10 reasons why advocating self-defense training for women is feminist and not victim-blaming.

  1. SELF-DEFENSE CAN WORK.  There are decades of data, referenced by the National Institute of Justice, that support the effectiveness of self-defense, verbal and physical, in stopping rape and sexual assault.
  2.  Self-defense advocates and instructors know that rape and sexual assault is always the fault and responsibility of the perpetrator, and never the fault or responsibility of the target, victim, or survivor.
  3. Self-defense offers women an option for risk reduction and maintaining their safety in ways that increase their freedom to the world, rather than limiting their freedom and options the way that relying on avoidance strategies and male protection does.  In fact, the reliance on the men in our lives to maintain our safety is problematic; according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, almost 80% of the perpetrators of sexual violence against women between 2005 and 2010 were family members, intimate partners, friends, or acquaintances.
  4. Self-defense is a legal right open to women just as it is to men.
  5. Self-defense challenges the notion that women’s bodies are inherently vulnerable to men’s and the notion that men’s bodies are unstoppable.
  6. Self-defense challenges the belief that rape is thwarted only by the perpetrator “coming to his senses”, through bystander interference, or divine intervention.
  7. Self-defense training changes the broader culture that supports rape culture (or did you think it was just coincidence that so many guys think assertive women aren’t sexy?).
  8. Self-defense training teaches women the skills that facilitate the setting of healthy emotional and physical boundaries.
  9. Self-defense is empowering, and can change women’s beliefs about what they are capable of and what they are entitled to.
  10. And finally, for all these reasons, SELF-DEFENSE ALSO TEACHES MEN NOT TO RAPE.

Jill Cermele and Martha McCaughey

20 responses

  1. This is great! I have been writing about exactly these things recently — especially #7 and #10.

    1. Jocelyn- thank you for all your research and articles. Really, it’s a game changer. Every piece you write. I remember when you first wrote for Black Belt umpteen years ago! (articles on Kung Fu, I believe.) I post your writings like mad, you’ll be pleased to know they’ve been read in INDIA as well.

      I hope to catch up with you one day.

  2. […] to retaliate against, the conflation of self-defense with victim-blaming is unfair. It undermines the full-range of positive influence that self-defense can have upon the individual —  such as heightened self-esteem and self-confidence — as well as upon others who […]

  3. Drs. Jill & Martha, I wonder if I might post your list (with credit & a link of course) to my site? It’s an excellent summation of points I’ve made for years teaching Assault Prevention – often the most empowering thing Women learn is that they have *permission* to defend themselves. FYI, I found your post through the post made by Doc Bonn (and linked from his Twitter feed)…hurray for Social Media!

    1. Martha McCaughey | Reply

      Hi Edd, Yes, please do–and thank you!

      1. Thank ye kindly! I’ve added some notes and emphasis http://j.mp/1kaTvI2

  4. I would change the last line from “teaches men not to rape.” to, “teaches rapists not to rape.”

    Thought the vast majority of rapes are by men, and the vast majority of victims are women, let’s be inclusive so no one feels left out or unfairly accused.

    Other than that, good stuff!

    1. Martha McCaughey | Reply

      Teja, I like your desire to be inclusive and to avoid unfairly accusing anyone. I always have trouble with the term “rapists” in this context, however. If we’re teaching guys a new way to relate to women such that they respect their boundaries, they aren’t rapists we are teaching. They are only rapists when/after they rape (unless we think “being” a rapist is a sort of ontological status, an inherent identity or way of being). I hope we reach guys before they ever assault a woman, and that they never become rapists.

      1. Martha, I was just about to suggest you read this book:

        Real Knockouts: The Physical Feminism of Women’s Self-Defense

        Until, I realized you wrote it.

        Great book. I highly recommend it.

      2. Martha McCaughey

        haha, I should probably read it because I probably can’t remember a lot of what I wrote! Thank you for recommending it!

  5. Great list!
    I thought I would expand a little on #10.

    Seven Ways Women’s Self-Defense Teaches Men Not to Rape

  6. #7 doesn’t make sense – Rapist don’t rape for the sex – it’s about power so they don’t see their victim as sexy, but as someone they can overpower. Granted they’ll think twice with someone who is aggressive and defenses themselves.

