmony. Dirty Weekend is a discordant book. It says disgusting things. It says the man who wants to mutilate has cut the human bond. It doesn't endorse the cultural norm, nor does it collude in the status quo. It lets the woman live, for once. A supremely selfish woman, who'd rather be the butcher than the lamb.

So she folds up her Guardian and gets out her flick-knife. She rips off the lid from the female id and kills the man who's cut the human bond. And as they lay him in the ground, they bury with him his belief that only women bleed.

 Copyright © Helen Zahavi
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