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.
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.
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.
Jill & Martha
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.
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?
You can make Obama say anything you want thanks to techie geeks who invent cool apps. Don’t you wish he had really said this in connection with his Task Force on campus sexual violence?
Thanks, Talk Obama to Me! You said it–er, we said it, and wish he’d said it……
I’m a Harry Potter fan. I’ve read the books (many times), seen the movies (many times), been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (twice – the new and improved version is, in fact, new and improved; worth the trip), and even did the Watson Adventures Harry Potter scavenger hunt at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC (I had to hurry my son and his friends along when they tried to stop to look at the art; “We’re not here for the art!” may have crossed my lips at some point). And here at SJFB, we have no doubt that some of our favorite female characters in the series would be totally on board with self-defense against sexual assault. See for yourselves:
Open Letter to Prof. Tal Peretz
Dear Prof. Peretz,
We value your work in the areas of men’s anti-sexist and anti-violence activism. As a sociology professor at Auburn, you were quoted in the LiveScience article about the science of preventing campus sexual assault. We admire your work advocating that we teach children about consensual behaviors on the playgrounds and in their homes.
However, we were very disappointed to read the quote from you, just after the reporter describes the incredible results that Charlene Senn’s empowerment self-defense training has, that
“We have far too much ‘here’s how you protect yourself’ [programs], when it’s not women’s job and not their fault. That whole way of talking about it really places the blame on women, when it should be on the rapists.”
Training women in how to set boundaries is just as important as your work training boys and men in how to honor boundaries others set. So don’t worry, you will not lose your job if you also endorse women’s self-defense training. As we have said to the late Kurt Cobain, both-and! You can both insist that we train men not to rape AND train women to resist any men who missed our memo.
Self-defense training does not place any blame for assault on women. If you really want to support feminism and fight for gender equality, please re-examine your belief that there are too many self-defense/self-protection programs out there.
Profs. Martha & Jill
This great piece by Susan Schorn, “Fear, Inc.,” published on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, is worth reading. While Schorn here focuses on the marketing of emergency preparedness supplies and gadgets–you know, like the ones for the zombie apocalypse–we are reminded of the many who have attempted to market self-defense devices to women simply by harnessing that culture of fear, attempting to make women feel even more afraid of male violence and even more vulnerable than they already do, and then selling them their product based to assuage the fear they just sparked. Those hairy legs tights never really did take off, did they?
Of course, empowerment-based feminist self-defense might cost some money (instructors do have to be paid), but it’s not about inducing fear or making women feel more vulnerable. Perhaps some of the resistance to advocating women’s self-defense training has to do with it seeming like too close a cousin to the prepper movement.
- “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.