Why Shouldn’t Women Prevent Rape?

An Open Letter to Tara Culp-Ressler and thinkprogress.org

June 11, 2014

Dear Tara Culp-Ressler of ThinkProgress.org:

Rock The Slut Vote linked to your post lambasting all the bogus advice women in this rape culture are given as “helpful” strategies to resist rape, which include:

Make it less fun to be a rape victim; buy special underwear; stop taking public transportation; and get married. Ok, we’re with you there. We get that it’s totally stupid to suggest women wear modern-day chastity belts or forgo the transportation necessary to move around freely in the world.

But you lose us—and women’s rights—when you suggest that taking a self-defense class is the same type of bogus, ultimately sexist advice.

Many, many feminists have supported women’s taking a self-defense class for the same reason we’ve supported women’s learning how to swim, learning how to change a flat tire on our own cars, or learning how to do breast self-exams. Such knowledge can be empowering and enable women to navigate real risks more effectively, thereby supporting their freedom to move around in the world.

Come on, Tara, what is YOUR advice to women about how to prevent rape? Get men to stop raping? How’s that been working for us?

Besides, it’s the sexist rape culture that has peddled the myth that women’s bodies can be no match for a man’s. It’s rape culture that has sexualized women’s vulnerability relative to men that has eroticized women’s weakness and men’s strength. It’s rape culture that has taught women the embodied habit of feminine politeness such that—let’s face it—a lot of young women do not know how to push, yell, or summon the sense of entitlement required to get a guy to back off.

Does self-defense work 100% of the time? Of course not. Does it work most of the time? Yes it does. And there is lots of data to back that up (see the March 2014 issue of the academic journal Violence Against Women, which is devoted to scholarship on self-defense against sexual assault).  Self-defense training, as a method of sexual assault prevention, expands women’s freedom, mobility, and choices rather than limiting or narrowing them. Is a sexual assault ever a woman’s fault? Of course not. Does teaching women self-defense still put the legal and moral burden on rapists to stop raping? Yes it does.

Please join us in challenging the view of women as damsels in distress who must wait for the legal system, a GPS app that alerts first responders, or benevolent “bystanders” at a party to save them. And please, please let’s stop this business of pretending that if you teach women anything empowering you’ve given up on the struggle to make men more accountable. You’re not going to suggest women stop doing breast self-exams because they should be insisting that we find a cure for cancer or because it will cause people to blame women for getting breast cancer, are you?

Tara, we’re as tired of the rape culture as you are. But you do women and the women’s movement a tremendous disservice to ignore all the research on the effectiveness of self-defense training when you peddle such bogus and ultimately sexist advice.

Yours sincerely,

Martha McCaughey & Jill Cermele


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