There were no courses called “Feminist Juijitsu” when we were in college. But if you’re a student at the College of Charleston you can enroll in just such a class.
We learned that incoming frosh who sign up for the course sometimes think it’s about “feminist juijitsu” in the figurative sense. We enjoy imagining what this version of “feminist juijitsu” might be:
“I got my health insurance to cover the cost of my birth control pills after telling them my menstrual cramps were a health condition… feminist juijitsu!” or perhaps, “I went out on a date with three boys and never once paid for my own bourbon… feminist juijitsu!”
But, all joking aside, when students enroll in the Feminist Juijitsu course, they are learning feminist juijitsu in the literal sense. Students actually learn how to wrap their legs around an opponent who has climbed atop them, and squeeze the opponent’s neck with their clenched thighs and locked lower legs. They also study scholarship about gender and violence in our society, and research on the prevalence and prevention of interpersonal violence.
There are two courses taught as complementary components by Amy Langville, John Venable, and Kristi Brian. (The three instructors are pictured here practicing the moves they teach their students.) The first-year students take a First Year Experience course doing readings and assignments in a regular classroom along with a physical course practicing combat moves in the juijitsu tradition.
According to Urban Dictionary, juijitsu means “the practice of gentleness”. Somehow, we like the idea that the feminist practice of gentleness involves putting a sexual predator in a headlock.
Young YouTuber Anna Akana explains in her “How Not to Get Raped” video that she’s “so fucking tired” of being told what she can do to thwart attacks, because we should be telling men to stop raping. But take it from us, Anna, we are WAY older than you and we are really very so fucking tired. . . of waiting for men to change. (See video below for a dramatization of our getting older and older as we wait for men to change.)
We took birth control, and considered our ability to control our fertility a relatively empowering thing. We did not say it should be up to men to prevent pregnancy. We also learned to swim. We did not say it should be up to lifeguards to keep us from drowning.
And, as we have said before, it’s not either/or. We believe men can change, and people can change, and culture can change. That being said, we can play an active role in those changes, and empowering ourselves to enforce boundaries if someone challenges them.
Our faithful readers are well aware that we take pains to understand why our fellow feminists find the idea of self-defense so abhorrent. Since the 1990s feminists have commonly accused anyone advocating self-defense of a) victim blaming, b) asking women to act too much like men, c) putting the burden to stop rape on women instead of on men, or d) being too fixated on the body and bodily pleasures to be truly political.
In addition, self-defense has also been subject to the charge of neo-liberalism. In this view, advocating self-defense is an individualistic strategy that naively places all the responsibility for solving a social problem on the individuals who deal with said problem which is, of course, actually a structural problem. Individual approaches to structural social problems are a neo-conservative’s dream because it rationalizes the removal of social programs and government funding that would help those suffering from the problem.
The charge of victim-blaming is a close cousin to the charge of neo-liberalism. For if one commits the sin of misunderstanding a structural, political problem for one that is solved by individuals, then this ultimately blames victims for the problem’s existence. The scholar who in 1971 invented the concept of “blaming the victim,” William Ryan, was talking about the racism involved in the ways that Black people were blamed for being poor. Poverty is caused by structural inequalities and statistically speaking there are likely to be way more poor people than rich people. Of course, feminists found the concept of victim-blaming very useful for criticizing the ways in which we excuse perpetrators of violence against women for their actions.
The charge of neo-liberalism in feminist circles presumes that a solution involving an individual woman’s agency or body is somehow not truly feminist because it places the burden on her to change the society. At the same time, the trend among post-structuralist and post-colonial feminists has been to emphasize women’s agency and practices of bodily resistance. When we talk about ways women use their bodies to resist sexist social structures, we need not sacrifice a feminist, structural analysis of social problems.
But, as Alison Phipps points out in her 2014 book, The Politics of the Body: Gender in a Neo-Liberal and Neo-Conservative Age, in a neo-liberal social climate many people merge or twist the post-colonial, post-structuralist feminist agenda of resistance with their neo-liberal agenda. The neo-liberal agenda turns an otherwise empowering, feminist discourse of personal choice, self-invention, and bodily agency into a conservative politics of personal responsibility.