    1. Martha McCaughey | Reply

      Thanks for your comment. Here’s why we think #7 makes sense: Our culture is a “rape culture” because the regular gender norms support men’s aggression and women’s victimization. One example of that is the fact that we think it’s more attractive if a man is assertive and strong than if a man is weak and vulnerable, but more attractive/sexy if a woman is weak and vulnerable rather than assertive and strong. When women learn self-defense, they often come to an ah-ha moment in which they question the many ways in which our culture as a whole (not just rapists!) values the very things about women that make women easy targets for violence. Self-defense training helps women see that these gender norms fit neatly into rape culture and not mere coincidence.

      Aside from that, we might note that when feminists originally explained that “rape is about power, not sex” they meant to capture the VICTIM’S point of view–not the assailant’s. We’d be wise to remember that, sadly, in our culture what is sexy is what is about power to many men, whether they are raping or not.

  7. Martha,

    1) Could you expand a little on how it historically came to be that certain feminists concluded that all rape is about power and control? And how this as come to be accept as the only truth? I have never understood how a huge variety and degree of violations could be categorized by a single uniform motive.

    2) I also think that an expanded definition of Rape Culture should include the availability of vulnerable victims who are unwilling or unable to assert and enforce their boundaries before, during, and after a violation. Minimizing the number of these victims would have the effect of reducing the opportunity for violations.

    3) I have found that when I ask the question of what “happy assertive” looks like, few people seems to know. Unfortunately, assertiveness has been coupled with anger and bitchiness, when in fact assertiveness is simply a method of communication separate from any emotion.

    When, your favorite band starts throwing out T-shirts, and you jump up and down, waving, and calling out, you are “happy assertive”.

    4) Many men find assertive women to be sexy, but that is not the message of popular culture.

  8. Martha McCaughey | Reply

    Hi- so sorry I never saw the follow-up comment until now! If it’s still relevant, here are my responses:
    You asked about “how it historically came to be that certain feminists concluded that all rape is about power and control? And how this as come to be accept as the only truth?”

    As I tried to state before, when feminists said rape was an issue of “power and control,” many people took that to mean that the men doing it do it for a feeling of power over and control of a woman, and that it is (therefore) not sexual in nature in their mind or in their experience of the event. But the problem with this is that when feminists said rape was an issue of “power and control,” they were countering the dominant narrative at that time that a woman should just “relax and enjoy it.” Feminists were saying, “um, it’s not going to be experienced as sexual or sexy to the victims; it’s experienced as an act of power and control.” So they were trying to capture women’s experience of the event, and prioritize (legally, morally) women’s experience over the assailant’s experience. Part of the problem we have in a rape culture is that men often have an entirely different definition of the situation in a sexual assault than women do. I do not think that there is only one truth accepted by feminists who study sexual violence.

    You also mentioned that “unfortunately, assertiveness has been coupled with anger and bitchiness, when in fact assertiveness is simply a method of communication separate from any emotion.” Indeed, lots of studies show that men’s assertiveness is respected more often than women’s assertiveness. Women’s assertiveness is seen as unfeminine and overbearing. This tells us a lot about how we value strength, power, and boundary-setting in men but not in women.

    Finally, you mentioned that “many men find assertive women to be sexy, but that is not the message of popular culture.” Sure, there are far more variations in taste out there than our popular culture presents to us. Thankfully, lots of guys are perfectly comfortable with women (their partners, their mothers, their daughters, their friends, etc) having authority, having rights, and having a status as equal human beings.

  9. […] empower them – don’t blame them.  Encourage your campus to offer self-defense classes that, as the data show, actually reduce the chance that they will be raped and increase women’s feelings of confidence […]

  10. […] Women and girls can effectively fight back and thwart rape and sexual assault (data! There’s data!) […]

  11. […] let’s celebrate this data – that self-defense training for college women can effectively reduce their risk of assault – […]

  12. […] women’s bodies as legitimate and easy targets for “taking.”  Self-defense, as we have argued in the past, constitutes a feminist challenge to this gender […]

  13. […] in it and/or doing it when threatened–is tremendously empowering for many women, changes the scripts of our rape culture, and helps prevent sexual […]

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