Category Archives: Open Letters

Persuasive Power

 

Open Letter to the Author of Thank You for Arguing.

Dear Jay Heinrichs:

We read your book, Thank You for Arguing, a national bestseller, to learn how we might use the techniques of persuasion in order to convince those who do not see the value of self-defense training to women.  And we’re ready, as you say, to “move our audience to action”.  Beyond ready.  As self-defense scholars and advocates, we know that the data show that women’s use of self-defense to thwart sexual assault is likely to be effective and safe.  The challenge has been to get people to embrace that data and move to the actions of funding, learning, and advocating women’s self-defense training.  Your strategies can help us do that – let us know how we’re doing!

First we thought we’d try your tactic of starting with the opposition’s view and then showing how your own position better suits their view.  For example, rape prevention educators say that “holding rapists accountable” is preventative.  So how about taking that view — that “we must hold rapists accountable”– and then reframing it to say that a woman who shouts at, kicks at, or otherwise stops a man from carrying out his plans to rape is holding rapists accountable.  

We also liked your approach of creating effective statements that blend parts of the opposition’s view with one’s own position, such as the highly effective statement, “Abortions should be safe, legal, and rare.” Perhaps we could say, Self-defense should be empowering, effective, and rare.

Another way we might be able to use your technique is to come up  with a memorable soundbite expressing our position–something like:  Securing funding from the CDC shouldn’t go against women’s security.   Or: Self-Defense: Because We’re Worth It.

Perhaps our blog readers can help, too.  Let us know your ideas for the best persuasive statements for self-defense advocacy! 

Sincerely, 

Martha & Jill

 

 

 

An Open Letter to All the Disheartened Clinton Voters

Resistance Is Not Futile.

Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States.

We put up a good fight.  It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, needed it to.  We lost.  Did the fight matter?

Resistance, in any form, to any kind of assault or violation, does not guarantee a particular outcome.   And when the outcome is unwanted and scary and painful and wrong, and violates our individual and collective rights to freedom and empowerment and self-determination and safety, it can feel like the resistance was futile.

It was not futile.  As Hillary Clinton reminded us in her moving concession speech this morning, it is not futile.

As scholars who advocate self-defense, we want to remind you of an important lesson from the data on self-defense: that the process of resistance is critical and empowering and positive, even when the outcome is negative.  In the face of assault, women who knew resistance was an option and who made the best choice for themselves in that moment – whether that was verbal resistance or physical resistance or simply the determination to survive – had better physical and psychological outcomes following an assault than women who believed they had no choices.

We do not fight solely because we want a particular outcome.  We fight because we are worth fighting for.  And the fight is important on all levels – for individual people, for what it communicates to our families and friends and communities, for how it changes rules and norms and structures and policies and laws.  We fight for what the fight says about and means to us.

What is the next step?  There is no “right” answer to that, because resistance is multi-faceted, broadly defined, and individually determined.  Yes, we will have successes and setbacks.  But we know we will, as Hillary implores us to, go on fighting. Because, as Hillary said, “fighting for what’s right is worth it.”

Grow a Pair and Grab ‘Em By the Pussy

An Open Letter to Donald Trump

Dear Mr. Trump,

We are not writing to express our surprise that recent tapes revealed your proudly describing how you go up to women and start kissing them without even waiting (for consent) and how you “grab ’em by the pussy.”  This does not shock us at all, given your relative power as a rich white man living in a rape culture.

But what does that mean, rape culture?  Rape culture refers to that set of attitudes and beliefs about men, women, and sex that presume that men are going to aggress against women and that women will, at best, be OK with it or, at worst, don’t matter anyway.  Rape culture includes the way we speak about men and women.

When we describe someone brave and assertive, we say that person has “got balls.” If we want someone to be more courageous, we say they really ought to “grow a pair.”  This makes logical sense in a culture that associates manhood with the ability to assert one’s will.  When we describe someone who is weak, fearful, or otherwise wimpy (you know, “not man enough”), we say they are a “pussy.”  This is not at all coincidentally also a slang word for female sex organs.

These associations were in full play in the sign carried by one of Trump’s supporters, which declared “Better to grab a pussy than be one!”

The issue, as many have pointed out, is not the use of the term “pussy” to describe women’s genitalia, or even the use of the word “pussy” as a pejorative and emasculating slur. The issue is Trump’s assertion that pussies, and by association the human beings who have them, are there for his taking.  Yet they, and we, are not.