Sometimes feminist efforts walk right into the neo-liberal trap. For example, as feminists did the amazing work of de-medicalizing childbirth in the 1970s, insisting that women know more about their bodies than they’d been given credit for and advocating that “breast is best,” feminists often ended up talking about “natural” birthing and breastfeeding practices. This discourse was putty in the hands of conservatives who embraced that rhetoric for their own arguments that women shouldn’t be in the workplace so that they could breastfeed their babies and do other household chores that were the “natural” job of women. Feminists had to emphasize that workplace policies should enable women to breastfeed (or pump their breastmilk), and also had to acknowledge that an unmedicated birth is not necessarily a “natural” birth. Phipps argues that the feminist emphasis on breastfeeding and unmedicated birthing has become so successful across our culture because it fits well neo-liberal approaches to the privatization of responsibility and personal accountability for health risks. Even still, we don’t want to go back to the norms of 1965.
Can advocating self-defense also fall into a neo-liberal trap? Sure it can. But, just as feminists advocating more empowering and healthy options for women around birthing and infant feeding must remind people of the structural and political issues at stake, we can remind people that advocating self-defense can and must be done as part of, not instead of, a structural approach to the problem of sexual violence.
Besides, not advocating self-defense falls into other conservative agendas–namely, that women’s bodies are too weak to fight aggressively, or that women ought to know their place and let men, bystanders, and the state protect them from harm. In other words, feminists don’t avoid an unholy alliance by avoiding self-defense advocacy.
When we advocate self-defense, we do not advocate cuts to federal funding aimed at preventing violence against women or serving the victims of it. We advocate including self-defense training as part of those prevention efforts. Ignoring self-defense–as so many of our colleagues in the rape prevention education arena do–is like throwing out the breastfeeding baby with the hospital bathwater in an effort to avoid cooptation by a neo-liberal agenda.
- “Where there is power, there is resistance.” Michael Foucault
- “If someone puts their hands on you make sure they never put their hands on anyone else again.” Malcom X
- “The likelihood that your acts of resistance cannot stop the injustice does not exempt you from acting in what you sincerely and reflectively hold to be the best interests of your community.” Susan Sontag
- “I believe in the resistance as I believe there can be no light without shadow, or rather, no shadow unless there is also light.” Margaret Atwood
- “It is necessary to remember, as we think critically about domination, that we all have the capacity to act in ways that oppress, dominate, wound (whether or not that power is institutionalized). It is necessary to remember that it is first the potential oppressor within that we must resist – the potential victim within that we must rescue – otherwise we cannot hope for an end to domination, for liberation.” bell hooks
- “Take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.” Elie Wiesel
- “Sometimes it’s appropriate to scream at them.” Helen Caldicott
- “I say to people today, ‘You must be prepared if you believe in something. If you believe in something, you have to go for it. As individuals, we may not live to see the end.'” John Lewis
- “It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.” Madeleine Albright.
- “We must learn that passively to accept an unjust system is to cooperate with that system, and thereby to become a participant in its evil.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
We have often wondered why so many feminists are so skeptical of, if not downright opposed to, the advocacy of women’s self-defense (such as the latest missive on Everyday Feminism here)–even when we present the data showing how well resisting sexual assault can work, and how life- and culture-changing training in self-defense can be.
Julia Galef’s 2016 TED talk, “Why You Think You’re Right Even if You’re Wrong,” proves insightful here. Julia Galef is a writer with a statistics background and the co-founder the Center for Applied Rationality, a nonprofit organization that helps people improve their reasoning and decision-making, particularly with the aim of addressing global problems. When it comes to decision making, Galef argues that people approach decisions with one of two mindsets: the soldier mindset, or the scout mindset.
These mindsets do not correlate with I.Q., and they are both equally emotionally rooted and equally logical. The difference is that those with the soldier mindset make a decision and stick it out, while those with the scout mindset feel curious, and are open to being wrong. For the scouts, their sense of self-worth is not tied to being right or wrong about any particular topic. Soldiers, on the other hand, yearn to defend their own beliefs and would feel ashamed of being wrong. Scouts feel proud when they notice they might have been wrong about something, feeling intrigued rather than defensive.
When it comes to self-defense, it appears that many feminists–like many people, in general–have the soldier mindset. They want to march forward with a single plan. The idea that the solution to sexual assault is only to educate men about how to stop assaulting, and then to encourage women to report those who have not stopped doing so, thereby showing men, through legal punishment, that we won’t tolerate it. Stepping in to suggest that we could constructively teach women boundary setting skills, awareness, and verbal and physical self-defense skills disrupts the path on which the soldiers have been marching.
Let’s be scouts. Let’s be curious about exploring multiple paths to end sexual assault and the rape culture that supports it. Let’s acknowledge women’s capacity for agency, choice, and action. Let’s examine what really works to thwart assault, what really works to empower women, what really works to get men to stop sexually assaulting, and what really works to change the rape culture. Let’s embrace self-defense.
