Dear Vice-President Biden,
Forgive us for calling you Joe, but when you sent Martha this email, you used her first name, and it was such a nice, personal touch, we thought you wouldn’t mind. We did read your email, and we found it compelling and clear, in intent and request. So we’re sending you one back (okay, this isn’t exactly an email, but you get the idea), and we borrowed the format (yours is on the left, and ours is on the right). We hope you don’t mind.
We read your email, Joe. Please, read ours:
|Martha — What do you want out of the next two years?Me? I want to finish President Obama’s second term strong and elect Democratic leaders who will champion priorities like increasing the minimum wage and strengthening Social Security.Barack and I are committed to advancing these priorities. But if we as Democrats don’t start working right now to make it happen, we’re in for a much bleaker future. One in which the Republicans in power serve only the ultra-wealthy, ignore the reality of climate change, and turn Medicare and Social Security into something unrecognizable.
Whether we can achieve success depends on what you do, right now.
Will you help us fight for Democratic values and elect the progressive champions oftomorrow? Pitch in to the DSCC’s Back to Blue campaign by the FEC deadline in 96 hours.
If you’ve saved your payment information with ActBlue Express, your donation will go through immediately:
There’s a choice to be made: We can have strong Democratic leaders who fight for a progressive agenda — or a Republican president like Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz, with a GOP Senate that rubber-stamps each reckless decision.
What’ll it be? Your actions right now will determine the outcome.
Joe – What do you want out of the next two years? [or actually, forever?]
Me? I want all girls and women to have the opportunity to be trained in self-defense, by instructors who will remind them that they have the right to defend themselves and teach them how to do it.
Self-defense advocates and scholars world-wide are committed to advancing these goals. But if we as concerned citizens don’t start working right now to make it happen, we’re in for a much bleaker future. One in which those who benefit from the rape culture will continue to perpetrate violence, and rob them of their basic human rights.
Whether we can achieve success depends on what you do, right now.
Will you help us fight for equal rights for women and girls by supporting self-defense training? Pitch in to start by including self-defense training in the recommendations of the White House Task Force on Sexual Assault on College Campuses.
[Okay, here, you ask for donations. If you are interested in donating money in support of women’s and girls’ self-defense training, we will happily direct you to a number of excellent organizations.]
There’s a choice to be made: We can empower girls and women, remind them they have selves worth fighting for and give them the skills and tools they need so self-defense is an option when they are faced with rape and sexual assault – or we can continue, however inadvertently, to perpetuate the rape culture that says that women and girls are there for men’s taking, that men and not women are the ones with power.
What’ll it be? Your actions right now can help determine the outcome.
Want to make sure that women and girls have the same rights as men and boys to? Then offer women the same rights to securing their own safety that you have suggested in other interviews that men should enforce for women – the right to “kick the living crap” out of someone who is trying to rape them. Because you’re right, Vice President Biden. It’s on all of us.
An Open Letter to the BBC News Magazine, Regarding the Article Entitled “New Dehli Rapist Says Victim Shouldn’t Have Fought Back”.
Dear BBC News Magazine,
On March 2, 2015, you published an article covering an interview with one of the rapists/murders of the young Indian woman who was raped on a bus in New Dehli in 2012, and who died as a result of fatal internal injuries these rapists perpetrated against her. It is a terrific article about misogyny and rape culture, about gender inequality and those with the courage to speak out and fight against it, and the vicarious trauma many of us experience when we listen and give voice to these stories. The story is situated in Indian culture, but we are hard-pressed to think of a society and culture today where this could not happen, where these views and this violence against women and girls are not present.
That’s what your article is about, and we’re glad we read beyond the title. Because your title is not a statement about deep-seated culture acceptance of violence against women and girls. Instead, it is a warning to women and girls everywhere: Don’t Fight Back. Or Else.
The fact that this young woman died because she was killed by rapists/murders is a travesty to which words cannot do justice. The rapist/murderer who was interviewed justifies his violence against her the way so, so many others do – by blaming the victim. It is her fault, he says, that he and his companions raped her, because she was there. It is her fault, he says, that he and his companions murdered her, because she fought back.
Memory is reconstructive, and self-serving, and of course a rapist/murderer will seek to justify his own actions by saying that his victim made him do it. That does not make that true, nor does it mean that women and girls who fight back against sexual violence are inviting murder, are making those perpetrating the violence against them step it up a notch. In fact, research has demonstrated that there are no statistically significant difference in injury rates between women who fight back and women who don’t. That means that some women who choose to fight back against a sexual assault will sustain additional injuries beyond the sexual violence, just as some women who choose not to fight back, or who are unable to fight back, against a sexual assault will also sustain additional injuries.
You published an important article, but your choice of title, by quoting the rapist rather than accurately framing the real content of your piece, contributed to misogyny and rape culture, rather than taking a stance against it. He did say that, according to the description of the interview. That doesn’t make it true.