Self-defense training teaches women that there is nothing about having a pussy that makes us pussies of the Trumps of this world.  And self-defense training teaches us that resistance comes in many forms, and that there is not just one moment in time for resistance.  Resistance can happen when we see the threat coming a mile away, when the threat is right in front of us, and any time after an assault, be that minutes or decades.  In fact, the willful act of standing up to the Trumps of the world, verbally and/or physically, courageously telling one’s story about these Trumps, and civil disobedience are all forms of resistance to the rape culture.  We only fully challenge the rape culture when we challenge the belief that women have no power to resist men, and the accompanying belief that men can, because of either social or physical power, just waltz up to women and grab ’em by the pussy.

Because you can’t, Mr. Trump.  And this is what resistance looks like.

pussy-grabs-backRead more about this image at http://www.wnyc.org/story/pussy-grabs-back-movement/

 

 

Open Letter to Mr. Splashy Pants

Dear Mr. Splashy Pants,

Congratulations on being an amazing Internet meme. How’d you do it? You stand for a great cause–GreenPeace wanted to make people more aware of the whales that were threatened in Japan–and you emerged as the people’s choice for icons in this movement.mister-splashy-pants

But you were the underdog (underwhale?  underwear?).  Most of the names for the representative whale were serious, symbolic, ethereal names like Anahi and Kaimana.  And yet you prevailed, because GreenPeace left it up to a vote over social media.  When you won, GreenPeace pulled the old “we’re going to keep the contest open a while longer” trick, at which point your supporters only became more emboldened, determined to see their beloved Mr. Splashy Pants the name of the GreenPeace whale.

That’s why we’re writing you for advice, Mr. Pants, in hopes that we could make the kind of splash on social media that you have.  We’ve blogged serious stuff. We’ve blogged silly stuff.  We’ve submitted a video in response to the one that the CDC did.  We just don’t have your supporters or your success.  But we know, Splashy, that you understand the importance of self-preservation, and fighting back against those who would perpetrate violence.  We know you get it, Splashy.

Please write with any suggestions as to contests &etc.  Thank you.

Sincerely,

Jill & Martha

 

An Open Letter to Rape Prevention Educators

Dear Rape Prevention Educators,

As rape prevention educators, you emphasize “primary prevention,” but do not include self-defense or resistance as such.  Self-defense, you say, is “secondary prevention”–along with providing counseling and medical care to victims of completed rape.   As we have already argued, this is not a data-driven approach because the data show that self-defense is an effective sexual assault prevention strategy, and it is ultimately fueling a disempowered status for women on campus.

Why wouldn’t you tell people that training in self-defense is possible and that research shows that active resistance to attack, with or without prior training, usually works to thwart an assault?

Some of you think it’s violent, and therefore it counters your program “against violence”.  If that’s the case, there’s an easy solution.  How about you clarify that you’re against sexual assault?  You’ll be glad to learn that data show that women learning how to resist violence perpetrated against them results in an overall reduction in such violence.  Self-defense is part of the effort to stop oppressive violence.

Some of you object to women having to do anything for their own health and safety.  Well, except when it comes to the importance of preventing pregnancy and STI’s, or when it comes to smoking cessation, or when it comes to curbing one’s risk for breast and cervical cancer.  In fact, most of you are all about checking your breasts, getting route health screenings, and stopping life-shortening and life-threatening habits like smoking tobacco.  We’ve never heard any of you declare, “I shouldn’t even have to get a pap smear!” or “I should be able to smoke all the cigarettes I want!” or “I mean, if a woman wants to use protection against pregnancy or STIs while she is having sex with multiple partners whose sexual history is unknown to her, that’s up to her–but I’m not going to suggest that anyone do that!”  So clearly, if you are in favor of women acting to promote and protect their own health and safety, you can support self-defense and self-defense training.

Some of you think talking about women’s ability to resist attack is victim-blaming.  But teaching women to be proactive about their own health and safety, and to take their own bodily boundaries seriously, is not blaming anyone who becomes the victim of attack–attempted or completed.  In fact, self-defense is often taken by survivors of sexual violence, and it does not make them blame themselves for what happened.  It gives them new options for responding and helps them take some of their power back.  It’s therapeutic.  It’s therapeutic for others who take it, too, because they learn boundary setting, taking themselves seriously, and yes, the physical stuff and the yelling can be really cathartic and fun.  Besides, we’d rather risk a few women feeling bad or blamed than risk lots of women becoming victims because everyone was more worried about women feeling blamed than about women getting raped.