Remember the Feminist Ryan Gosling memes? Then University of Wisconsin graduate student Danielle Henderson set up a Tumblr site with images of Ryan Gosling offering feminist theoretical insights to (presumably) straight women designed to make them melt and support their studying feminist theory. Those memes represent one of many seriously silly mashups of high theory and pop culture. Many more examples abound: KimKierkegaardashian (@), the Twitter account that tweets the philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard mashed with the tweets and observations of pop star Kim Kardashian, and Kantye West (@Kantye_West)–whose statements such as, “Thieves! You may rob Kim of her jewels but never her inherent ability to rationalize the graspable content of her own surroundings,” read as if the 18th Century Enlightenment philosopher and the music producer/rapper belonged together.
And so, in our continuing mediatized efforts both to amuse and to make a difference for women’s empowerment, we bring you our very own mashup:
For a seriously silly mashup of self-defense advocacy told through our beloved Snoop Dogg’s language and lyrics, follow Self-Defense Dogg (@SD_Doggystyle) and when you’ve got something that’s both feminist and fly to say about self-defense, like, “Don’t drink the Red Flag Campaign’s coolaid cuz women can be their own bystanders,” use the hashtag #SD_Doggystyle.
That’s right, it’s self-defense doggystyle! Follow Self-Defense Dogg on Twitter. Fo shizzle!
Also posted on Manly Musings, a blog by C.J. Pascoe and Tristan Bridges
Men can now openly enjoy My Little Pony, and some now call other men out for rape-supporting attitudes. But as sociologists C.J. Pascoe and Tristan Bridges astutely note, in these cases men often still cling to a notion of manhood that they have and that the outsider lacks. Not the right kind of Brony? Then a guy might hear, “Go be normal somewhere else, faggot!” Not the right kind of campus dating man? Then the message might be, “You’re a rapist, not a real man.” Pascoe and Bridges’ point is that toxic masculinity is about that act of denying a powerful social identity to others. Redefining the behavior that suits a”real man” doesn’t change the way men seek acceptance from other men as men.
Sensing or at least presuming that being a man is what’s important to guys, rape prevention advocates have tried to appeal to manhood to get guys to rethink their assumptions. As we explain elsewhere, the “My Strength” campaign offers a series of posters that remind men to choose to use their (presumably natural and superior) strength to protect women, rather than to rape them.
Likewise, the “Real Men Don’t Rape” campaign trades on how important manhood is to men, and attempts to redefine manhood as respectful, gentlemanly.
The “real men don’t rape” strategy hopes to convey that manhood ought to be defined by morality, not muscle. But, as a photo from the campaign illustrates, it winds up essentializing male strength—as if that’s the one thing no one can challenge, that at the end of the day (or date), the man there is more physically powerful and ultimately dominant over the woman.
In the educational film designed to reconstruct gender for African American boys and men, My Masculinity Helps, many male allies are shown taking the problem of violence against women seriously. One woman in the film states, “Men have power. Now let’s talk about how to harness that power for good.” While we would all agree that we need those with privilege to embrace the social movement’s goals, why does it have to be about their masculinity and how useful or helpful it is? The feminist movement has challenged gender ideology and, importantly, the centrality of demarcating manhood. Could we imagine, and would we accept, a film about stopping racism called My Whiteness Helps?
C. J. Pascoe and Jocelyn Hollander argue, in a recent article published in Gender & Society, the campaigns attempting to mobilize men turns men’s not raping into a “chivalrous choice, a courtesy extended to a subordinate rather than the respect due to an equal.” These campaigns highlight women’s subordinate status and almost celebrate men’s putatively superior strength and power. They oppose rape “in ways that work to reinforce, rather than challenge, underlying gender inequalities.”
When men are enlisted as allies in ways that attempt to make them feel good about themselves as men, we are continuing the rape culture by privileging men’s feelings. That same privileging of men’s feelings and needs is exactly what men who abusively control their partner and sexually assault women expect: their feelings and desires to be prioritized. Moreover, in this movement men continue to be framed as the more powerful sex, and women continue to be framed as damsels in distress who “real men” help and not hurt. “Real men” are still dominant—they are just to use that power and dominance benevolently. This protectionist discourse actually works to reinforce some of the very beliefs that it appears to call into question.
The strategy behind “real men don’t rape” and “my strength” is meant to suggest that respecting women, rather than getting laid, is what makes you a man. Of course, this tactic turns the tables, given the assumption that men are so eager, even desperate, to have sex with women (even if the women aren’t willing), because it helps them see themselves as manly.
