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
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:
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.
Dear Wonder Woman,
In light of the recent news story, and given that we do not know the degree to which you are tapped into the media buzz (although we did see you on Facebook), we are reaching out to you. Did you know there is a story in the news that your image has been banned at one elementary school (name and location are being withheld to protect the ridiculous); this in response to a young girl who brought in a Wonder Woman lunch box, which was considered to depict, and we quote, a ”violent image”, because as a super hero, you, and we quote again, “solve problems using violence”.
Care to comment?
WTF? Don’t quote me on that – as it’s probably “too violent”. But seriously, WTF? I’m a superhero. I fight evil – and, I might add, I do a damn good job of it. How am I supposed to do that, with smiles and unicorns? With polite requests for changes in behavior? How’s this: “That’s just not nice. Please, please, stop your evil ways?” Should I shed a few tears while I’m at it? That’s not fighting evil – that’s offering a label, begging for change, and then hoping for the best. No way. Being a female superhero is hard enough without having to deal with this.
WW, a.k.a. Dub-Dub
We feel your pain. And definitely don’t beg – the data tell us that strategies like that are not effective in resisting violence. We, like you, are tired of people saying that active resistance is bad, and particularly, bad when women do it. We think you’re a role model – we want more, not fewer, girls and women to follow your example, and know that they have the right to resist. Buying your lunch box right now on Amazon.
On that note, Janes, what problems do they think I’m “solving” with violence? Disagreements on what to have for dinner? Not getting the job I wanted? Algebra? When we frame evil-doers intent on world domination as a just any “problem to be solved”, it’s no wonder that everyone gets confused. I match my tactics to the situation at hand. Read my bio – sure, I can fight, and I do when I need to, and I’m not apologizing for that. But that would only be my first strategy if I was physically threatened and that response was appropriate. Duh. I’m wicked smart, and I’ve got excellent verbal skills – both of which are incredibly useful in, as that school system might say, “solving problems”. As for weapons, I’ve got a lasso of truth and bracelets that deflect bullets. If that’s solving a problem with violence, guilty as charged.
PS. Besides, are my boys Batman, Spiderman, Iron Man, Superman, the Hulk, and Captain America being banned as too violent? Not that I am suggesting they should be. More likely, not only are they not being banned, they are probably making more money than I am.
Dear Ms. Hoffman,
In “College Rape Prevention Program Proves a Rare Success”, you concluded an otherwise empowering, data-driven piece on the effectiveness of self-defense by trotting out a quote from Kathleen Basile at the CDC, who ignores the data in suggesting that self-defense training places the “onus for prevention on potential victims”. Self-defense is a key protective factor in rape prevention, as Senn’s data clearly demonstrate; no disclaimer required. It is no more problematic to suggest women have the option of self-defense training than it is to suggest that women do a self-exam for breast cancer or wear sunscreen when they go outside. The only difference is that we are far less comfortable with the idea of women’s use of defensive violence than we are with other, kinder, and gentler ways that we support women’s self-care.
The responsibility for rape lies with the perpetrators; suggesting that self-defense somehow shifts that responsibility to the victim is what is misguided and victim-blaming, not the option of self-defense for women.
Dear Vice-President Biden,
Forgive us for calling you Joe, but when you sent Martha this email, you used her first name, and it was such a nice, personal touch, we thought you wouldn’t mind. We did read your email, and we found it compelling and clear, in intent and request. So we’re sending you one back (okay, this isn’t exactly an email, but you get the idea), and we borrowed the format (yours is on the left, and ours is on the right). We hope you don’t mind.
We read your email, Joe. Please, read ours:
|Martha — What do you want out of the next two years?Me? I want to finish President Obama’s second term strong and elect Democratic leaders who will champion priorities like increasing the minimum wage and strengthening Social Security.Barack and I are committed to advancing these priorities. But if we as Democrats don’t start working right now to make it happen, we’re in for a much bleaker future. One in which the Republicans in power serve only the ultra-wealthy, ignore the reality of climate change, and turn Medicare and Social Security into something unrecognizable.
Whether we can achieve success depends on what you do, right now.
Will you help us fight for Democratic values and elect the progressive champions oftomorrow? Pitch in to the DSCC’s Back to Blue campaign by the FEC deadline in 96 hours.
If you’ve saved your payment information with ActBlue Express, your donation will go through immediately:
There’s a choice to be made: We can have strong Democratic leaders who fight for a progressive agenda — or a Republican president like Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz, with a GOP Senate that rubber-stamps each reckless decision.
What’ll it be? Your actions right now will determine the outcome.
Joe – What do you want out of the next two years? [or actually, forever?]
Me? I want all girls and women to have the opportunity to be trained in self-defense, by instructors who will remind them that they have the right to defend themselves and teach them how to do it.
Self-defense advocates and scholars world-wide are committed to advancing these goals. But if we as concerned citizens don’t start working right now to make it happen, we’re in for a much bleaker future. One in which those who benefit from the rape culture will continue to perpetrate violence, and rob them of their basic human rights.
Whether we can achieve success depends on what you do, right now.