If we’re going to teach people to stop a guy who is about to rape someone, and call that primary prevention, and also not call it violence (even though, um, let’s just remember that the heroized bystanders who intervened during the rape being committed at Stanford used physical force to intervene), then teaching those who are targeted for rape how to stop someone who’s about to rape them is no less primary, and no more violent, than what we’re already teaching.

We still don’t know the difference between the whip and the nay-nay, but we do know the difference between primary and secondary prevention.  Do you?

An Open Letter to Dan Turner, father of convicted rapist Brock Turner: Here’s What’s Unfortunate

Dear Mr. Turner,

Your son, Brock Turner, is a convicted rapist.  The facts of his crime are not in dispute:  Brock sexually assaulted an intoxicated woman behind a dumpster.  He was caught by two men who realized that a crime was taking place and who thus not only intervened but held your son until police arrived to take him into custody.

Despite your assertion to the contrary, Brock Turner was, in fact, violent to another human being on January 17, 2015.  He was convicted of 3 felonies.  Your response?  To hold up as a role model for other college students.  You are quoted in multiple media outlets saying that “…having people like Brock educate others on college campuses is how society can begin to break the cycle of binge drinking and its unfortunate results.”

Rape is not an “unfortunate result” of your son, Brock Turner, having one beer too many, Mr. Turner.  Rape is the crime committed by your son against another person, who has painfully and eloquently described the lasting impact of your son’s brutal attack. Your son, Brock Turner, is a convicted rapist who violently attacked another human being, and unless that is what he is going to say to the college students you claim he can “educate”, what they will learn is that sexual violence against women is simply an unfortunate result of boys-being-boys and having a good time at a party.  Yes, Brock was drunk.  But his victim was unconscious.  Unconscious people cannot consent to sex, and that is rape.

What would his message be, Mr. Turner?  “My dad said I shouldn’t have gotten jail time!”?  “Judge Aaron Persky felt bad sending someone like me to jail <sad emoji>”?  “What you call rape, I call sexual promiscuity – but you know what those co-eds are like…”?

Here’s what is truly unfortunate, Mr. Turner:  your son is in good company.  Recent studies have demonstrated that as many as one third of college men report that they would rape a woman – or force a woman to have sexual intercourse against her will (they are a little unclear sometimes that those are the same thing) if they could do so without consequences. And male college athletes are right there in the mix.

Dan Turner, you, and your enthusiastic endorsement of your son’s right to rape, are the best evidence we could offer that the only thing to be learned from this is that we need a radical response to rape and sexual assault.  We need to punish offenders and teach women and girls to defend themselves, both of which send a strong cultural message – that rape and sexual assault will not be tolerated, and that the consequences to the rapists will be severe.  Self-defense training might not have helped the woman your son Brock raped, but we know it helps others both defend themselves AND intervene to help others, like the two young men who intervened while Brock was raping that young woman.  It reminds women and men that women are entitled to their boundaries – a cultural shift that is, as your statements and the statements of others show, is sorely needed on campus today.

And yes, we need to change people’s attitudes, but, as you so eloquently demonstrate, the goal is not for all of us to see things the way you and your son and Judge Persky do.  It’s to get people on board with the fact that rape is a crime, that justice for rape victims should be swift and consequences to rapists severe, that 20 minutes lasts a lifetime.

It’s not just unfortunate that you and Brock Turner and Judge Persky don’t get that, Dan Turner.  It’s criminal.

Jill Cermele and Martha McCaughey

 

CDC Frames Changing Interactions Between Two People as a Prevention Strategy (but not for Sexual Assault)

OPEN LETTER TO THE CDC

Dear Center for Disease Control and Prevention,

Your recently released report on fatal abusive head trauma in children under 5 embraces a range of prevention strategies (your words, not ours) to combat a type of violence that parents or caregivers perpetrate against children.  You remind us of the need for collecting good data, for shifting cultural norms around parenting, and for strengthening economic support for families through a variety of policy changes.

And then, CDC (may we call you CDC?), you say this:

“There is growing evidence that child maltreatment prevention strategies, such as those that change interactions, including those between parents and children, parents and other caregivers, and parents and health care providers are effective interventions (7). [The CDC] resource [is]…based on decades of research about effectively promoting positive parenting and preventing child maltreatment, using various approaches, including videos and interactive practice exercises, to help caregivers build healthy relationships with their children aged >3 years.” [emphasis ours].

