- “Women shouldn’t have to defend themselves against sexual assault.” Sigh. Of course not, folks, if what you mean by that is “no one should sexually assault a woman, or anyone else, ever”, or “women shouldn’t be held responsible for sexual assault if they cannot/did not engage in self-defense, because the perpetrator is always to blame and responsible for sexual assault”. Right. But to say “women shouldn’t have to defend themselves” ala the Kurt Cobain meme is really just an excuse to deny women the right to defend themselves. And they do have the right to defend themselves, if that is the choice they make for themselves because of the risk of assault or in the face of assault. Period.
- “Self-defense isn’t primary prevention.” Um. Yes, it is, as we have explained countless times. Primary prevention, according to the CDC, stops an assault before it happens, and impacts social and cultural norms that permeate and perpetuate rape culture. Self-defense training, and women’s use of self-defense, has been demonstrated to effectively prevent and thwart assault, and to change our views of men as all-powerful and ever successful in sexual violence and women as inherently powerless and rapeable. Self-defense is as much a primary prevention strategy as bystander intervention programs and Red Flag trainings.
- “Self-defense is/leads to victim-blaming.” This critique is leveled at self-defense all the time. Why? Because we live in a rape culture. People blame victims and excuse perpetrators in all kinds of ways. Like when they say the victim is too pretty/not pretty enough, or too sexy/not sexually available, or on the street/in their own home/in a friend’s home, or too dark/too light/too white, or…right. Like that. The fact that people may perceive training more women in self-defense as inviting victim blame doesn’t make it victim-blaming, any more than people perceiving a woman in a short skirt as inviting rape means that her short skirt invites rape. Duh. Not all women want, or have the opportunity, to learn self-defense, for a variety of reasons. But that doesn’t mean that self-defense training should be denied to other women.
- “Self-defense doesn’t work/escalates violence.” Well, it does work, in many, many situations, as the data indicate. And because of that, it rarely makes things worse, despite multiple episodes of Law & Order to the contrary (still available as professional consultants, L&O!) You don’t have to believe that for it to be true. Just like evolution and global warming.
- “Bystander training is better.” Better for whom? (That’s grammatically correct, folks; check it out.) And that is a fair question. Bystanders intervening is great, as the Stanford rape case recently demonstrated, and we encourage everyone to act as upstanders and find ways to safely intervene when they witness a sexual assault impending or in progress. But it’s not better; it’s different, and to be clear, only potentially effective when an assault is public or happened upon. And to suggest that it’s better is to put forth the belief that those targeted for assault (typically women) are not capable of engaging in active, effective resistance. You might as well say, “Bystander training is better because women can’t defend themselves, so don’t bother trying or learning how.” What a terrible, and false, message to propagate.
- “Some women training in self-defense puts other women at risk.” A close cousin to the concern about victim-blaming, this statement reflects two fears. The first fear is that when a woman defends herself successfully against a rape, that rapist will simply seek out another target. Not only is their no data to support that belief, but it suggests that women, in protecting themselves, are then responsible for other women being raped. Hogwash. And, quite frankly, misogynistic. The only person responsible for a rape is the rapist. The second fear is that the women who do not train in self-defense will be blamed for the assault once our culture, led by a bunch of bad-ass women, embrace the empowering self-defense approach. We don’t want to force all women, or any woman, to train in self-defense; but neither do we want to ignore the benefits of self-defense simply because some women, for a variety of reasons, may not engage in it. If a small percentage of people are allergic to eggs and thus can’t get the flu shot, should public health officials stop telling people to get their flu shot? In fact, just like with flu vaccinations, the greater percentage of people who’ve gotten them, the better off everyone is – even those who could not or did not get the flu shot. Imagine if an entire industry had developed around serving only those who get the flu, rather than taking care of those who had the flu and working tirelessly to defend against the flu virus. That would be unethical.
- “The idea of a woman being able to overpower a man is just…
uncomfortable/unattractive/unfeminine/unsexy/inappropriate.” Seriously? Seriously? In the face of an imminent sexual assault or a rape in progress, the biggest concern shouldn’t be “Does this knee-to-the-groin make my butt look big?” It doesn’t. And for those who don’t like it – too bad. Get over it.
