Protest the “Asking for It” Rhetoric by Dissing Self-Defense?

Kate Harding is advertising her new book, Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture–and What We Can Do about It (2015, Da Capo Lifelong Books), with an excerpt in The Guardian.

This makes us feel really old.  First, rape culture has just risen?  As if.  Second, the hopeful subtitle “and what we can do about it” is not going where we hoped it might.  We’ve been through this so many times that we should have predicted that Harding would include self-defense in her lament about all the disempowering things women do, but shouldn’t have to, in order to avoid or otherwise protect themselves from rape.  Harding states in The Guardian:

“There’s something wrong with expecting women to remember that they should always go for the groin, or the eyes, or the armpit, or the upper thigh, or the first two fingers (I am not making any of these up), and that it only takes five pounds of pressure to rip off a human ear, and if you hit someone’s nose with the palm of your hand and push up just right, you can drive the bone into their brain and kill them.”

It’s too bad Harding does not say what that “something” is that is wrong with self-defense.  Maybe it’s that women are too delicate and pure to envision themselves doing such violent things.  Or perhaps it’s that women should not really be that vigilant about standing up for themselves.  Or maybe it’s that women shouldn’t have to worry their pretty little heads about the violence that is out there in the world.  After all, it’s hard for ladies to remember so many things (like when Barbie reminded us, back in the 90s, that math is hard).  Men are actually victims of violence more often than women are; would Harding say there is “something wrong” with men needing to know how to handle (de-escalate, resist, thwart, or otherwise survive) a violent encounter?

Harding goes on to state:

“By the time we finish high school, our brains are already filled with such rape-proofing basics as the appropriate skirt length for discouraging violent attacks (long); the number of alcohol units that can be consumed before one is thought to have invited sexual assault (one, tops); a list of acceptable neighborhoods to visit alone in daylight; another of acceptable neighborhoods to visit alone after dark (just kidding – there are none); and a set of rudimentary self-defense moves (“Solar plexus! Solar plexus!”).”

For Harding, encouraging women to learn any self-defense is akin to telling them to wear a burka–victim-blaming nonsense that restricts women’s freedom, blames women for rape, and, regardless of its effectiveness, diverts our attention from getting men not to rape:

“This ubiquitous idea that, by controlling our behavior, appearance and whereabouts, we can keep ourselves from being raped does nothing to help women (let alone potential victims who aren’t women). It merely takes the onus off the rest of society to seriously consider what we can all do to prevent sexual violence.”

We wish Harding would talk to women who teach and take self-defense classes.  If she did, she would learn that making women aware of their rights to defend themselves, and offering them training in self-defense skills, empowers women to move freely about the world and make the choices that are best for them – choices like how short to wear their skirts, or what beverages they consume, or which neighborhoods they frequent, or yes, whether to go for the groin or the solar plexus if someone is trying to assault or rape them.  Even though she published with a nonacademic press that is geared toward attracting a wide audience, we wish Harding would have done her research.  If she had, she would know that, unlike much rape-avoidance advice women hear, self-defense expands women’s freedom and, moreover, really does challenge the rape culture.

2 responses

  1. It’s Kate Harding. Her usual schtick, at least from back when I first encountered her, is hyping up fat acceptance. Which by itself might be one thing but her typical approach is “screw the haters, go ahead and eat that cake.” OK, cake once in a while is one thing, but cake *isn’t actually good for you*–and an overweight person is already dealing with whatever health challenges caused that overweight so hey, let’s be malnourished too! Yay!

  2. Just got the book. The good part is that it has an index; bad part is no category for self-defense. Just picked two pages at random:

    1) She spends three pages berating the TV show Law & Order SVU for being “victim blaming.” (For those who watch the show- as I do- you know that’s absurd.)
    2) she mentions doing an intervention for a drunk friend. (Haven’t gotten far, but I’m guessing she thinks societal intervention will… just somehow work, without any preparation or training.)

    I get the sense that she thinks all the efforts of rape crisis counselors and self-defense and martial arts teachers (and women monitoring the media for negative female stereotypes) didn’t exist before her. I find that incredibly insulting.

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