We wholeheartedly agree – using interactive practice exercises that change interactions between people is an  effective prevention strategy supported by decades of research.

Not just in the prevention of child maltreatment.  Also in the prevention of sexual assault.

But you should know this, CDC.  We’ve told you before.  But instead you continue to frame self-defense as a “risk-reduction” strategy instead of as primary prevention.

On the bright side, your Sexual Violence Prevention Package (pages 19-22) lists empowerment-based self-defense among the skills-building strategies we should be teaching.

We applaud your recognition that, with respect to abusive head trauma in children, prevention is a multi-faceted approach, and that changing interactions between caregivers and children is an important aspect of that prevention model.

Let’s have those same standards apply to preventing sexual assault, and recognize that empowerment self-defense training IS part of a comprehensive prevention model; it creates population-level change by challenging rape myths and the dynamics around gender, in addition to teaching people a range of verbal and physical personal safety strategies to prevent sexual assault.

In solidarity,

Jill Cermele and Martha McCaughey

 

Barbie Can Be Curvy, But Can She Fight?

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. curvy-barbie-fat-barbie

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

An Open Letter to Mr. Grey (Bear) of the Vermont Teddy Bear Company

One year later, and it’s just as relevant.  Seriously, Vermont Teddy Bear Company?

Dear Mr. Grey (Bear),

First, I must confess, I haven’t read the book or seen the movie upon which your marketing turns. But I don’t really need to.  I got the gist from the YouTube clip of Ellen Degeneres reading an excerpt, from Dave Barry’s essay about his wife’s reading of it, and from a college student’s paper on the book, which included choice quotes.  You’re simultaneously the object of lust and desire for the women who read your book and thought it was erotica, and you’re the object of scorn and disgust for the women who read your book and thought it was the story of one man’s fantasy of abuse and domination framed as romance.  The dirtier version of Twilight, if you will.

I don’t know how you became a teddy bear, Mr. Grey (Bear), but apparently someone at the Vermont Teddy Bear Company has a keen sense of how to make a dominating misogynist cute.  You have been trotted out as a marketing ploy by a multi-million dollar company.  (How does it feel to be used, Mr. Grey?  Do you want to willingly surrender yourself to the corporate headquarters, in all things?)

I see you everywhere, Mr. Grey (Bear).  It’s like you’re stalking me, which, clearly, is entirely consistent with your modus operandi.  I can’t get you off my Facebook news feed, I hear you advertised on my local radio station when I’m trying to get information about traffic, and you even infiltrated one of my favorite NPR programs as you forced your way into a limerick on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.

Your ad haunts me, Mr. Grey (Bear).  I seem to be in a period of my life where I am particularly vulnerable to advertising.  I just bought Fruity Cheerios after seeing that sweet commercial of the little boy going through his breakfast cereal options with his dad (“My favorite kind of Cheerios are the ones I eat with you, Daddy”); I also bought ginger ale after a couple of weeks’ exposure to that Canada Dry commercial where the woman at the barbeque reaches into the cooler and starts pulling the ginger plants from Jack’s Ginger Farm, and I don’t even understand that ad.

But your ad haunts me for a different reason.  You’re a fucking teddy bear, for god’s sake.  How you even came to be considered an appropriate Valentine’s Day gift for adult women is frankly beyond my comprehension.  But a teddy bear who gets his kinks by being sadistic and abusive?  Really?  Am I supposed to be turned on by your satin mask and teeny tiny…handcuffs, or is that supposed to get my kid’s stuffed frog all hot and bothered?  And really, despite all your plushy machismo and smoldering…um…plastic eyes, you know you’re just a puppet, right?  You are merely the pawn of the Vermont Teddy Bear Company.  And from what I understand, by your own admission, you’re completely fucked up.  Sexy?  Not so much.

So news flash, Mr. Grey (Bear).  I want you gone – gone from my computer screen, gone from my radio, and for god’s sake, gone from my NPR programs.  I know, that’s not what you’re accustomed to hearing.  But get used to it.  And as for your Dominant – the Vermont Teddy Bear Company – how about a teddy bear that symbolizes women’s empowerment rather than the benefits to men of participating in the rape culture?  Rosie the Rive-bear?  Glori-bear Steinem?   The Bear-zillian Jiu-Jitsu Teddy?  How about Thel-bear and Bear-ouise?  In the meantime, I look forward to hearing how much of the Vermont Teddy Bear Company’s proceeds from your rape-culture-supporting teddy bear self are getting donated to support organizations that fight violence against women or empower women to resist when their partners are controlling and abusive.   I’ll take that as my Valentine’s Day gift.

