Self-Defense in Meatspace vs. Cyberspace

At a meeting last week of the campus Interpersonal Violence Council, a new administrative leader championed what we could do with technology–for example, by acknowledging that today’s students don’t read through webpages, and instead get a lot of information on their smart phones. Wonderful, we thought.  She also suggested that the Council partner with the campus Chief Information Officer and others who might not be on the Council. Also wonderful!  Finally, as an example, she suggested that our students and employees could learn how to change their privacy settings and turn off the location services on their phones because those committing interpersonal violence might be tracking and stalking a person using these technologies. Again, wonderful– and there is where we see that people who typically say that advocating self-defense is victim-blaming do not have a problem with these other means of self-defense–call them cyber-self-defense.  No outcry that we should be teaching people not to stalk online! No nervousness that such actions would not count as primary prevention!  Why not?

The difference between learning to defend yourself in cyberspace and learning to defend yourself in meatspace (the brick-and-mortar environment of, say, a college party) is a physical one.  People tend to recognize that women, in particular, are vulnerable in both situations, and embrace the idea of their being able to do something about that vulnerability in cyberspace.  But not in physical space.  And yet the very same principles of knowing where you want to draw your boundaries, and what level of privacy and autonomy you expect to have, apply equally in cyberspace and in the very physical space of a college party.

We are often told, by those doing rape prevention work in particular, that suggesting women can learn physical and verbal personal safety strategies smacks of victim blame.  And yet, there is no similar concern about teaching women to turn off location tracking on their social media apps.  This makes us wonder whether the charge that f2f self-defense is victim blaming is really just a cover for a belief that women can’t – or shouldn’t – actually engage in physical self-defense.

Because physical self-defense challenges rape culture and gender ideology in a way that cyber self-defense does not, cyber-security techniques maintain the illusion of female vulnerability and masculine prowess.  The idea that women can powerfully, forcefully, physically, and effectively defend themselves is far more threatening than the image of a manicured finger tapping the “off” button of a smart phone app.  

Perhaps we can embrace the general willingness to accept the validity and necessity of teaching people about their “virtual” boundaries and show how that applies to their “meat” boundaries as well.  As with cyberspace, so with meatspace.

3 responses

  1. Kenneth Sloneker | Reply

    I cannot agree more with your comments but I would go more than a few steps further. Knowledge and skills have been very well confused by the enormous amount of readily available information on the web. Self defense skills require active physical participation and learning from the student, switching a phone or app setting does not. Knowing something is very different than understanding and applying with expansion the previous knowledge. I call it internalizing the information, it is a skill of its own. Internalizing knowledge with a skill set is true success. At Live Safe Defensive Training we often get numerous “likes” for a women’s self defense course but have virtually zero turn out. My greater fear is that younger women will actually accept the idea that this cyber knowledge does replace a real world skill. Do they even grasp your term “Meat Space”, or understand that you are way better off preparing for “Meat Space”. And what percentage of attempted rapes or assaults are related to cyber stalking? Probably near zero, We all know what the the statistics support but that is breaching another topic. Change your app setting and be safe, really?

  2. Martha McCaughey | Reply

    Thanks for your comments. Indeed the meatspace skills are crucial and far more radical because far more transformative. Let’s keep encouraging the digital natives to understand the importance of learning to use their bodies mindfully, skillfully, and assertively.

  3. As dangerous as meatspace can be, we as females should never take self-defense in cyberspace lightly, particularly when so many young girls spend so much time within cyberspace.

    I have two teenage daughters (aged twelve and fifteen) who regularly used to receive hundreds of messages and pictures from “cute boys showing their abs” on their various social media apps.

    I had to explain to them that the picture that is being sent does not necessarily match who is sending it. Indeed, only last year it was revealed that a man based in Turkey who was well into his fifties was pretending to be a good looking teenage boy, and was sending girls images of cute boys and asking girls to bare a little flesh in return after praising them on their looks. Afterwards, after he received a picture in response he would blackmail them into exposing more and more of themselves. Fortunately he was eventually caught but you can bet that there are many more of these evil predators lurking within cyberspace.

    I’ve also started them early in self-defense within meatspace. They’ve been taught that they are able to fight back effectively even against a full grown man if they place their strikes and blows with precision against sensitive targets with all their might. In particular they’ve learned that going for the “high balls” (eyes) or the “low balls” (testicles) on a man are extremely effective and they have absolutely no qualms about fighting dirty if they are ever attacked.

    We all have to train our daughters early to look after themselves.

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