An article of this caliber deserves a title that matches it. Try any of these:
Rapist Rationalizes his Murder by Blaming the Victim
Rapists Continue to Blame Their Victims for Assault
Victim-Blame is a Global Problem
New Dehli Murderer Tries to Weasel Out of Death Penalty by Blaming the Victim
Rape Culture Thrives at the Expense of Women’s and Girls’ Lives
Please, don’t retract your article, but do retract your title. Your article, and women and girls everywhere, deserve better.
Jill Cermele and Martha McCaughey
An Open Letter to the Myriad Anti-Rape Devices Marketed Toward Women That Is So Not Going to Go Viral:
Dear Anti-Rape Devices Marketed to Women,
We don’t mean to be impersonal, Anti-Rape Devices (ARDs). But there are just so many of you, we don’t want to leave anyone out. Where to start? The Anti-Rape Gloves? The Anti-Rape Underwear? Rape-aXe, the Anti-Rape Condom? Hairy Legs Tights? (Because everyone knows, only women with smooth legs get raped.) I know there are others of you out there, but it’s like the Golden Globes: if we try to mention all of you, the music will start playing, and we’ll never get to finish. So please know, this is for all of you.
We know you mean well – you don’t women to get raped, and we don’t either. But as fashion-forward and entertaining as many of you are (what shade of Anti-Rape Nail Polish will go best with my Anti-Molestation Jacket that can deliver 110 volts of electric shock to the asshole trying to feel me up?), we must point out that you are missing a critical point, as you drape, adorn, and hide the bodies of the women you intend to protect: those bodies themselves, the actual bodies of girls and women, can be powerful tools of resistance. And when you don’t say that, you contribute to the cultural discourse that says women and girls HAVE to have these things, because if they don’t, there is NOTHING THEY CAN DO to stop a rape or an assault from occurring.
Not true, ARDs. Not true.
Your goal is the same as ours, ARDs. We want men, and others, to stop raping, and we don’t want anyone to ever be raped or assaulted ever again, ever. Here is where it seems we disagree: we know that women and girls are capable of fighting back against sexual assault, and we know that training women and girls in self-defense techniques reminds them of that, and teaches them how to do that.
But for many people, ARDs, you seem so much easier, so much more logical, so much more realistic, so much prettier. Because many, many, MANY people don’t believe that women and girls are capable of thwarting an attack. Here’s the good news – they are! Women and girls can defend themselves, and they do. But that’s not as catchy a headline as “Will Jagged Teeth Deter World Cup Sexual Assaults?” or “Japanese Anti-Rape/Anti-Mugging Dress Transforms Into Vending Machine Disguise”.
We don’t know how to make self-defense and self-defense training “catchy”. Listen, if Miss USA gets slammed for even suggesting it should be an option, we know we’ve got an uphill battle. But here’s what we do know:
- Responsibility for rape always lies with the perpetrator
- Women and girls can effectively fight back and thwart rape and sexual assault (data! There’s data!)
- Self-defense and resistance, broadly defined, are options we want women and girls to have at their disposal, not requirements that make women and girls responsible for the violence perpetrated against them
- ARDs can be options available to women, but they should be real options that increase women’s and girls’ safety, not the just the Next Cool/Hip/Fun/Pink Thing that perpetuates one of the underlying tenets of rape culture: that women are weak, helpless, and inherently rapeable unless men or products are available to save the day.
We’ll make a deal with you, ARDs. You stop making promises about safety that have no data behind them, and stop perpetuating the myths that say women are incapable of resistance, and start promoting women’s and girls’ rights to and capacity for self-defense, and we’ll follow the 15-step instructions for the Anti-Rape Gloves (Step 1: 2 pieces of marine grade stainless 12mm wide (half inch) 120mm long (about 5 inch) 2mm Thick (5/64 inch)? Check!) and post a picture of how it turns out on BuzzFeed: Nailed It, for sure.
Jill Cermele and Martha McCaughey
P.S. By the way, how DO you go to the bathroom while wearing the anti-rape underwear? Maturing women want – nay, NEED – to know.
- “The point really should be to get T-Rex to be more peaceful.”
- “What would you do if Triceratops had an Iguanodon with him?”
- “What if you’d been eating ferns and conifer all night, and were just too full to be able to defend yourself?”
- “Why don’t I just dress up like T-Rex and let you practice on me?”
- “If you’d just stay out of T-Rex territory, everything would be fine.”
- “Isn’t this just a waste of time? You’re an herbivore, he’s a carnivore…That’s just the way it is.”
- “Maybe you should get a nice Brontosaurus to walk you home. Otherwise, you’re just asking for trouble.”
- “You know, I’ve always thought it would be a turn-on to be knocked out by a sexy Stegosaurus.”
- “When a T-Rex attacks you and feeds on your bloody carcass, it just means he likes you.”
- “Well, all these skills you’re learning are well and good until a giant asteroid hits the Earth.”
Readers, as we enter the holiday season, we at See Jane Fights Back would like to take a moment to express our appreciation.
We are grateful to our self-defense activist and scholar colleagues, for their efforts to empower women and girls, and in doing so, to shift the narratives about the perceived inevitability of sexual violence and the perceived omnipotence of perpetrators.