There has been significant media coverage of the signs that a fraternity at Old Dominion and an all-male house of Ohio State students hung out their house windows this week to “welcome” the first-year women to their campuses. Signs like, “ROWDY AND FUN. HOPE YOUR BABY GIRL IS READY FOR A GOOD TIME!” and “DAUGHTER DAYCARE.” And posters for sale in the Student Union at Appalachian State this fall included this gem:
Good for these guys! We applaud their truth in advertising, letting the incoming women, their families, and the college communities at large know that they are predatory groups of men looking to score with wiling women, or maybe even coerce or assault women who aren’t willing. It’s an important step in acknowledging the violence and misogyny that too often accompanies life in all-male social clubs.
As September approaches, young people gearing up for college are inundated with information about freshman year – what NOT to buy for your college dorm room, tips for getting along with your new roomie, how to/why you’ll love freshman year, how to drink at college parties, and of course, the Freshman 15.
Now, all the data tells us that the Freshman 15 is a myth – the average weight gain for students is around 3 lbs (the same as for non-students of the same age), but the problem of sexual assault is not a myth. So we here at SJFB are shamelessly co-opting the phrase “Freshman 15” to give you the top 15 things you actually need to know as college students, first year and otherwise:
- You get to decide what you do with your own body. That’s right – whether it’s what you eat or who you’re with and what you do, that choice is yours, and yours alone, as long as you’re not deciding something for someone else’s body in the process.
- Trust your gut. Take the time to learn how you feel, and pay attention to it. If something, or someone, doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not, and you get to leave any situation or person that doesn’t feel right for you. As they say, there are plenty of fish in the sea (or…carrots in the field, for the vegetarian/vegan crowd…)
- See the options around you. Good advice for anywhere on campus, not just the cafeteria. Take the time to survey who and what is around you, and if something – or someone – isn’t working for you, know that you can choose a different option, whether that is where to live, where to socialize, or who you are spending time with.
- Get the facts. Even in college, and even about sexual assault, misinformation abounds. Don’t rely on what’s right in front of you – whether in conversation with friends, a statement by a professor, or a sign on the door in the bathroom stall. Fact: fighting back can be extremely effective in thwarting an assault – it’s a right you have, and a choice you can make if it feels right to you.
- Tweak your lifestyle. – For the better! Make choices (not just food!) that are good for you, and surround yourself with people who are interested in what you want for yourself, not just what they want from you.
- Swap your go-to order. Old habits die hard, and we often go with what feels familiar, rather than what feels safe and healthy. If what you’ve done before doesn’t feel good now, try something new.
- Skip the stupid aisle. Okay, in the diet magazines, they will you to “skip the salty aisle”, but we like this better. College – like life – is too short to waste with stupid people, and by that, we mean people who are interested in bringing you down to their level. Trust us – there are better aisles out there.
- Do a purge. One nice thing about college is that you get to leave high school (and middle school) behind you. We’ve all made mistakes in the past, and we will make them in the future. Don’t let them define you – a figurative purge allows you to let those go, and move forward in the direction you want.
- Healthy up your happy hour. As we’ve said before, alcohol is complicated. The connection between alcohol and assault on college campuses is well-documented, which in no way means that drinking or being intoxicated makes a person assault someone else, or makes a person responsible if someone assaults them. Know, whether or not you choose to drink, that it is important to know your limits and the risks associated with alcohol use.
- Pile on the boundaries. You get to “no” to things you don’t want, without disclaimer, explanation, or apology. As scholars who write for a living, we are here to remind you that “No” is a complete sentence. (And remember – what’s posted on-line STAYS on-line. Err on the side of caution.)
- Show some restraint when appropriate. Whether in person or on social media, remember that you are not obligated to please others at the expense of your own happiness and well-being.
- Get off the couch. Staying physically active in college is a great way to manage stress and manage your moods. Stay focused on exercise that makes you feel better—not whether it makes you look better.
- Know what you stand for. Notice injustice and oppression in your environment – your own personal space, and the world at large – and decide how you can respond to it safely. Being in college is just like being in any other community: there will be conflicts, tragedies, and triumphs. And what kind of community member you choose to be will help shape what that community becomes. Part of a group or club doing something deplorable? Take a stand—change it, report it, leave it.
- It’s always okay to ask for help. Whether it’s help with your writing skills, with depression or anxiety, or in a situation that feels unsafe, ask for what you need. You may be living on your own, but you’re not an island. College campuses have more resources than ever to support your well-being and your academic success. Know the resources out there, and don’t be afraid to use them.
