Any advocate of self-defense training could tell you that the skills they learn in self-defense are useful in daily life for taking oneself seriously, being aware of one’s surroundings, and setting boundaries in situations that are more common than assaults.
With all the recent talk on “microaggressions” it might be tempting to think that self-defense training would make you into that person who turns every little microaggression into a federal case. Not so. For complaints about microaggressions are typically complaints to a third party. On a college campus, for instance, that third party could be a dean, a Title IX coordinator, or an Equity Office director.
Prof. Bradley Campbell, a Cal State-Los Angeles sociologist interviewed on public radio’s “Here and Now” show discusses his study of microaggression complaints and the moral status afforded to victims in today’s society:
“These microaggression complaints – what characterizes them is that they are appeals to third parties. They’re not something like vengeance where people just take direct action against the offender. Secondly, they’re complaints about minor things, which is what the ‘micro’ in microaggression means. And then also that these – the complaints – are about specific kinds of things. It’s not just any minor offense, it’s things that are said to further oppression, and mainly the oppression of minority groups. So we thought about like when do these things occur? So some of the social conditions we mentioned were things like, you know, the presence of authority and also the demise of communal groups. But one of the main things is actually the increase in diversity and equality. So it’s in settings where there’s already a lot of equality and diversity that you get these kinds of complaints.”
Complaints about microaggressions are actually more common where equality and diversity thrive. A college campus is a perfect example.
We are not suggesting that sexual assault is a microaggression; let’s make explicit that we’d put that in a MACRO aggression category. But we are suggesting that Campbell’s insights about not handling microaggressions oneself, but instead relying on third parties to handle, offers some insight into the continued resistance to advocating that women defend themselves. If we must rely on third parties to handle even microaggressions, then why would anyone consider training women to be prepared to handle larger ones? Given that the victims of microaggressions are reporting the incidences to third parties, it is hardly surprising that campus rape prevention strategies typically emphasize reporting the incident and asking third parties–bystanders–to intervene.
Self-defense training prepares one to manage major and minor aggressions, both verbal and physical, and in a way that does not require third-party intervention. It allows for agency while simultaneously acknowledging the experience, and impact, of violence and oppression, without necessarily requiring a culture of victimhood that positions women’s vulnerability as a moral high ground, and denies women their right to self-defense.