Tag Archives: open letters

What is the Power of One? An Open Letter

Dear “Power of One” Campaign,

Your Power of One social marketing campaign at the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MCASA) tells people that one person can make a difference, can do their part to stop sexual assault.  We applaud the fact that you’re not worried that this approach individualizes the problem of sexual violence.  You frame this strategy as primary prevention because it can stop sexual assault before it begins.  You say that people “have options when it comes to stopping sexual violence.”  In fact, you say that “even when it is hard, there is always something you can do. By taking a stand, you can help stop sexual violence in your community. ”   To this end, you use the Green Dot Program’s framework to say that people have “the Three D’s”: They can be Direct, Distract, and Delegate.  These are quoted below so people can see how you frame these three Ds.

1. You can be DIRECT.
Walk up and intervene. Respectfully ask that the offender stop the behavior and explain to them why it’s wrong.

2. You can DISTRACT.
Use a diversion to stop the behavior. Walk up and ask for directions or ask for the time. If it’s someone you know, talk about something you have in common with them.

3. You can DELEGATE.
Ask a friend, use the buddy system or call your local authorities to stop the behavior.

We agree that if everyone does their small part, we can help prevent sexual violence of any kind!  We just want to add a very crucial fourth D.

4. You can DEFEND yourself.

Move, shove, state “NO” firmly, shout “STOP!”, kick the groin or head, and resist the attacker with the goal of stopping the attacker and getting yourself to safety.  You can get help with these strategies by taking a self-defense training course, which emphasizes awareness, taking yourself seriously, verbal boundary setting and, finally, physical techniques for enforcing boundaries.

Oddly, your MCASA website lists self-defense classes as risk reduction rather than as primary prevention, despite the scholarly literature that establishes self-defense as primary prevention.   

We love that you want people to be engaged bystanders.  But of course we can be bystanders on our own behalves, too.  Women have historically been the caretakers of partners, children, and their communities.  It’s time we care for ourselves, too, and stand up for ourselves.  Bring in the bystander? Sure. But be your own bystander, too.  Be your own number one advocate.  Yeah, bring it! 

Love, 

Jill & Martha

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

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

Dear Mr. Grey (Bear),

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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

Dear Members of the Task Force,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Prevent Sexual Violence on Campus:

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

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

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

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

On January 22, 2014, President Obama said:

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

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

Wonder Woman – did you hear…?

wonder woman

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?

The Janes

Dear Janes,

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

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.

The Janes

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.

WW

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.

ww misogyny

College Rape Prevention Program a “Rare” Success? An Open Letter to Jan Hoffman at the NY Times

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.

 

Joe, please read this email —

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.
Want to make sure our Democratic values win the fight? Then pitch in now to the DSCC’s Back to Blue campaign. 

Thank you,
Joe Biden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.  

Thank you,
Jill Cermele and Martha McCaughey

 

 

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

Dear Mr. Grey (Bear),

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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,hairy-leg-stockings

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 GlovesThe Anti-Rape Underwear? Rape-aXe, the Anti-Rape CondomHairy 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”. vending machine

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.

anti rape gloves

XOXO –

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.

An Open Letter to CNN’s Don Lemon and Other Journalists Who Interview Women Who Report They were Sexually Assaulted

Dear Mr. Lemon:

National and international media outlets are covering various aspects of the rape allegations made against actor and comedian Bill Cosby, dating back over four decades.  None of it is surprising – not additional victims coming forward, not various celebrities expressing skepticism or disbelief, not stories about the psychological functioning or motives of those bringing allegations.

Nor is it surprising that women who come forward are being asked why they didn’t fight back.

On the evening of November 18, CNN reporter Don Lemon, in an interview with Joan Tarshis, one of several women who are reporting they were raped or assaulted by Cosby, said the following:

“You know, there are ways not perform oral sex if you didn’t want to…meaning using of the teeth…as a weapon…biting…I had to ask.”

No, Mr. Lemon, you didn’t have to ask.

We’re not going to ask you if you would bite the penis of a man orally raping you, Mr. Lemon.  We’re not going to ask you if you think you would do it, if a man tried to orally rape you, either.

That’s not a question, Mr. Lemon.  That’s victim-blaming.

Advocates of self-defense and self-defense training for women could tell you that, Mr. Lemon.  We don’t tell women what they should do.  We don’t ask them why they didn’t do it, if they have been raped or assaulted in the past.

Ms. Tarshis says that it did not occur to her to bite his penis.  That is the option that occurred to you, when you heard the story, Mr. Lemon.  It may or may not have occurred to you in the moment if someone were assaulting you.

This is why self-defense training is so important.  Championing self-defense training for women should not be confused with saying that a woman should have resisted.  Self-defense training teaches women strategies and options so that if someone tries to rape or assault them, they have a range of choices available to them.  And so that they feel empowered to act on those choices, if they choose to, because they believe they are entitled to, because they have the knowledge and practice in doing so, and because they know that if one strategy doesn’t work, another one – verbal or physical – might.  Self-defense training helps make resistance a viable option.  And, Mr. Lemon, we trust that women make the choice that is the safest, the best, for them, in that moment, and we don’t judge or question their choices.