- Get fired up. Take the time to get to know yourself, and then go for it, full steam ahead. Know what you want – and don’t want – and keep your eye on the prize. You’re in college to be an academic rock star and pursue your dreams. College is about making your future, so evaluate every option or course of action based on whether it will help, or hinder, achieving your goals. Believe in yourself. We believe in you.
We at SJFB are getting a little tired of the latest backlash against self-defense, and the knee-jerk responses, by feminists and non-feminists alike, to Dr. Charlene Senn’s study out of the University of Windsor on the effectiveness of self-defense training in reducing the likelihood of attempted and completed assaults against college women, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
It’s easy to dismiss self-defense training and women’s capacity or powerful, effective resistance: it rocks the status quo in a way that other responses to rape and sexual assault, like marches and t-shirts and performance art, just don’t. But the responses reflect our cultural discomfort with women’s empowerment and entitlement to self-defense far more than any logic or data.
Not convinced? Change the topic to home alarm systems – an option that some people choose as a way to minimize or thwart burglaries or home invasions.
- IF A WOMAN HAS TO GET A HOME ALARM SYSTEM, THAT WILL ONLY MAKE HER FEEL FEARFUL, SMALL, UNSAFE, AND SELF-RESTRICTING IN HER OWN HOME.
- IT MIGHT NOT WORK (AND IF IT DOESN’T WORK, IT WILL RESULT IN BLAMING HER FOR NOT HAVING GOTTEN ONE THAT WAS MORE EFFECTIVE.)
- SHE MIGHT FORGET TO TURN IT ON, AND THEN IT WILL BE HER FAULT IF SOMEONE BREAKS INTO HER HOME
- IF SHE HAS A HOME ALARM SYSTEM AND HER NEIGHBOR DOESN’T, THEN AN INTRUDER MIGHT JUST LEAVE HER HOME AND MOVE ON TO HER MORE VULNERABLE NEIGHBORS, AND THEN IT WILL BE HER FAULT IF SOMEONE BREAKS INTO THEIR HOMES.
- NOT EVERYONE HAS THE OPPORTUNITY TO GET A HOME ALARM SYSTEM, AND SO WHAT ABOUT THOSE PEOPLE?
- GETTING A HOME ALARM SYSTEM IS AN INDIVIDUAL SOLUTION TO THE SOCIAL PROBLEM OF CRIME AND UNFAIRLY PLACES THE ONUS FOR CRIME PREVENTION ON THE HOME OWNER
Ridiculous, right? No one has to or can get a home security system, but we don’t challenge anyone’s right to get one, and we don’t worry about victim-blaming, or the (undocumented, unsupported-by-the-data) fear of putting others at risk by choosing to get one. And we certainly don’t suggest people don’t get one because it’s not the end-all, be-all solution to crime.
Sure, our bodies are quite not property that we live in and need to protect from robbers. But the analogy works to show how flimsy the knee-jerk reactions to Senn’s self-defense study are.
Instead, let’s celebrate this data – that self-defense training for college women can effectively reduce their risk of assault – and put that in the context of all the other data on the efficacy of self-defense in thwarting rape. Let’s put our energy instead into demanding that organizations, educational institutions, and governments make funding available so women and girls have the option, not the onus, of self-defense training. That’s the cost to focus on, because we know the cost of violence against women. Last year, the CDC had a budget for sexual assault prevention of about $50 million dollars. That could fund a heck of a lot of self-defense classes.
- No sissy stuff
- Be a big wheel
- Be a sturdy oak
- Give em’ hell
We love critiques of masculinity, but we at Chez Jane tackle social constructions of femininity. Taking off from Kimmel’s golden rules, we therefore offer you the four golden (softened with 4% silver and 21% copper to a flattering rose hue) rules of womanhood. Take note, sisters:
- Take the back seat*
- Be a willow (weeping if appropriate, but soft and supple)**
- Contain the fury***
- Look pretty****
Of course, we could argue, as Michael Kimmel does, that these rules are the socially constructed products of a patriarchal, heterosexist rape culture, and that deconstructing socially prescribed masculinity and femininity would do wonders in shifting the ways in which individual, social, and structural rules about gender perpetuate the rape culture, not to mention do wonders in improving the quality of life for everyone, regardless of gender. But doing so would violate at least rules #1-#3, and probably #4, as well.