Will you help us fight for equal rights for women and girls by supporting self-defense training? Pitch in to start by including self-defense training in the recommendations of the White House Task Force on Sexual Assault on College Campuses.
[Okay, here, you ask for donations. If you are interested in donating money in support of women’s and girls’ self-defense training, we will happily direct you to a number of excellent organizations.]
There’s a choice to be made: We can empower girls and women, remind them they have selves worth fighting for and give them the skills and tools they need so self-defense is an option when they are faced with rape and sexual assault – or we can continue, however inadvertently, to perpetuate the rape culture that says that women and girls are there for men’s taking, that men and not women are the ones with power.
What’ll it be? Your actions right now can help determine the outcome.
Want to make sure that women and girls have the same rights as men and boys to? Then offer women the same rights to securing their own safety that you have suggested in other interviews that men should enforce for women – the right to “kick the living crap” out of someone who is trying to rape them. Because you’re right, Vice President Biden. It’s on all of us.
An Open Letter to the BBC News Magazine, Regarding the Article Entitled “New Dehli Rapist Says Victim Shouldn’t Have Fought Back”.
Dear BBC News Magazine,
On March 2, 2015, you published an article covering an interview with one of the rapists/murders of the young Indian woman who was raped on a bus in New Dehli in 2012, and who died as a result of fatal internal injuries these rapists perpetrated against her. It is a terrific article about misogyny and rape culture, about gender inequality and those with the courage to speak out and fight against it, and the vicarious trauma many of us experience when we listen and give voice to these stories. The story is situated in Indian culture, but we are hard-pressed to think of a society and culture today where this could not happen, where these views and this violence against women and girls are not present.
That’s what your article is about, and we’re glad we read beyond the title. Because your title is not a statement about deep-seated culture acceptance of violence against women and girls. Instead, it is a warning to women and girls everywhere: Don’t Fight Back. Or Else.
The fact that this young woman died because she was killed by rapists/murders is a travesty to which words cannot do justice. The rapist/murderer who was interviewed justifies his violence against her the way so, so many others do – by blaming the victim. It is her fault, he says, that he and his companions raped her, because she was there. It is her fault, he says, that he and his companions murdered her, because she fought back.
Memory is reconstructive, and self-serving, and of course a rapist/murderer will seek to justify his own actions by saying that his victim made him do it. That does not make that true, nor does it mean that women and girls who fight back against sexual violence are inviting murder, are making those perpetrating the violence against them step it up a notch. In fact, research has demonstrated that there are no statistically significant difference in injury rates between women who fight back and women who don’t. That means that some women who choose to fight back against a sexual assault will sustain additional injuries beyond the sexual violence, just as some women who choose not to fight back, or who are unable to fight back, against a sexual assault will also sustain additional injuries.
You published an important article, but your choice of title, by quoting the rapist rather than accurately framing the real content of your piece, contributed to misogyny and rape culture, rather than taking a stance against it. He did say that, according to the description of the interview. That doesn’t make it true.
An article of this caliber deserves a title that matches it. Try any of these:
Rapist Rationalizes his Murder by Blaming the Victim
Rapists Continue to Blame Their Victims for Assault
Victim-Blame is a Global Problem
New Dehli Murderer Tries to Weasel Out of Death Penalty by Blaming the Victim
Rape Culture Thrives at the Expense of Women’s and Girls’ Lives
Please, don’t retract your article, but do retract your title. Your article, and women and girls everywhere, deserve better.
Jill Cermele and Martha McCaughey
An Open Letter to See Jane Fight Back
We resent your suggesting that women train in self-defense because it is VICTIM BLAMING! VICTIM BLAMING, VICTIM BLAMING, VICTIM BLAMING. Women training to protect their boundaries is as victim-blaming as telling women to wear hairy-legged tights or inserting that horrifying device with sharp teeth into their vaginal canals—which you yourself criticize on your own blog.
Sure, we get that research shows that women can successfully thwart attacks, and that they cope better with the emotional aftereffects of sexual assault if they did fight back, while no research exists to show that the aforementioned tights or teeth would do the same. Research, smesearch. We know there are lots of accounts of women and girls successfully resisting attackers, with or without prior training in self-defense.
But – and this is our point because we are men against victim-blaming – your suggestion that women do any of the work or make any of the changes that will ensure their own physical safety blames them for the attacks men commit. Sure, self-defense training makes it harder for us to attack them, but that’s not why we oppose it. We oppose it because it is victim-blaming!
Not only that, but such aggressive, unfeminine behavior will not attract most guys. We don’t want some bitchy woman in our faces shouting “NOOOOO!” and hitting or kicking us. We definitely find it a turnoff to think that a pretty lady we’re taking out on a date or inviting to our frat house for a party has actually trained for, or thought about in advance whatsoever, what she’d do if we surprised her with an unwanted play for her affections.
It’s bad enough that someone invented drug-detecting fingernail polish, because now we can’t see the colorful long nails worn on any girl in the same way again. We’re always suspecting that this lovely minx is actually wearing polish for the purpose of, not our pleasure, but her own protection. It’s just not fair. But more importantly, it’s victim-blaming!
