An Open Letter to the Myriad Anti-Rape Devices Marketed Toward Women That Is So Not Going to Go Viral:
Dear Anti-Rape Devices Marketed to Women,
We don’t mean to be impersonal, Anti-Rape Devices (ARDs). But there are just so many of you, we don’t want to leave anyone out. Where to start? The Anti-Rape Gloves? The Anti-Rape Underwear? Rape-aXe, the Anti-Rape Condom? Hairy Legs Tights? (Because everyone knows, only women with smooth legs get raped.) I know there are others of you out there, but it’s like the Golden Globes: if we try to mention all of you, the music will start playing, and we’ll never get to finish. So please know, this is for all of you.
We know you mean well – you don’t women to get raped, and we don’t either. But as fashion-forward and entertaining as many of you are (what shade of Anti-Rape Nail Polish will go best with my Anti-Molestation Jacket that can deliver 110 volts of electric shock to the asshole trying to feel me up?), we must point out that you are missing a critical point, as you drape, adorn, and hide the bodies of the women you intend to protect: those bodies themselves, the actual bodies of girls and women, can be powerful tools of resistance. And when you don’t say that, you contribute to the cultural discourse that says women and girls HAVE to have these things, because if they don’t, there is NOTHING THEY CAN DO to stop a rape or an assault from occurring.
Not true, ARDs. Not true.
Your goal is the same as ours, ARDs. We want men, and others, to stop raping, and we don’t want anyone to ever be raped or assaulted ever again, ever. Here is where it seems we disagree: we know that women and girls are capable of fighting back against sexual assault, and we know that training women and girls in self-defense techniques reminds them of that, and teaches them how to do that.
But for many people, ARDs, you seem so much easier, so much more logical, so much more realistic, so much prettier. Because many, many, MANY people don’t believe that women and girls are capable of thwarting an attack. Here’s the good news – they are! Women and girls can defend themselves, and they do. But that’s not as catchy a headline as “Will Jagged Teeth Deter World Cup Sexual Assaults?” or “Japanese Anti-Rape/Anti-Mugging Dress Transforms Into Vending Machine Disguise”.
We don’t know how to make self-defense and self-defense training “catchy”. Listen, if Miss USA gets slammed for even suggesting it should be an option, we know we’ve got an uphill battle. But here’s what we do know:
- Responsibility for rape always lies with the perpetrator
- Women and girls can effectively fight back and thwart rape and sexual assault (data! There’s data!)
- Self-defense and resistance, broadly defined, are options we want women and girls to have at their disposal, not requirements that make women and girls responsible for the violence perpetrated against them
- ARDs can be options available to women, but they should be real options that increase women’s and girls’ safety, not the just the Next Cool/Hip/Fun/Pink Thing that perpetuates one of the underlying tenets of rape culture: that women are weak, helpless, and inherently rapeable unless men or products are available to save the day.
We’ll make a deal with you, ARDs. You stop making promises about safety that have no data behind them, and stop perpetuating the myths that say women are incapable of resistance, and start promoting women’s and girls’ rights to and capacity for self-defense, and we’ll follow the 15-step instructions for the Anti-Rape Gloves (Step 1: 2 pieces of marine grade stainless 12mm wide (half inch) 120mm long (about 5 inch) 2mm Thick (5/64 inch)? Check!) and post a picture of how it turns out on BuzzFeed: Nailed It, for sure.
Jill Cermele and Martha McCaughey
P.S. By the way, how DO you go to the bathroom while wearing the anti-rape underwear? Maturing women want – nay, NEED – to know.
Jan. 28, 2015
Dear Members of the National Panhellenic Conference:
We write with great concern that your national presidents agreed to prevent University of Virginia sorority members from attending Boys’ Bid Night.
While we appreciate and share your concern with women’s safety on campus (and, as college professors, believe that all students would be better off at home studying), we would like to suggest that you consider an entirely different mandate to keep sorority women both safe and free. Your mandate that they not attend the big fraternity rush night, a tradition at U VA that involves the sorority girls going from one frat house to the next in tank tops imprinted with their Greek letters, will no doubt reduce the risk of rape–but only through cloistering.
How about, instead, you mandate (and fund) self-defense training for all sorority members? Women are far more likely than men to be sexually assaulted on campus, and yet it’s a crime that most women can thwart with verbal and/or physical self-defense.
We support your desire for the sorority women to engage in more sisterhood events, and we don’t see why any woman wants to hang out with drunken guys being obnoxious at a frat house anyway. But we get their outrage at your paternalistic protection tactic. And we can only imagine the response to the women who dare to disobey their curfew, who refuse to be grounded: go to the frat houses at your own risk.
Restricting women’s freedom and mobility in order to keep them away from a potentially dangerous and criminal situation–while allowing the potentially dangerous and criminal situation to run unchecked–is a clear message that men cannot be stopped and that women cannot stop them.
Self-defense empowers women and increases, rather than restricts, women’s freedom. Rape and the fear of rape keep women in line, while self-defense training gives women more options. And, training to assert and protect one’s own bodily boundaries would make a great sisterhood event.
Martha McCaughey and Jill Cermele
Coming soon to the SJFB blog! A 5-minute video explaining our latest academic analysis and why we must include self-defense training as part of our primary prevention efforts. Thanks to Dr. Beth Davison for filming and editing, and to the Barbies for starring in the video–here’s a short sneak peek!
On January 11, 2015, the news media reported on a new study by Dr. Sarah Edwards at the University of North Dakota and her colleagues that suggests almost 33% of college men admitted they would force a woman to have sex against her will if they thought they could get away with it; when the word “rape” was used, however, to describe the same behavior, about 13% of men admitted the same thing.
These data call into question the oft-touted claim that it is a small percentage of men who commit most of the rapes – or rather, who force women to have sex against their will; Dr. Edward’s data suggests this is not the case, if 13-33% of men are willing to do it.
This data is disturbing, but so is the recommendation that illogically follows, which is that what is needed is more and better consent education and teaching about healthy relationships. These recommendations are featured, even though these researchers report that admitting a willingness to force women to have non-consensual sex is not a function of confusion about consent or a misunderstanding of healthy relationships, but rather, is instead highly correlated with hostility toward women and hyper-masculinity: key components of rape culture.
Consent education will not make men believe that they should not rape women, whether or not they can get away with it, and understanding what constitutes a healthy relationship will not necessarily make men want it, particularly if their goal is to perform a version of masculinity which debases and devalues women as lesser, as other, as objects for the taking.
Self-defense training, in its enactment and practice of women’s bodies as powerful, as strong, as something other than inherently rapeable, is far more likely to change men’s and women’s concepts of gender and performance in sexual relationships. And more importantly, it significantly decreases the likelihood that men will “get away with it”; knowing that they could be seriously hurt if they try to force a woman to have sex against her will may make more men considering rape to pay close attention to conversations about consent.