Dammit. (Oops – contain the fury. Contain the fury!)
*Big wheels are for the boys, ladies. We know; we checked Google images. Unless they’re pink. But still.
**Everyone can’t hold their ground, you know. If manhood is about being strong, unflinching and unbending, someone’s got to yield, right?
***Because fury, however justified, is neither pretty nor hot. Reference rule #4.
****Or hot, depending on the situation and the requirements of your husband/boyfriend. But not too hot. Because that’s slutty. Unless he wants you to look really hot. But only for him. (Not sure how to negotiate that one – good luck.)
- “The point really should be to get T-Rex to be more peaceful.”
- “What would you do if Triceratops had an Iguanodon with him?”
- “What if you’d been eating ferns and conifer all night, and were just too full to be able to defend yourself?”
- “Why don’t I just dress up like T-Rex and let you practice on me?”
- “If you’d just stay out of T-Rex territory, everything would be fine.”
- “Isn’t this just a waste of time? You’re an herbivore, he’s a carnivore…That’s just the way it is.”
- “Maybe you should get a nice Brontosaurus to walk you home. Otherwise, you’re just asking for trouble.”
- “You know, I’ve always thought it would be a turn-on to be knocked out by a sexy Stegosaurus.”
- “When a T-Rex attacks you and feeds on your bloody carcass, it just means he likes you.”
- “Well, all these skills you’re learning are well and good until a giant asteroid hits the Earth.”
As Halloween draws near, we are again besieged with ads for Halloween costumes that range from truly horrifying to…well, truly horrifying. And as always, the easiest costumes to find for women invariably begin with the adjective “sexy” or “slutty”. Here at SJFB, however, we know that what can be truly horrifying – in the monster-under-the-bed/what’s-behind-the-shower-curtain/who’s-waiting-for-you-in-the-parking-garage kind of way, is the idea of real empowerment for women that is not predicated on men’s whims, permissions, or fantasies. BOO!
To that end, as huge Halloween fans, and with the history of being the ones at the party wearing the tongue-in-cheek Halloween costume with irreverent delight, serious irony, and finely honed feminist analysis, we thus offer you JANE’S TOP 10 HALLOWEEN COSTUMES FOR 2014:**
10. SEXY STRIP OF BACON
Rather than making all the respectable occupations women have fought their way into “sexy” costumes for Halloween, select an inanimate object that looks decidedly nonsexy when dressed in it. For example, this year Wal-Mart sells a body-length bacon strip costume. Add this year’s popular TaTa top over your bacon-clad chest and you’re done. [You had me at bacon. . . .]
9. FEMINIST PROSTITUTE
If most people are out there setting the women’s movement back three decades by sexualizing women in respectable professions, we’ll take a profession most think of as not respectable and remind people that feminism is about beliefs, actions, and perspectives, not occupations. Dress like a siren, carry a red umbrella as well as signs that say, “De-criminalize Prostitution”, “Rights for Sex Workers” and “No More Slut-Shaming”.
8. BEYONCÉ VOTER
While the conservatives on Fox News this year may have dismissed single mothers as “Beyoncé Voters” you’ll frighten Fox News when you show them just how women can vote like Beyoncé. Wear a fantastic gown that hugs your awesome booty, add an “I Voted” sticker, and carry signs with some of Beyonce’s most frightening-to-Fox music lyrics: “Try to Control Me, Boy You Get Dismissed”; “All My Ladies on the Floor (of the House and Senate)”; and “If You Liked it then You Shoulda Put a (Nuva) Ring on it (even if you work at Hobby Lobby)”.
7. THE CAVEWOMAN WHO HAS IT ALL
Wear a one-shoulder fur pelt, carry a stone club for hunting in one hand and a woven basket for gathering in the other, cavebaby strapped on so she can breastfeed while simultaneously hunting and/or gathering, and hum “Me Will Survive”.
6. DISNEY’S VERSION OF FEMINISM
Choose your favorite feminist–Gloria Steinem, Alice Paul, Sojourner Truth, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Susan B. Anthony, bell hooks, Benazir Bhutto, Joan of Arc. Now, make her look fancy! A frilly dress, pretty shoes, a sparkly necklace, and a jeweled crown. And, of course, the requisite (male, taller) prince by your side.