The latest outrage is the research-based suggestion that parties should be held in women-controlled spaces. Sure, scholars know that campus party rape is enabled by male control of space. If it’s our frat house, for example, we control how dim the lights are, how much tasteless grain alcohol we put in the party punch, and how the bedroom doors lock. AND we get to offer girls a safe place to spend the night or a walk home (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). The suggestion reported in The New York Times, which we just know you at SJFB will applaud, is to hold parties at sorority houses. We agree with everyone else out there (such as this mommy blogger) that THIS IS VICTIM BLAMING!
We are so glad that at least some women out there defend men’s right to control the space where we lure you into sex, to control the balance of physical aggression by keeping you defenseless, and to keep you from wearing things we don’t find attractive. We like you better as victims, but only because challenging that would be victim-blaming. Please, blame men. You are much more appealing to us when you remain helpless and wait for the men to change.
In closing – and we know you see where this is going – we want to advance the overarching argument that feminism, in general, is victim-blaming. After all, as feminism is a social movement of, largely, women for social change, of women reclaiming their space and their power whether or not men want to give it to them, and whether or not there is a bystander there to get it back for them, and so, it is VICITM BLAMING! And it therefore must stop!
Every time you ladies utter “Women Unite, Take Back the….” we will remind you that you really should sit back and wait for us men to take care of things. Anything else would be victim-blaming!
We think you can trust that we have your best interests at heart, that we know what’s best for you, and that we truly want you to feel empowered and liberated coming to the parties we set up to get you drunk and show us your tits.
Men Against Victim-Blaming
An Open Letter to the Myriad Anti-Rape Devices Marketed Toward Women That Is So Not Going to Go Viral:
Dear Anti-Rape Devices Marketed to Women,
We don’t mean to be impersonal, Anti-Rape Devices (ARDs). But there are just so many of you, we don’t want to leave anyone out. Where to start? The Anti-Rape Gloves? The Anti-Rape Underwear? Rape-aXe, the Anti-Rape Condom? Hairy Legs Tights? (Because everyone knows, only women with smooth legs get raped.) I know there are others of you out there, but it’s like the Golden Globes: if we try to mention all of you, the music will start playing, and we’ll never get to finish. So please know, this is for all of you.
We know you mean well – you don’t women to get raped, and we don’t either. But as fashion-forward and entertaining as many of you are (what shade of Anti-Rape Nail Polish will go best with my Anti-Molestation Jacket that can deliver 110 volts of electric shock to the asshole trying to feel me up?), we must point out that you are missing a critical point, as you drape, adorn, and hide the bodies of the women you intend to protect: those bodies themselves, the actual bodies of girls and women, can be powerful tools of resistance. And when you don’t say that, you contribute to the cultural discourse that says women and girls HAVE to have these things, because if they don’t, there is NOTHING THEY CAN DO to stop a rape or an assault from occurring.
Not true, ARDs. Not true.
Your goal is the same as ours, ARDs. We want men, and others, to stop raping, and we don’t want anyone to ever be raped or assaulted ever again, ever. Here is where it seems we disagree: we know that women and girls are capable of fighting back against sexual assault, and we know that training women and girls in self-defense techniques reminds them of that, and teaches them how to do that.
But for many people, ARDs, you seem so much easier, so much more logical, so much more realistic, so much prettier. Because many, many, MANY people don’t believe that women and girls are capable of thwarting an attack. Here’s the good news – they are! Women and girls can defend themselves, and they do. But that’s not as catchy a headline as “Will Jagged Teeth Deter World Cup Sexual Assaults?” or “Japanese Anti-Rape/Anti-Mugging Dress Transforms Into Vending Machine Disguise”.
We don’t know how to make self-defense and self-defense training “catchy”. Listen, if Miss USA gets slammed for even suggesting it should be an option, we know we’ve got an uphill battle. But here’s what we do know:
- Responsibility for rape always lies with the perpetrator
- Women and girls can effectively fight back and thwart rape and sexual assault (data! There’s data!)
- Self-defense and resistance, broadly defined, are options we want women and girls to have at their disposal, not requirements that make women and girls responsible for the violence perpetrated against them
- ARDs can be options available to women, but they should be real options that increase women’s and girls’ safety, not the just the Next Cool/Hip/Fun/Pink Thing that perpetuates one of the underlying tenets of rape culture: that women are weak, helpless, and inherently rapeable unless men or products are available to save the day.
We’ll make a deal with you, ARDs. You stop making promises about safety that have no data behind them, and stop perpetuating the myths that say women are incapable of resistance, and start promoting women’s and girls’ rights to and capacity for self-defense, and we’ll follow the 15-step instructions for the Anti-Rape Gloves (Step 1: 2 pieces of marine grade stainless 12mm wide (half inch) 120mm long (about 5 inch) 2mm Thick (5/64 inch)? Check!) and post a picture of how it turns out on BuzzFeed: Nailed It, for sure.
Jill Cermele and Martha McCaughey
P.S. By the way, how DO you go to the bathroom while wearing the anti-rape underwear? Maturing women want – nay, NEED – to know.