Oh, and P.S., Mr. Grey (Bear); before you, or the Vermont Teddy Bear Company, or the millions of Fifty Shades of Grey Fans, or the 20-somethings who believe they’ve got a nuanced understanding of the BDSM community, roll your eyes and dismiss this as the uptight vanilla rantings of an over-the-hill feminist, here’s three things to consider: first, members of the BDSM community have already explained how sex depicted in your book violates the accepted standards of mutuality and consent that are explicit in BDSM, so my beef is with abusive relationships, not BDSM; second, if we’re talking about expanding, not constraining, the boundaries on sexuality, then vanilla is as valid a flavor as anything else; and third, and most important, you’re a teddy bear, so if it’s all the same to you, I’ll get my sex ed information from the grown-ups.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

(Yet Another) Open Letter to the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault

Dear Members of the Task Force,

On September 17, 2015, you released a Resource Guide to assist college and university communities in their efforts to combat sexual assault on college campuses.  It is an excellent review of what the Center for Disease Control and the White House Task Force have decided, prima facie, constitutes acceptable methods of preventing violence.  Those include talking about healthy relationships, encouraging people to act as engaged and responsible bystanders, and shifting social norms around gender, sexuality and violence.  And, when that it is all that you include in your definition of sexual violence prevention strategies, you rightly conclude that not much works.

You, and the CDC, and many other well-intentioned agencies and organizations, continue to systematically exclude self-defense training as a viable and acceptable method of sexual violence prevention, despite decades of evidence on the effectiveness of women’s self-defense in thwarting sexual assault, and despite the more recent evidence in the last ten years on the positive benefits of self-defense training, including the effectiveness of self-defense training in reducing future rates of sexual assault.

The data is available.  The problem is your definition of what constitutes prevention.

Women are capable of engaging in powerful and effective resistance strategies, both physical and verbal, to thwart rape and sexual assault, and offering them the opportunities to learn and practice those skills via self-defense training is a method of primary prevention completely in line with the CDC’s stated definition, and entirely consistent with the strategies and methods they have chosen to include.

And yet you, and they, continue to exclude it.

There are many things about women’s use of and training in self-defense that people don’t like.  It is not that it doesn’t work, because the data say it usually does.  We can’t dismiss it outright as inconsistent with the definition and goals of “primary prevention”, because, as we have pointed out, self-defense IS primary prevention.

So we’re left with facing the ways that women’s training to defend themselves shifts norms around gender, sexuality, and violence.  That is does so, we are left to conclude, is why people don’t like it.  It’s much more compatible with current gender ideology to suggest women wait for some person or institution to save or protect them.  Ironically, the Task Force also suggests we engage efforts to shift social norms around gender, sexuality and violence.  Let’s do that.  If you’re not going to, then may we suggest the following revision to your statements:

How to Prevent Sexual Violence on Campus:

• Engage in Primary Prevention (BUT PUT SELF-DEFENSE IN THE CATEGORY WITH VICTIM SERVICES, REPORTING OFFENDERS, AND LEGAL COMPLIANCE PROCEDURES)

• Train Bystanders to Intervene to Stop an Assault on Someone Else (JUST DON’T LET WOMEN KNOW THAT THEY COULD SERVE AS THEIR OWN INTERVENING BYSTANDERS!)

• Use Evidence-Based Methods for Sexual Assault Prevention (EXCEPT THE EVIDENCE THAT SELF-DEFENSE USUALLY WORKS!)

• Shift Social Norms around Gender, Sexuality and Violence (BUT NOT TOO MUCH! AFTER ALL, WE DON’T WANT WOMEN TO CONSIDER THEMSELVES ENTITLED TO THEIR BODILY BOUNDARIES!)

On January 22, 2014, President Obama said:

Perhaps most important, we need to keep saying to anyone out there who has ever been assaulted: you are not alone.  We have your back. I’ve got your back.

If you’ve really got the backs of sexual assault survivors, and truly want to support effective methods of sexual assault prevention, you cannot continue to ignore self-defense training as an important, effective, and valid method.  Provide the resources and support for women to be their own bystanders.

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