5. A WOMAN AGAINST FEMINISM
You may have seen the Tumblr site (it really exists and it’s really scary!). You’ll need to wear your best frock (pressed by your housekeeper, if you don’t have time!), looking hot enough to turn on your husband when he comes home from work but not so hot that any other man would ever look at you with anything other than envy for your husband; forced smile and gritted teeth holding back your rage that only 18% of the Senate is female and that 1 in 5 women will be raped during college; and holding a sign that says “I don’t need feminism because I don’t mind not having equal rights, finding my value in men’s assessment of my appearance, and living in a rape culture”.
4. BYSTANDER BRIGADE
(fun group costume!)
Your opportunity to be the knights in shining armor! So own it – shiny metal knight attire, sword at the ready to slay the dragon/rapist, steed at hand to carry off grateful damsel in distress. Bring your friends! That, and script in hand, prompting you to invite the errant evil knight to get another beer, play another game of pool, or whatever distraction technique you might need to employ to redirect his plan to rape. Optional props: red flags to wave, or green dots to apply, as needed; damsel in distress.
3. MONTY PYTHON KNIGHTS WITH KILLER COLLEGE GIRL
(another fun group costume!)
Use the same costuming as above (a groups of knights), only this damsel wears a white eyelet party dress. From a distance, she may look all innocent and helpless but, just like the white rabbit in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, don’t let her fool you. She has a mouth dripping with blood and is carrying a skull along with her red Solo cup. Suggested dialogue:
College Guy 1: “That girl’s got a vicious streak a mile wide!”
College Guy 2: “What, behind the college girl?”
College Guy 1: “That’s no ordinary college girl!”
College Guy 3: “What’ll she do, nibble your bum?”
College Guy 1: “She’s got huge, sharp—eh. . . she can leap about. . . look at the bones!”
College Guy 2: “Right, silly little bleeder. One blow job comin’ right up!”
Every once in a while, the college girl attacks and the group of knights retreat shouting, “Run away! Run away!”
2. NFL DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CONSULTANT
Wear athletic workout wear, protective eyeglasses, and carry a clipboard with a pen. Attach a nametag, “NFL DV Investigations” to your jacket. Everywhere you go, explain how the NFL takes the crime of domestic violence very seriously. Then sit back and enjoy the party because you’re not really going to do anything!
1. TODD AKIN’S LEGITIMATE RAPE TEST
Using a white plastic trash bag, dress as a home pregnancy test stick. Have people pee on you, and if the stick reveals just one horizontal pink line, that person was legitimately raped (and not pregnant). If there is a pink plus sign, that person was not legitimately raped (and can make “barefoot and pregnant” their Halloween costume). [If you’re out with friends, have them wear buttons that say, “Evolution is Religion, not Science”, “Card-Carrying Member of the Institute for Creation Research”, or “I’m With Todd”.]**Be aware you run the risk of needing to explain not just who you are dressed in but the fact that you are, actually, dressed for the holiday. One of your SJFB bloggers had the experience in college of attending a “come as you’re not” Halloween party, dressed as a fellow (highly annoying) classmate, only to have said classmate appear at the party and ask why she was not wearing a costume. True story.
There is a lot of resistance to the idea of teaching self-defense skills to women – and we get it. It’s a slippery slope. We all know what happens when you give a mouse a cookie, right? Just imagine – if women practice and enact physical and verbal personal safety strategies, if we have the embodied experience of ourselves as strong, confident human beings who are entitled to protect our own physical and psychological integrity, THEN WHAT?
10. Wear pants
8. Speak in public
6. Operate heavy machinery – like a motor vehicle
5. Have a career
4. Claim an education
3. Control their own bodies
2. Prioritize their own sexual desire and agency
And, the #1 thing that women will do if we teach them self-defense, and we just can’t say it any better than Pat Robertson did: “Leave their husbands…practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians”
These are the rights for which feminists have fought, and continue to fight: the right to dress as we like, to speak as we like, to move through the world claiming and participating in all spheres and domains available to men, and the right to live freely, safely, and happily in our own bodies. And that includes the right to self-defense, and to knowing how to protect ourselves. And no one should tell us that we can’t, or shouldn’t have to, have that right.
Ever feel like putting down the reading and just watching something funny? Well, look no further! Below are links to some of our favorite videos inspired by smart, nuanced, tongue-in-cheek feminist critique. And they say feminists don’t have a sense of humor! (Q: How many feminists does it take to change a light bulb? A: THAT’S NOT FUNNY!).
