Monday, June 16, 2014

An Oversimplified Debate: Women's Self-Defense vs. Teaching Society Not To Rape, Part 1

     The debate has been ongoing for several months now, before the newly crowned Miss USA, Nia Sanchez, stated that she believed that women need to learn to defend themselves from a rapist.  Those remarks really added fuel to the fire of a growing debate, that of the so-called "rape culture" versus those in this country who believe that learning to defend and protect oneself is a better avenue to deal with violence and sexual assault.
     The debate, between feminists and self-defense advocates, has grown and grown over the past few years, especially after the much publicized rape in Steubenville, Ohio.  That case, and the subsequent trial, has really helped shed light on the practice of victim blaming.  That is to say statements like, "She was asking for it being dressed like that.", or "She shouldn't have let herself get so drunk."  That is victim blaming, a practice that can be all to easy to fall into, for those who are unaware or willfully ignorant.
     The problem of discussing self-defense as it relates to rape and other forms of sexual assault is that it strays perilously close to blaming the victim for the attack.  Asking any of the forms of "What could you have done to prevent the attack?" is putting the onus for prevention on the defender, and not on the attacker where it belongs.  After all, every single one of us, male, female, young, old, black, white, everything in between, veteran, non-veteran, teacher, janitor, bus driver, lawyer, and even politicians have the right to go about our lives without being attacked by someone who is simply trying to use force to get what they want.
  Think about that for a minute, it is a basic human right to live one's life in peace and free from violence.  However, as much as I personally champion that ideal, and that universal right, there is another universal right that is just as important.  That is the right to use force and violence to defend ourselves.  Oddly enough, this did not make the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which I think says a lot about the U.N.
     It is good, right, and well to teach men AND women, not to rape.  This means talking about what consent is, and what consent is not.  This means illustrating what sexual assault is, what rape is, and bringing these crimes out into the light so that everyone, men and women, can be given an opportunity to understand what rape and sexual violence are all about.
     I wanted to add a perspective to this essay that wasn't just me espousing my opinions, and beliefs.  At this point, there are probably a thousand blogs from men just like myself telling everyone what they should think about the debate of teaching men not to rape vs. teaching women self-defense.  So, I asked a couple of my friends, Karen and Lisa, both of whom are female martial artists, for their perspective on the debate.
   I'm talking about teaching women to defend themselves against an attacker.  It doesn't have to be a rapist, it can simply be an attacker with any number of motives.  The end result is the same.  As Karen said, "I get confused if people who are against teaching others how not to get raped are also against teaching: how not to get robbed, stabbed, assaulted."
      Lisa says, "Women also have the need to be able to defend themselves -- AND to know when to do it -- because that is the unfortunate reality of today's world, and we have to survive 'today' on the way to hopefully making a better world...As an only somewhat-related tangent to that, there are lots of other reasons besides 'not being raped' for women to learn some sort of self-defense."
     Self-defense training has much more benefits than just learning to defend against an attack.  "The point is knowing that you're willing and able to act decisively with whatever resources are at your disposal when the moment arises -- whether it's protecting yourself from an attempted rape, avoiding a car crash, facing down a wild animal, deciding how to handle an armed robber, etc. etc. etc. etc.", said Lisa.  
     Additionally, the idea of teaching men not to rape was considered valid by both women. "For the current state of affairs, everyone should be taught not to rape.", Karen told me.  "Men, women, children should be taught rape is bad. No means no. At any time. No one ever deserves rape or 'has it coming.'"
     "We have to do both. Men have the responsibility not to rape, and we (everybody, society as a whole, men and women alike) need to teach them that...And of course that doesn't even brush the surface of men raping men, women raping men, and so on.", stated Lisa.
     All three of us, however, agreed that teaching women to defend themselves is ultimately a positive contribution to the empowerment of women.  "...if we can't care enough about ourselves to actively take care of and protect ourselves, how can we expect anyone else to care enough to do it?", as Lisa put it. 
     However, on the other side of the coin, another friend of mine, Carrie, brought up a good point.  Not every woman is going to have the ability, no matter how well taught, to be able to fight off an attacker.  "Because sometimes there are just no ways to overcome someone intent on raping you or there's some men that are never going to be taught.", was her stance on the matter.  "Not all women are capable of learning expert level self defense.  Nor are they equipped to be alert in their environment due to some kind of disability or distraction.  But I feel like it sometimes puts the blame on victims by teaching them self-defense, as in 'you didn't defend yourself enough.' On the other side, I sometimes feel it's condescending to men to simply say "don't rape" without discussing what rape is and how ingrained it can become."
     I absolutely agree that anyone who says  "you didn't defend yourself enough" is blaming the victim, and not the attacker.  That kind of behavior should not be tolerated, from any self-defense instructor, whether male or female.  Our job as instructors is not to blame the victim, or even put the onus of safety on our students.  Our job should be to help our students to understand that there will always be bad people in the world, who want to do bad things to them if they get a chance.  As such, the only person who can truly be responsible for their safety is the student themselves.  
     At the same time, we cannot ignore the realities of sexual assault and rape in our world today.  The statistics speak for themselves, in my opinion.  In addition to the numbers on sexual assault and rape, there is this little gem from  "8% of men admit committing acts that meet the legal definition of rape or attempted rape. Of these men who committed rape, 84% said that what they did was definitely not rape."  That means that well over three-quarters of men questioned claimed that what they did was definitely not rape.  Which says to me that three-quarters of men in the United States are ignorant on what rape and sexual assault are.  Kind of a telling argument when it comes to teaching men not to rape.  Clearly we are not doing that as a society. 
     In my opinion, part of the problem of teaching self-defense to women lies in some of the instructors, who are by and large a male group.  Some of them are well-meaning individuals, who simply have no clue what it would be like "...if you lived only in a world where all the people were at least 8" taller than you, at least 50 lbs. heavier (muscle only!) and socially conditioned to be more aggressive than you...", as Lisa put it.  Some of them only want to gratify their ego so they can tell people that they "Teach women's self-defense classes."  The worst of the bunch just want to show off for a room full of women.  The best self-defense instructors out there, however, demonstrate a passion for helping everyone, not just women, learn valuable and potentially life-saving self-defense techniques