- “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.
Eh hem, drumroll please…. Our major article is available here on the Univ of NC repository. By “major” we mean full-length academic article in a peer-reviewed scholarly journal, namely Trauma, Violence, and Abuse. (Well, ok, by “major” we also mean that it took us a really long time and we kinda hope that Joe B. invites us to the White House to discuss our ideas with his Task Force.) In this article, we trace the meaning of “prevention” in the sexual assault prevention efforts on college campuses, and question why self-defense training is rarely a part of those efforts. Given that national attention, and new compliance mandates, have been heaped upon college campuses for their sexual assault problem, we think it’s a key time to review the scholarship on the efficacy of self-defense. Once you see all that in one place, it’s hard to accept people claiming that they don’t include self-defense in their anti-sexual assault agenda because we lack evidence for its effectiveness, or because it’s not “primary prevention”. Indeed, we argue that it is gender ideology, not a lack of evidence, that explains the tendency to exclude self-defense from our sexual assault prevention efforts. Moreover, we stress that self-defense is not secondary prevention but primary prevention as self-defense is a key protective factor in the public health model of rape prevention. And, because we’re all about solutions, our article ends with specific ways college campuses can incorporate self-defense into various sexual assault prevention efforts.
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.
Remember those images of shapes broken up into little square boxes, and the multiple choice test asking you to picture the same shape rotated differently? Such spatial reasoning is a stereotypically male skill. Well, a study out of the University of Berlin shows that women who were asked to imagine themselves having stereotypically masculine personality traits–strength, risk taking, assertiveness, and the like–performed as well as male peers on the spacial reasoning test immediately following this picture-yourself-as exercise, while women who were asked to imagine themselves having stereotypically feminine personality traits–agreeableness, caring for others, etc.–performed much lower than male peers on the special reasoning test right afterward.
“Gender priming” influenced women’s performance, big time.
This reminds us that allowing women to imagine themselves with the assertiveness and entitlement to fight back against an assailant can make an appreciable difference in their actual ability. If you can picture testicles rotated in space, you might be more likely to be able to actually rotate them in space if a guy you’re with won’t take no for an answer.
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.
Back when Miss USA, Nia Sanchez (we love you, Nia, even if you won’t return our phone calls), said that to combat the problem of sexual assault on college campuses more women should be offered the opportunity of self-defense training, feminist-identified pundits with access to HuffPo interviews flipped out. The concerns varied: some said that recommending self-defense training is putting the onus on women (rather than men) to prevent rape; others argue that self-defense training wouldn’t work because the likely perpetrator is someone known to the victim, and that’s not the “mind-set” for self-defense.
But the real head scratchers were those who rejected self-defense training on the grounds that it ran counter to feminine socialization. They understood that the fact girls and women are trained to subordinate their interests to boys and men, and that this feminine socialization interferes with defending themselves. Indeed, self-defense training is all about NOT subordinating your interests to men and boys. So opposing the recommendation to offer women self-defense training on these grounds (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/11/miss-usa-self-defense_n_5482117.html) seems to presume that we self-defense teachers and advocates do not understand this. What do they think, that self-defense teachers just show women a punching bag, offer them some chewing tobacco, and say “have at it”?
Let’s offer those most likely to be targeted for sexual assault the skills to intervene on their own behalf. Yes, for many of these people, and women in particular, such skills will contradict their socialization into femininity. Self-defense training is a kinesthetic experience that rattles the feminine training so tragically well suited to rape culture. That’s exactly what we like about it and why it’s so transformative beyond the individual women it helps.
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.
- No sissy stuff
- Be a big wheel
- Be a sturdy oak
- Give em’ hell
We love critiques of masculinity, but we at Chez Jane tackle social constructions of femininity. Taking off from Kimmel’s golden rules, we therefore offer you the four golden (softened with 4% silver and 21% copper to a flattering rose hue) rules of womanhood. Take note, sisters:
- Take the back seat*
- Be a willow (weeping if appropriate, but soft and supple)**
- Contain the fury***
- Look pretty****
Of course, we could argue, as Michael Kimmel does, that these rules are the socially constructed products of a patriarchal, heterosexist rape culture, and that deconstructing socially prescribed masculinity and femininity would do wonders in shifting the ways in which individual, social, and structural rules about gender perpetuate the rape culture, not to mention do wonders in improving the quality of life for everyone, regardless of gender. But doing so would violate at least rules #1-#3, and probably #4, as well.
Dammit. (Oops – contain the fury. Contain the fury!)
*Big wheels are for the boys, ladies. We know; we checked Google images. Unless they’re pink. But still.
**Everyone can’t hold their ground, you know. If manhood is about being strong, unflinching and unbending, someone’s got to yield, right?
***Because fury, however justified, is neither pretty nor hot. Reference rule #4.
****Or hot, depending on the situation and the requirements of your husband/boyfriend. But not too hot. Because that’s slutty. Unless he wants you to look really hot. But only for him. (Not sure how to negotiate that one – good luck.)