We don’t tell them what that choice should have been, Mr. Lemon, because we don’t know.  And asking a survivor of rape or sexual assault why they didn’t resist in the particular way you can envision, even though you were not there and have no idea whether that would have been a safe, viable, or appropriate choice, is telling them what you think they should have done.  Or what you think you would have done.

Instead, Mr. Lemon, you could have applauded Ms. Tarshis for coming forward with her story, and told her that you don’t blame her or hold her responsible for the violence that was perpetrated against her.  You could have told her that you believe that she made the best choice she could in a terrifying and dangerous situation.

Mr. Lemon, perhaps you were trying to be helpful.  So let us help you, Mr. Lemon, with what NOT TO SAY to someone who tells you they were raped or sexually assaulted:

  1. Why didn’t you…(fight back, knee him in the groin, bite his penis, scream for help…or whatever you believe she should have/you would have done in the same situation)?
  2. Why did you…(wear that, go there, say that, do that…or whatever behavior you see as the reason she was raped or sexually assaulted)?
  3. Why were you…(drinking, drunk, smoking, high…or using whatever substance you think made her responsible for someone raping or sexually assaulting her)?
  4. If it were me…(fill in the blank with your solution to avoiding rape or sexual assault).

Resistance is complicated, and difficult, and scary, Mr. Lemon, and while many girls and women resist – some with self-defense training, and more without – your question suggests that resistance is simple and easy and obvious and what you would have done/what everyone should have done.  Your question suggests that in the absence of resistance, it wasn’t really rape, or that the rape was the responsibility of the survivor, not the perpetrator.

Mr. Lemon, we live in a society that does not offer girls and women any regular opportunities to learn how to value themselves and their bodily boundaries, or how to use their bodies aggressively (remember, we’re the cheerleaders, not the football players), and in a society that routinely tells girls and women NOT to fight back because it won’t work or they’ll get hurt or they’ll make things worse.  And yet, the question you ask is, “Why Didn’t She Do This or That Aggressive Act in Self-Defense?!

We could add, Mr. Lemon, how about you ask why we’re not teaching girls and women to defend themselves, violently, if necessary.  That’s our question, Mr. Lemon.  Next time, make it yours.

Sincerely,

Jill Cermele and Martha McCaughey

An open letter to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

Dear Your Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama:

We applaud your recommending last week, in conjunction with your attendance at an interfaith meeting in India, that girls learn martial arts self-defense against sexual assaults.  In your interview with One World South Asia, you said that women and men should be equally valued in society, and when asked if you had any message you’d like to give to the young girls in India, you answered that “the idea of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to train school girls in martial arts seems a practical solution. For self defence, young girls in India should learn martial arts like Karate. In the long run, education can be an effective tool in helping girls to stand up against sexual crimes.”  To this you added that “lower castes should pay more attention in education. They should particularly educate their girls. People who are well off should help the poor people in getting education.”

You didn’t say that girls shouldn’t put themselves in risky situations, Your Holiness, because you know what we know – that sexual assault is not about what women targeted for sexual assault do to “increase” their risk.

You didn’t say that girls are responsible for preventing sexual assault, because you know what we know – that the responsibility lies with perpetrators, not with targets and victims.

We agree wholeheartedly with this agenda for young girls and believe this should be our message to girls in the U.S. as well.

Barack_Obama_and_the_Dalai_Lama_in_2014

We only wish that you had made this recommendation to U.S. President Barack Obama during your recent meeting with him at the White House.  We don’t think you did because they’d surely have put you in their  “It’s On Us” video.  The goal of that movement, they say, is to “…reframe the conversation surrounding sexual assault in a way that inspires everyone to see it as their responsibility to do something, big or small, to prevent it”.  And what you said, Your Holiness, reframes the conversation by suggesting that women don’t need to just hope that someone else gets that “it’s on them”; you reframe the conversation by taking a stance, as the most influential spiritual leader in the world today, that women as equal pillars of humanity, have the right to and capacity for self-defense.

So can you call President Obama back and tell him that?

For quite some time now we have followed your teachings with great interest.  We are, after all, among the many secular Americans who seek meaning in non-Western religious traditions such as Buddhism.  Sometimes we’ve even found ourselves in situations thinking, the Dalai Lamai would not pay full price for that skirt, and the Dalai Lama would probably prefer drinks without high fructose corn syrup.  Further, and perhaps more importantly, we have often thought that your wise comments on compassion, reproductive health, social justice, and inner peace are key to living lives that are meaningful.  We also advocate training girls and women in self-defense.

We know that you won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, and that you call yourself a feminist.  We just hope that your recent recommendation to girls about self-defense is understood by others as not at all in contradiction with your being a Nobel laureate.  For we know of your teachings about compassion as well as women’s rights.

Overall, we love your messages, as well as how you offer them.  You not only speak, have f2f meetings, and write books; you also have your own Twitter (with 9 million followers!), Facebook, and Google Plus accounts.  We do too!  (Except we have about 8.9999999 million fewer followers.)

Sincerely,

Martha McCaughey & Jill Cermele

PS: Is being the Dalai Lama a good job?

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