We at SJFB are getting a little tired of the latest backlash against self-defense, and the knee-jerk responses, by feminists and non-feminists alike, to Dr. Charlene Senn’s study out of the University of Windsor on the effectiveness of self-defense training in reducing the likelihood of attempted and completed assaults against college women, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
It’s easy to dismiss self-defense training and women’s capacity or powerful, effective resistance: it rocks the status quo in a way that other responses to rape and sexual assault, like marches and t-shirts and performance art, just don’t. But the responses reflect our cultural discomfort with women’s empowerment and entitlement to self-defense far more than any logic or data.
Not convinced? Change the topic to home alarm systems – an option that some people choose as a way to minimize or thwart burglaries or home invasions.
- IF A WOMAN HAS TO GET A HOME ALARM SYSTEM, THAT WILL ONLY MAKE HER FEEL FEARFUL, SMALL, UNSAFE, AND SELF-RESTRICTING IN HER OWN HOME.
- IT MIGHT NOT WORK (AND IF IT DOESN’T WORK, IT WILL RESULT IN BLAMING HER FOR NOT HAVING GOTTEN ONE THAT WAS MORE EFFECTIVE.)
- SHE MIGHT FORGET TO TURN IT ON, AND THEN IT WILL BE HER FAULT IF SOMEONE BREAKS INTO HER HOME
- IF SHE HAS A HOME ALARM SYSTEM AND HER NEIGHBOR DOESN’T, THEN AN INTRUDER MIGHT JUST LEAVE HER HOME AND MOVE ON TO HER MORE VULNERABLE NEIGHBORS, AND THEN IT WILL BE HER FAULT IF SOMEONE BREAKS INTO THEIR HOMES.
- NOT EVERYONE HAS THE OPPORTUNITY TO GET A HOME ALARM SYSTEM, AND SO WHAT ABOUT THOSE PEOPLE?
- GETTING A HOME ALARM SYSTEM IS AN INDIVIDUAL SOLUTION TO THE SOCIAL PROBLEM OF CRIME AND UNFAIRLY PLACES THE ONUS FOR CRIME PREVENTION ON THE HOME OWNER
Ridiculous, right? No one has to or can get a home security system, but we don’t challenge anyone’s right to get one, and we don’t worry about victim-blaming, or the (undocumented, unsupported-by-the-data) fear of putting others at risk by choosing to get one. And we certainly don’t suggest people don’t get one because it’s not the end-all, be-all solution to crime.
Sure, our bodies are quite not property that we live in and need to protect from robbers. But the analogy works to show how flimsy the knee-jerk reactions to Senn’s self-defense study are.
Instead, let’s celebrate this data – that self-defense training for college women can effectively reduce their risk of assault – and put that in the context of all the other data on the efficacy of self-defense in thwarting rape. Let’s put our energy instead into demanding that organizations, educational institutions, and governments make funding available so women and girls have the option, not the onus, of self-defense training. That’s the cost to focus on, because we know the cost of violence against women. Last year, the CDC had a budget for sexual assault prevention of about $50 million dollars. That could fund a heck of a lot of self-defense classes.
- “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.”
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.