As a result, we are now told that rape is something committed only by weird, desperate, unmanly men. But, as we point out elsewhere, Prof. Michael A. Messner argues in his Gender & Society article that the effort to change rape culture by framing the problem as one of a few bad apples is a major break from the feminist movement that challenged rape to begin with. As Messner puts it, in the 1970s feminist women and pro-feminist men thought that
“. . . successfully ending violence against women would involve not simply removing a few bad apples from an otherwise fine basket of fruit. Rather, working to stop violence against women meant overturning the entire basket: challenging the institutional inequalities between women and men, raising boys differently, and transforming in more peaceful and egalitarian directions the normative definition of manhood. Stopping men’s violence against women, in other words, was now seen as part of a larger effort at revolutionizing gender relations.”
As Messner points out, the institutionalization and professionalization of anti-rape work since that time has led us to embrace a health model of rape prevention, which has medicalized the problem of sexual violence–and thereby, at least in some ways, de-politicized it. Once the overall problem of rape has been depoliticized, nobody cares that we’re kowtowing to some dude’s need for his manhood to be confirmed.
In those earlier days of the anti-rape movement, male feminist writer John Stoltenberg argued in his book Refusing to Be a Man that, when a man is making out with a woman, he should be more worried about being the friend there than about being the man there. Stoltenberg’s point was far more radical than today’s tactic of simply reversing what counts as real manhood. Stoltenberg suggested that we just stop worrying about who’s a real man.
The current campaigns basically presume men are like the dog waiting for affirmation in the dog meme–you know the one in which the dog is saying, “What if I never find out who’s a good boy?”
Our message to guys would be: No, you’re never going to find out who’s a real man. Let’s move on and worry about what being a respectful human being actually looks and feels like. We really aren’t concerned about your masculinity, however you conceive it. Because your sense of manhood is not what this movement is about.
An Open Letter from a Jane, to the Assholes She’s Dated Who Say Stupid Things When They Find Out She Knows Self-Defense
Most women who have taken a self-defense course, and then had the audacity to talk about it, have probably had the experience of being subjected another person’s perspective on why women’s self-defense is problematic/stupid/pointless/cute/sexy/offensive/etc. Those comments are offered in a variety of contexts: family dinners, office events, on-line chats, happy hour, gym workouts, dates.
So has Jane. Who is Jane? Jane is the middle student down the street who’s taking martial arts. She is your great-aunt who went to the self-defense program at the local community center. She is the young girl who stands her ground in the playground, the college student who takes a self-defense class on campus, the women who organize against harassment on the street or in the workplace, the woman who had yet another date with someone who said, with a smile on his face, “Oh, you know self-defense? I’d better watch myself…I guess you can kick my ass”, and then waited for you to laugh.
And so below, is one Jane’s response, after a date:
If we’ve gotten this far and are on a date, then you have had at least a few conversations with me and therefore allegedly have been listening when we’ve exchanged the usual pleasantries, including, but not limited to, “So…what do you do?”
And if you were listening, you would know I do a lot of things – I’m a feminist, I write fiction and snarky non-fiction commentary, and yes, I teach self-defense. Now that combination should tell you a number of things, including:
- I teach self-defense (I know I’ve already said that, but you clearly are not listening, so I feel the need to say it AGAIN);
- As a feminist, I’m not likely to find your stupid, misogynistic comments about self-defense remotely witty, smart, sexy, or compelling;
- As a writer, anything stupid you say is likely to end up in a blog post or open letter somewhere.
And yet, you persist – why? Did you think that I would find your belittling of my chosen profession charming? It was, admittedly, more charming, relatively speaking, than your complimenting my ass, but again I’m speaking here in relative terms only. And sure, I can appreciate that you took the high road by not calling me a feminazi, a sinner doomed to spend the afterlife in Hell, or such a strange contradiction because, despite my physical power, you also find me physically attractive. Did you expect me to simper, to blush, to bat my eyelashes, when you chuckle condescendingly as you say something like, “Oh…I guess I better watch myself, or you’re going to kick my ass, right?”
Yes, Assholes. Spot-on. Okay, not literally spot-on, because I would not actually kick your ass just for saying something stupid; furthermore, as any self-defense instructor would tell you, it is best to go for the areas where you can achieve the most pain, such as the testicles. But you get the idea.
In my other profession as a college professor, however, I do get to deconstruct your ass (-inine statement), and here’s my analysis: your tone is mocking as you indicate you’d better watch yourself, which suggests to me that you actually do not think you need to watch yourself, because if you wanted to step over some line and try to rape or assault me, you believe, in fact, that there is nothing I could do to stop you. That’s what you mean, yes? Yes. That’s what I thought.
