Sunday, April 12, 2015

In the context of rape culture, is promoting women's self defense anti-feminist?

Tides are changing in the way we think about rape prevention and maybe it's over due. Advocates have long armed women with strategies for preventing rape - walking to your car with a buddy, never leaving your drink unattended, avoiding isolated areas at night, carrying pepper spray and rape whistles, and even studying martial arts.

Lately, there has been a shift in this way of thinking. The onus of preventing rape should not fall on would-be victims, who are in no way responsible for the crime. Instead, some feminists argue, it should fall solely on perpetrators. If you want to prevent rape, do not teach your daughters a hundred ways to defend themselves. Instead, teach ALL young boys and girls the absolute necessity of consent.

I recently came across this video, which drives home these points:

The issue of martial arts in particular for rape prevention was brought to the spotlight when taekwondo black belt Nia Sanchez won the Miss USA pageant in 2014. Sanchez was asked during the interview portion to comment on the problem of campus rape. Her response called for more awareness of this issue but also cited her own martial arts background. "You need to be confident and be able to defend yourself," she told judges.

While many fellow martial artists lauded this answer,  it ignited much feminist criticism on Twitter:

  • "If Miss Nevada wins this, I quit. You CANNOT say teaching women how to protect themselves is a way to combat rape."

  • “I get that the college sexual-assault problem can’t be solved in 30 secs but still icky to pretend like self-defense is the answer.”

  • “Let’s hope Miss Nevada uses her media tour to reiterate that teaching girls self-defense is NOT the best way to protest against assault.” 

  • "Miss Nevada was asked about rape at colleges and answered that women need to learn to defend themselves... OR MEN COULD JUST NOT RAPE."

  • "Miss Nevada Sick of hearing 'women need to learn selfdefense from sexual violence.' We need a culture we don't have to defend ourselves from." 

Sanchez faced further criticism from news and online media. "The implication, though Sanchez likely didn't intend it this way," wrote Amanda Marcott in, "is that women who do suffer rape are not confident and are insufficiently interested in their own safety."

My response to anti-self defense critics

It is true that women are not responsible for getting raped. Sexual assault is the fault of the attacker, plain and simple. I feel fortunate to have never been the subject of a violent attack and I hope that I never will be. But we live in a world that is not all rainbows and butterflies. The scary fact is that, according to RAINN, "1 out of 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape."

These are not odds that I want to play around with and I know plenty of feminist, martial arts women who feel the same way. We face a choice - we can do nothing and hope that everyone we meet has been enlightened about the necessity of consent. Or we can learn how to recognize danger and fight back.

Let's look at this from another angle. I own a computer that I use for work, email, social media, and blogging. I paid good money for this computer and for my home internet. I really hate shelling out $100 a year to pay for Norton anti-virus software to protect my computer from cyber threats. It's not fair that I have to do this. I shouldn't have to invest money to keep bad people from doing bad things to my computer. But yet I do it every year, because I value my online security.

You know what I value even more than my online safety? My personal safety. So for the same reasons that I invest money in anti-virus software, I invest time and money into studying jiu jitsu. And it is not anti-feminist to do so. I am not letting rapists off the hook or excusing a system that too often blames victims. It's not about them. It's about me staying safe. And I'd rather be proactive than reactive when it comes to protecting my own well being.