We are thankful for you, our readers, for reading and sharing our blog, and for all the feedback, comments, and stories you have shared with us.
Finally, we acknowledge all those who have been targeted for or experienced sexual violence; we admire and appreciate their courage and perseverance, their willingness to share their stories, and for reminding us all that resistance takes many, many forms.
PS. Snarky commentary returns next week.
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:
- 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)?
- 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)?
- Why were you…(drinking, drunk, smoking, high…or using whatever substance you think made her responsible for someone raping or sexually assaulting her)?
- 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.
Jill Cermele and Martha McCaughey
There is a lot of resistance to the idea of teaching self-defense skills to women – and we get it. It’s a slippery slope. We all know what happens when you give a mouse a cookie, right? Just imagine – if women practice and enact physical and verbal personal safety strategies, if we have the embodied experience of ourselves as strong, confident human beings who are entitled to protect our own physical and psychological integrity, THEN WHAT?
10. Wear pants
8. Speak in public
6. Operate heavy machinery – like a motor vehicle
5. Have a career
4. Claim an education
3. Control their own bodies
2. Prioritize their own sexual desire and agency
And, the #1 thing that women will do if we teach them self-defense, and we just can’t say it any better than Pat Robertson did: “Leave their husbands…practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians”
These are the rights for which feminists have fought, and continue to fight: the right to dress as we like, to speak as we like, to move through the world claiming and participating in all spheres and domains available to men, and the right to live freely, safely, and happily in our own bodies. And that includes the right to self-defense, and to knowing how to protect ourselves. And no one should tell us that we can’t, or shouldn’t have to, have that right.
Dear NPR Weekend Edition Staff and the Parents of College Students You Misled:
The August 24 program “Weekend Edition” produced a story on how some universities are “tackling sexual assault before parties start”, which underscores how important it is for parents, as well as colleges and universities, to prepare students in advance, and to remind them of the risk while offering them strategies to reduce it. This broadcast featured a clip of a conversation between a father of an incoming University of New Hampshire student, who is a doctor, and his daughter, “Kelly”. When Kelly asks her father specifically for advice (“What should I know about consent and assault and rape?”), Dad offers Kelly the following advice:
- Anticipate a situation before you get into it
- Always travel with friends
- Have a planned list of activities, night and day
- Avoid isolation
- Avoid substances
Kelly feels better, and Kelly’s Dad, who is clearly educated, informed, and appropriately concerned about his daughter’s safety and well-being, has done his job. And yet, what has she been told, really? Don’t ever be alone, don’t ever drink or use drugs, and keep yourself on a preset busy schedule. In other (vague) words, avoid, curtail, limit, distract, and then hope for the best. She might as well live at home and take all her courses online.
The take-home message of that list of rape avoidance strategies — inadvertently offered, perhaps, but communicated nonetheless — is that once danger is imminent, the outcome is a given. If one’s avoidance measures fail, there is no advice provided, implying that women do not have the option of fighting back.
And yet research has shown that girls and women are capable of safely and effectively resisting rape and sexual assault. Self-defense training is one critical way to teach, and allow for the practice of, active and clear strategies for things you can say and do in a potentially dangerous situation, where someone is trying to rape or assault you. And the research tells us that these strategies make women feel safer, make them more empowered to set and assert their boundaries in a range of situations – including social and dating situations – and can effectively prevent an assault or a rape from occurring.
So NPR and parents, please have these conversations, and please include not only a guy’s legal obligation not to attack but a gal’s legal right to defend herself. Here’s our script for daughters:
If someone tries to rape or assault you, one thing you need to know is that you have the right to protect yourself – verbally or physically. You have the right to tell someone that what they are saying to you, how they are touching you, is not what you want, is not okay, is a crime; you have the right to yell and scream and call for help and make a scene to attract the attention of someone who might be able to help you. And you also have the right to physically resist – by pushing, shoving, hitting, kicking, with any part of your body that you can use – hands, elbows, hips, knees, feet – and against any part of their body – testicles, face, abdomen, arms, legs. And, you need to know these are all things you can do, and have the right to do, but that if you are in danger, we trust you to make the best decision for yourself that is going to keep you feeling as safe in the moment as possible. And that means that while we want you to know that it is okay for you to do these things, it doesn’t mean you have to or you should. You do what’s best for you, and we will love and trust and support you, no matter what.
Not that anyone asked, but here’s our script for sons:
If you want to do something physically intimate with someone, tell them and ask them. If the person you’re with has been drinking or using drugs, consider them incapable of offering meaningful consent and move on. If the person is reasonably sober and makes it explicitly clear that the desires are mutual, great. Do not assume you can pick up signals or hints. Do not ever attempt to impose yourself or your will onto another person. It’s neither sexy nor legal. Don’t treat anyone as an “easy lay.” If you don’t understand these principles, you just might get your ass kicked.
That’s the way to tackle sexual assault before the party starts.
Jill Cermele and Martha McCaughey