So get out your popcorn, put your feet up, and enjoy!
- Jane Austen’s Fight Club. Jane Austen fan? Us too! (Less so Mr. Darcy, but we will save that for a future post). What happens when Lizzy and Emma start a fight club?
- “Defined Lines”- Fantastic Music Video Parody of Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines Music Video by the Law Revue Girls. Robin Thicke fan? Neither are we! But even if you secretly, or not-so-secretly, like his song “Blurred Lines,” we think you’ll like this fantastic feminist version even better (and if you like Weird Al, you’ll see that he’s met his match)!
- “Word Crimes” – Equally, albeit differently, fantastic music video parody of Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines, by Weird Al. Remember: Just like an assertive bodily comportment, grammar should be stressed until it becomes a habit.
- “The Fault in Our Schools” – courtesy of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Yes, we know, we wrote an open letter suggesting they needed to do “Part II”, but Part I was still pretty damn funny.
- Sarah Haskins’s Target Women: Broadview Security. A must watch on the commodification of women’s fear for profit, and laugh-out-loud funny to boot. If you like this one, check out others in her series, ranging from menstruation to skin-care products to Twilight (don’t get us started on Twilight, either).
- “The Oppressed Majority” by Eleonore Pourriat: A Typical Day of Sexual Harassment and Assault, but with the genders reversed.
- Confused Cats Against Feminism – A parody of “Women Against Feminism” that has been called “willfully ignorant” (we wish we were the first to apply that label to that tumblr site, but The Los Angeles Times beat us to it). We love how this satire site harnesses those apolitical “cute cat” memes for feminist political purposes.
- Toddlers and Tiaras with Tom Hanks – All we can say is thank you, Tom Hanks, for this hilarious video about teaching little girls the bodily comportment of femininity. And “Sexy feet! Sexy feet!”
- Stephen Colbert and the Health Nazis – From 2011, and disgustingly, at least as relevant now as it was three years ago. We hear the same thing about teaching self-defense that is said here about birth control.
- The Misandry Make-Up Tutorial – Part of a new witty, culture-jamming style of feminism known as “ironic man-hating,” this video shows you how to apply cosmetics to achieve the perfect look for the matriarchal takeover!
As we head into August, the internet is bursting with advice for the college student. As college professors, we certainly want students to come to college prepared, and given the news coverage over the last few months about sexual assault on college campuses, we thought, surely, that information about the risk of sexual assault and how to protect oneself, particularly for first-year college women in the first few weeks of the semester, would make it onto these lists. (Actually, we thought no such thing, but we were hoping, optimistic feminists that we are.)
Sadly, though, we found nary a list that even mentioned assault, let alone one that suggested that the young woman heading off to college might need to know of the risks and therefore offered her valuable information about effective ways to defend herself should someone try to rape or assault her.
But no. What we found, instead, were suggestions about how to confront the problems of packing, laundry, and the Freshman 5/10/15.
So it’s not that we don’t think that it can be hard to know what to pack when you’re leaving home for 4 months; we certainly encourage you to figure out how to operate a washing machine, and healthy nutrition is always a plus. In fact, as professors, we’d also encourage you to read your syllabus, do your homework, and proofread your papers.
However, what we really want you to know is that if you are a young woman in college, the risk of someone raping or sexually assaulting you, or trying to, is high; the data (you’re going to hear a lot about data in college, so get used to it) from a lot of different sources says that anywhere from 1 in 5 women to 1 in 3 women will be raped or sexually assaulted during her college years.
What we also want you to know is that there are things you can do to protect yourself.
We trust you’ll figure out what to bring, how to set up your room, and how to declare a major, so we’re not going to give you any advice on how to do that. Instead, here are (drumroll please)….
THE TOP FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT RAPE OR SEXUAL ASSAULT ON COLLEGE CAMPUSES:
- RAPISTS ARE NOT ALL STRANGERS. Statistically, a person who tries to rape you is going to be someone you know, and quite possibly someone you know and like – a friend, a date, a partner. So it is important to be aware of the people you know, not just your surroundings, and to pay attention to how you feel when you are around the people you know. Go with your gut, and trust your instincts.
