It’s amazing what we learn when we read outside our field. An article by William Scott (University of Bath, United Kingdom), “Public Understanding of Sustainable Development: Some Implications for Education,” published in the International Journal of Environmental & Science Education (2015, 10:2: 235-246), reveals that those engaged with sustainable development efforts face many of the challenges those of us doing sexual assault prevention face.
Specifically, Scott and his colleagues feel that they’ve done too much “downstream remedial” work (measures that deal with the consequences of harm) and not enough “upstream prevention” work (interventions to address the underlying causes of problems). Sound familiar?
Scott describes an N.E.F. report, which “argues for prevention, and says that bottom-up prevention is best, with people and organisations becoming more resilient: building up their own immune systems, both literally and metaphorically, so that they become less susceptible to harm, changing attitudes and capabilities so that they are better able to take positive actions themselves.”
This is very much our approach with empowerment-based self-defense training. But just as with the other SD (sustainable development), with SD (self-defense) we find rather dramatic disagreement over whether it’s downstream remedial or upstream prevention. In fact, many feminists who are strongly interested in dismantling our rape culture do not emphasize SD on the grounds that it’s downstream remedial. We have long argued that SD can best be understood as upstream preventative.
According to Scott, that logic of prevention in sustainability education contradicts the “rescue principle” of so much philanthropy, charity, and health care. Rescuing people downstream can feel good but does not do the upstream prevention we need done. In that same way, bystander intervention programs, counseling services for victims, and training people to emphasize reporting on campus or in the workplace embody the rescue principle in rape prevention and education work.
Interestingly, Scott points out that many individuals and families are making efforts for sustainability, for instance by setting up a solar PV system. At the same time, only government can bring about macro-level change through “policy shifts, regulatory change, economic levers, and investment activity, for example.”
We, too, want macro-level change to the rape culture, and yet we also think individuals and groups practicing empowerment-based self-defense move us beyond the rescue principle and serves the effort of upstream prevention. Training women in self-defense may not be like taking the carbon out of electricity production, but it is at least as compelling as setting up your own solar PV system. We must do both for true prevention and social change. Self-defense training builds women up so that they are less susceptible to harm. Surely there’s no harm in that, other than to the rape culture.
Open Letter to Mattel:
Wow, Mattel, it like, took you long enough. Nothing like dwindling sales to respond finally to the zillions of critiques that Barbie was too skinny and buxom for girls to play with and still have a future free of eating disorders, and for their feminist mothers to agree to purchase.
But, hey, at least it finally happened.
And so we’re wondering how long it will take you to allow Barbie into the 21st Century with skills like karate, axe kicks, and verbal self-defense.
I mean, Barbie’s been talking since the 1990s. She’s been using social media for a decade. And she’s been sexual for–let’s face it–over 50 years. I mean, come on, “Sweater Girl” Barbie was not really about knitting.
Mattel, you ask us to imagine the possibilities – professor, veterinarian, coach, executive, world traveler. How about a Barbie who can set and assert her own boundaries, who can talk to Ken – or Skipper – about what she wants in an intimate partner, who can say “yes” when she wants something and “no” when she doesn’t, and who has the verbal and physical skills to stop someone from trying to hurt her or assault her or rape her?
Barbie can be the object of our consumerist one-percenter aspirations, or Barbie can become the toy through which girls can imagine a future in which they can be smart, strong, successful, and safe. If our girls can imagine Barbie saying “No!”, executing an eye strike, kneeing Ken in his groin, just think what they can imagine for themselves.
With love and the certainty that the beach really is the place for summer,
Martha & Jill
We here at See Jane Fights Back would like to issue a heartfelt apology to our readers. (“Sorry! Sorry, sorry, sorry…) We have thought, we have pondered, we have watched the presidential debates, and now, finally, we get it – women are neither capable of resisting violence nor able to advocate for themselves.
We thought we were, you know? There’s that data – ALL that data – that says self-defense works, that training women in self-defense can reduce the risk of sexual assault by up to 40%, that there are added benefits in areas like self-esteem, self-confidence, empowerment, and personal freedom.
But those are just facts, and when people hold those facts up against how they feel, what they believe to be true, it doesn’t always add up. Like how some people don’t believe in global warming. Or evolution. Or equality. Or racism or sexism or homophobia or…well, you get the idea, right?
So what happens, when the facts conflict with our beliefs and behaviors? We get cognitive dissonance, and that just feels…well, uncomfortable. And who wants to feel uncomfortable? So while we COULD adjust our beliefs and behaviors, and acknowledge that 1) violence against women and girls is a global public health crisis, and 2) gendered notions of vulnerability and strength do not solve that that crisis, AND 3) acknowledging effective resistance and offering self-defense training are two important ways to address that crisis, that’s just so HARD. Like Barbie said math was.
And we don’t like to do things that are hard, do we? It’s just easier to accept the status quo, to believe violence against women and girls is inevitable, to wait for the knights in shining armor (“Yoo hoo! Over here!”) to come save us.
So data be damned. We’ll just go with what makes us comfortable. Or more accurately, what makes lots and lots of other people comfortable. Because women being powerful and self-determined and safe is so….so….what’s the word? Unattractive? Unreasonable? Discomforting?
Oh wait – we’ve got it. Reasonable. It’s just so reasonable.
Happy April Fools Day.