Monthly Archives: March, 2014

An open letter to Kurt Cobain, in response to his oft-cited quote about teaching men not to rape:

Dear Kurt Cobain,

First, my sincere condolences on your untimely death; second, I understand that, seeing as you are no longer with us, the likelihood of your reading this message is fairly slim.  However, given the number of people who place classified ads and post Facebook messages to those who are not longer with us, I feel it is worth a shot.

According to internet lore, at some point you said, “The problem with groups who deal with rape is that they try to educate women about how to defend themselves.  What really needs to be done is teaching men not to rape.  Go to the source and start there.”   So I write to you under the assumption that you did say that, and if you did, I say, “Not bad, Kurt, not bad.  You got it half right.”

I am all for teaching men not to rape – for teaching EVERYONE not to rape, actually, but since all of our data suggest that men are the overwhelming perpetrators of rape against both women and men, both boys and girls, I am comfortable with that framework.  I am delighted that you said this, given that your coolness factor as a rock star is far greater than mine as a feminist academic, and so I suspect that your saying this means more to the masses than my saying it.

But I take exception with your second sentence:  “The problem with groups who deal with rape is that they try to educate women how to defend themselves.”  If only, Kurt – if only!  While there are many individuals, groups, and organizations that work to educate women to defend themselves – physically and verbally – against rape, sexual assault, and all forms of interpersonal violence, there are far more that do not, and in fact, many that advocate AGAINST women defending themselves against rape, due to their (false) beliefs, NOT supported by the data, that somehow attempting or enacting resistance strategies will either make things worse or will somehow not reach men on that whole not-raping pedagogy you (and I) espouse.  There are a number of studies now where the data clearly indicate that resistance is effective in reducing the likelihood of an assault being completed, and that resistance does not “make a situation worse”.  If you can access any academic journals where you are, look up Sarah Ullman at the University of Illinois at Chicago – her work on the effectiveness of resistance is great.  It’ll blow your mind.

But more importantly, Kurt, why make it either/or?  I don’t have to choose between peas OR carrots, or better still, cheesecake OR crème brulee.  I can have both.  And, in fact, have, on more than one occasion.  I am in full support of attacking the horror of rape from as many angles as we can think of, and in as many ways as possible.  So there is no need for anyone targeted for rape to sit down and wait for the men to stop raping.  I can teach men not to rape, AND teach women, and others, to use any verbal or physical strategies available to them to thwart a rape in progress.  We can multi-task, Kurt.  And we should.  Besides, if you are in touch with any God(s), Goddess(es), wise ancestors, or spiritual presence(s) well-versed in feminist theory, I bet they would be happy to dialogue with you about how changing the gender script for women ALSO teaches men not to rape.  Recognizing women’s strength, and willingness to enforce their own boundaries, can give your average date rapist pause.

I believe, if you were here to have this conversation with me right now, that you would agree.  I don’t think you would want Francis Bean to have to wait it out if someone tried to rape her.  And I bet she could learn a mean knee to the groin.

All the best,

Jill Cermele

PS.  Loved “Nevermind”.  Great album.

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