- ALCOHOL IS TRICKY. Alcohol is implicated in an enormous number of rapes on college campuses, and here’s what we know about drinking alcohol: intoxication can impair your judgment, slow your reflexes, and leave you more vulnerable to dangerous people and situations. Yep, there are criminals (yes, rape and attempted rape are CRIMES) that will try to get you drunk in order to more easily commit an assault against you. Know this: being intoxicated does NOT, we repeat, NOT, mean you are responsible for someone trying to rape you. No matter what. However, for a variety of reasons – health, safety, GPA, avoiding the Freshman 5/10/15 – we recommend drinking legally and responsibility, knowing your limits around alcohol and other drugs, and being aware of the risks associated with drinking.
- YOU ARE ENTITLED TO HAVE AND SET BOUNDARIES. You – not your date, your roommate, your friends, your family, your professors – YOU get to decide what is safe, comfortable, and desirable for yourself, and those get to get to be different for different people, or different at different times for the same person. And no one has the right to push or override those. NO ONE. And what that means is this: YOU GET TO SAY NO. And we know how hard “no” can be to say. Lots of people, but women and girls in particular, often have trouble saying “no” (“NO!”) because they are worried about appearing mean, rude, hurtful, or (gasp) bitchy. And as college professors, with over 40 years teaching experience between us, we’re telling you it’s okay to say no, and in fact, it’s okay even if someone thinks you’re mean, rude, hurtful, or (gasp) bitchy. Here’s our best advice to anyone who tells you otherwise: Fuck ‘em. (You may quote us on that.)
- THERE ARE THINGS YOU CAN SAY AND DO TO STOP SOMEONE FROM RAPING YOU. You may have heard a lot of (perhaps) well-intentioned but (in our humble, data-informed) opinion, stupid advice on this point that says the opposite, like: Don’t fight back, it won’t work, you’ll get hurt, you’ll make him mad, you’ll make things worse…. In fact, here’s what we know from the data (are you tired of hearing us say “data” at this point? Too bad.):
- YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO RESIST. Self-defense is a human right, and those aren’t just pretty words. You have the legal right to defend yourself, and that means against a rapist, too. And it gets even better – keep reading:
- RESISTANCE CAN WORK. Resistance means a lot of things: walking with confidence, telling someone not to touch you, pushing or shoving someone away from you, kneeing someone in the testicles (“Most incapacitating pain EVER,” our male friends tell us), and more. Fighting back – verbally or physically – against a potential rape or sexual assault makes it LESS likely that the perpetrator will be successful and MORE likely that the perpetrator will fail. Self-defense can work, even if a perpetrator is male, is larger, is stronger; you can use it to prevent or thwart an assault from happening.
- MORE IS MORE. Stronger levels of resistance – both verbal and physical – make it MORE likely that the perpetrator will fail.
- YOU CAN’T TRUST LAW AND ORDER SVU AS YOUR SOURCE OF INFORMATION FOR ANYTHING. (We know this seems off-topic, but just hear us out.) And we say this as huge Law and Order SVU fans, but here’s the sad truth – they just make shit up*. And one of the things they say that’s not true, which you’ve probably heard before, is that fighting back is a bad idea because you’re more likely to get hurt. Just not true in most cases – in most cases, there are no difference in injury rates between women who resist and women who can’t or don’t.
- YOU ARE THE BEST PERSON TO DECIDE WHAT TO DO IF SOMEONE TRIES TO RAPE OR ASSAULT YOU. One of the things that happens when we talk about self-defense is that people say things like, “When you tell women they can fight back, aren’t you telling them it’s their fault if they are raped?”, to which we say, “No, of COURSE NOT!” (Then we roll our eyes and mutter to ourselves because we’re really tired of hearing that.) We want women to know what their options are; we are not telling women what they should and shouldn’t do. Every person and every situation is different, and we trust women to make the best decisions they can for themselves in any given moment. Self-defense is an option, and if you know all your options, you can better make the best choice for yourself to stay as safe as you can in any situation – whatever that choice may be. We trust you.
So that should cover it. College is wonderful, and we want you to be as prepared for it as possible. This is the best and most important advice we have for you. Aside from that, we trust you to figure it out. Although we do think it’s important to tell you that if you overcook microwave popcorn, it will stink up your entire dorm for a week.
Go get ‘em!
Professor Jill and Professor Martha
*If any producers or writers for Law and Order SVU are readings this blog, the authors are totally available for consultation on scripts and dialogue. Totally.