So two points on that, Assholes. First, there are decades of data suggesting that women are extremely capable of fighting back against sexual assault, and capable of doing so successfully; if this were going beyond a first date, I could bring you a reading list, but since it’s not, I won’t bother. In fact, you might be the final-straw Asshole who made that comment and drove me dashing to the bathroom to compose this letter on my smart phone, and if that’s the case, I’m not even coming back to finish the first date.
Second, in some totally fucked-up way, I am guessing you’re attempting to be charming and trying to get into bed with me, which I assume is all you want, since you are saying stupid offensive things about me and my line of work on a first date, and therefore this can only mean that a) you have no fucking idea who I am, and b) you actually don’t care who I am, because all you want is to do is get laid, and I happen to be the unfortunate woman closest in physical proximity. And so your strategy to get laid is to say, “Hey, you know I could rape you if I wanted to”, all the while expecting me to giggle like a school girl, relieved that I have found a real man who could withstand my attempts to fight back?
No. Not happening. So here’s what you need to know in parting, Assholes, and yes, I mean parting literally. Because I’m never going to see you again. Why you would want to see me again is beyond me, given that I neither simpered nor blushed nor batted my eyelashes in response to your stupid comment, and yet you do, which only provides additional data for both points a) and b) above. It’s bad enough that I just spent an hour/a meal/an evening with you that I can never reclaim, and no, I will not go out with you again, ever.
So know this instead: it is neither charming, nor witty, nor appealing, to suggest to a woman that you can overpower her, to imply that if you want to have sex with her there is nothing she can do to stop it. Nor is it accurate. And she doesn’t even have to have taken a self-defense course to prove that to you. And so, to address the literal content of your comment: Yes, you better watch yourself, or I am – or some other woman is – going to kick your ass.
In closing, then, the answer to your question is “Yes.” Yes, I can, and yes, she can, and she can, and she can. And we will, if you put your money where your mouth is. So shut the fuck up already, go take a women’s and gender studies course, and stop being such Assholes.
D. L. Hughley, Black comedian and author of the new book Black Man, White House, was interviewed the week of Aug. 11, 2016 on the Tavis Smiley Show. Now, D. L. Hughley’s earlier book is called We Want You to Shut the F#ck Up, so we (a) already like him and (b) know to expect a degree of comedic audacity and brutal honesty. That said, we really appreciated his jokes during the show about how White privilege informs expectations for safety. Hughley brought up the cases from earlier this year when children tragically wandered into the zoo enclosure of the silverback gorilla and into the alligator-infested waters near Disneyworld.
“It is ridiculous the things that you see. Like when I watch what happened with the tragedy with the alligator. When a sign says ‘Don’t swim,’ don’t swim! . . . . Alligators don’t read signs! . . . But I know what, when Black people see a sign that says ‘don’t swim’ you best believe we ain’t swimming. That’s why they got a pool, right?! [Imitating a parental voice] ‘You better dip your toe in that bathtub and shut up, we’re at Disneyworld.'”
Perhaps some would criticize Hughley for “blaming the victim” of such tragedies, but a truth his comedy reaches links the expectation of safety from others in the world to White privilege. Blacks, his shtick implies, have never been able to expect institutions and authority figures to guarantee their safety. They have, instead, taught one another to watch out for dangers. Black parents should not have to have “the talk” with their children, especially their sons, but they do. They know that Black boys and men are far more likely than Whites to be targets of police brutality.
We know that women (of all races) are far more likely than men to be targets of sexual assault. Offering girls and women tools for being on the lookout for signs of danger is just as rational a response to a violent and unjust world. That’s why the many rape prevention educators who preach bystander intervention whilst refusing to talk about how women can learn to defend themselves sound like people who have had a privileged protection to the point of paralysis. How about we make it easier for women to be aware of their surroundings, and act on their awareness, assert themselves, and hit or kick if necessary to get out of an attack? Nope- that’d be victim blaming, we’re often told. Women should be able to walk across their college campuses naked, and defenseless, we are told. How about we shift our understanding of ourselves as powerful and empowered, and able to make choices that challenge rather than support the patriarchy? That’s what self-defense training can do.
We know, we know. You can’t train an alligator but you can (supposedly) train men to be different, and less dangerous. This might be true, but self-defense training will work a lot faster than your training of men. And guess what? When women watch out for themselves, take themselves seriously, and defend their own safety, that sends a powerful “training” message to the men in their midst.