“Tips for Women” Facebook Group and the Issue of Self Defense

I’ve been thinking a lot about rape lately, primarily because of the recent UW *timely warning* email (Incidentally, I sat by a frat boy in Odegaard a few days ago who was apparently around that girl the night of the alleged assault, but that is for another post). Most recently, I just received an invitation from an acquaintance to a facebook group called “tips for all women… please join… and pass on.” This group is relevant to a few feminist issues, including rape prevention, and the pros and cons of self defense. To summarize its contents, this group consists of several tips for women on how to avoid murder, kidnapping, rape, robbery, etc. For example, “ALWAYS take the elevator instead of the stairs. Stairwells are horrible places to be alone and the perfect crime spot,” and if this advice isn’t enough, and you are attacked, just remember this “tip from Tae Kwon Do : The elbow is the strongest point on your body.If you are close enough to use it, do!”

Before I go into why I find this group so problematic, I should start by acknowledging that this group is definitely not like…the worst thing ever. If this group successfuly lives up to its goal of preventing women from being raped, sweet.

But that last statement brings me to why this group annoys me: there is no mention anywhere of preventing attempts at rape, nor is there any mention of men being responsible for not raping people. Just like the recent email from UW, this group puts all the responsiblity of rape prevention on women’s shoulders. Furthermore, this group ignores the fact that the majority of sexual abuse occurs at the hands of people the rape survivors know. People reading this website would have no idea that they are much more likely to be raped by an acquaintance, friend, family member, partner, etc., than by a random creeper lurking in a deserted stairwell.

While this site may do some short term good, imagine how much bigger and more valuable an impact would be possible if parents, educators, and facebook-group-makers spent the 5-10 minutes it takes to read this site educating women about acquaintance rape and men about the value of using an enthusiastic “yes!” as the definition of consent rather than just the absence of a “no!”

Besides the fact that these tips are not relevant to most cases of rape because they fixate on stranger rape, another issue with these tips is that they encourage violence (the tae kwon do thing comes to mind). Self defense classes are still pretty controversial, judging by a recent live chat conversation on Feministing between Jaclyn Friedman and Miriam Perez (from 3:42-3:53), and for good reason. On the plus side, as Jaclyn points out, self defense classes can be empowering for women, and they can help prevent rape in some cases. On the other hand, though, self defense “uses violence,” and is too individualistic, according to Miriam, and it reinforces tired stereotypes of women as gatekeepers who have to constantly fight off men. At this point, someone could point out that we shouldn’t have to choose between funding/promoting self defense classes and working to dismantle the culture that permits rape, but because time and funding are limited, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to debate which rape prevention strategy is more valuable. I tend to agree with Miriam, but what do other people think? And what about this group and the UW warning email in general-should they be applauded at all for trying to prevent rape in their own way, or are they just doing more harm than good?

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One response to ““Tips for Women” Facebook Group and the Issue of Self Defense

  1. For me, learning basic self-defense is just one of those all-around good ideas, regardless of your gender. Maybe I’m just an incorrigible redneck, but I feel strongly that violence in self-defense is completely justified, and I’m not sure I understand the argument about it being “too individualistic”. That said, I get really frustrated with people who peddle self-defense classes as the solution to rape. They’re not, for a whole host of reasons that you outline above. In fact, I’ve yet to see “advice” to women regarding rape avoidance that wasn’t highly problematic at best. In addition to the points mentioned in the post, the advice is often contradictory – I’ve seen “never take the elevator, because it’s easier for a man to enter and corner you there”.

    Such advice – including the UW warning e-mails – ultimately do more harm than good. If followed, the advice may (and that’s a highly debatable “may”) prevent a few rapes. However, it also reinforces the very attitudes that encourage rape in our society: namely, that women are responsible for preventing rape (and thus any woman who is raped failed in that responsibility), and that rape is something that is only perpetrated by strangers in dark alleys (and thus “date rape”* and all the variations thereon are not really rape).

    Rape rates in the U.S. have gone down quite a bit in the last 20 years or so, and I think that’s largely a result of feminists winning the “No Means No!” campaign – the American publicly now generally accepts the idea that if a woman protests, it’s rape. What we have not yet won is the “Anything but an enthusiastic YES! means NO!” campaign.

    And, as counter-intuitive as it may sound, I think we also need to de-stigmatize rape itself. Our society views rapists as inhuman monsters – I know a number of people who think that rape is worse than murder (why they think that is an interesting sociological question – my guess is that it is a throw-back ye olden days when a woman’s soul, let alone her worldly worth, was evaluated based on her sexual purity). The problem is that this makes people very reluctant to accuse or convict someone of being a rapist. “He’s a decent sort of guy, so he can’t possibly be a rapist.” Or, worse yet, “I’m a decent sort of guy, so it can’t possibly be rape if I have sex with her, even if she’s not entirely willing”. And lastly, this conception of rape as the mother of all atrocities can make things really hard on rape victims. For one thing, as traumatic as rape is, most rape victims don’t feel as though their lives have been utterly and irrevocably destroyed, and they don’t want the condescending pity that comes from a society that believes that (if society believes them about being raped at all). More importantly, if the rape victim is not completely devastated, that’s taken as evidence that “well, it clearly wasn’t THAT bad, so it must not have been rape”. Don’t get me wrong: rape is an atrocity, it is a serious physical and psychological assault, and it is a hate-crime against women. But the idea that rape is the worst crime possible is one of the factors that contributes to victims being less willing to come forward, and juries being less willing to convict.

    Finally, men need to take responsibility for rape – to hold one another legally and morally accountable for rape. And for sexual assault in general, and for violence against women in general, and for misogyny in general. The actions of men are the problem, and therefore, barring the Valerie Solanis solution, the actions of men are the only full solution.

    *I really, really hate the term “date rape”, which seems to imply a lesser not-really form of rape, but I haven’t found a more acceptable term. Date-rape is rape. Period.

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