This female reader wants women to fight back—literally:
I’ve argued with many newer feminists when debating the notion of self defense. Self defense and resistance as rape prevention are real and effective solutions supported by research[*]. Yet many newer feminists view even the very idea as victim blaming. I think this is a problem within many social movements today. In the interest of maintaining a united front, all nuance and subtlety is ignored!
And it completely ignores the historical significance of self defense in feminism from the ‘70s and ‘80s.
As young girls in the ‘80s, many of us had our first encounters with feminism through self-defense classes we took with our classmates and mothers. At the time, it was one of the most visible aspects of the movement, because the notion that a woman could protect herself, and was not dependent on a man for safety, was entirely subversive. After all, with increased freedom comes increased responsibility—and responsibility is not the same as blame.
New feminists, in my opinion, ignore this at the risk of becoming hypocrites and splintering the movement (all of the freedom, none of the responsibility). There is also an issue of choice at play here. As an autonomous, free-thinking woman, shouldn’t I be able to choose how I wish to respond to my own attack?!
And yet, the issue of rape culture still needs to be addressed. All things being equal, it should only be necessary to talk about the ways women can protect themselves in the rare instance when a crazed and violent perpetrator seeks to assault them.
We live in a society in which rape is ignored, victims are shamed and silenced, and a general climate persists in which otherwise normal young men and women are becoming perpetrators and victims because their view of consent and sexual agency is so incredibly skewed. Young men don’t know what they’re doing is rape, or feel so much pressure they don’t care. And young women don’t know they can say no and are afraid to speak up about assault if they do.
So society itself also needs to be addressed. I guess the full analysis leaves room for both aspects of the discussion.
* Below is some data to back up the assertion that “self defense and resistance as rape prevention are real and effective solutions.” From the National Institute of Justice:
In a 2005 report commissioned by NIJ, researchers examined a variety of sexual assaults and other physical assaults against women. The study did not focus specifically on college students. The researchers found that potential rape victims who resisted their attackers physically and verbally significantly reduced the probability that a rape would be completed and did not significantly increase the risk of serious injury.
Most self-protective actions significantly reduce the risk that a rape will be completed. In particular, certain actions reduce the risk of rape more than 80 percent compared to nonresistance. The most effective actions, according to victims, are attacking or struggling against their attacker, running away, and verbally warning the attacker.
In assaults against women, most self-protective tactics reduced the risk of injury compared to nonresistance. According to the researchers, the only self-protective tactics that appear to increase the risk of injury significantly were those that are ambiguous and not forceful. These included stalling, cooperating and screaming from pain or fear.
A separate study found that even when a rape was completed, women who used some form of resistance had better mental health outcomes than those who did not resist.
Law enforcement officials, however, counsel caution against automatically using violence or other forms of resistance. People who are assaulted are advised to assess the situation and trust their own judgment about the best way to respond.
A UO sociologist finds that women who took a ten-week self-defense training were significantly less likely to experience unwanted sexual contact than those who didn’t. … Jocelyn Hollander [looked] at the outcomes for 117 college students who received this self-defense training versus a control group of 169 students who did not. Of those, seventy-five from the first group and 108 from the second agreed to take part in a follow-up survey or interview.
The results are clear: a much lower percentage of the women who took the self-defense class reported incidents of unwanted sexual contact than the women who did not take the class (see chart).
Something to add to the discussion? Drop us a note. And thanks for all the great ones so far, including the ones that don’t get posted because of space and pacing.
Your reader makes a good point about people who do not realize that what they did was rape—but I also think it’s important for activists to make clear that there’s a distinction between these people and intentional, predatory rapists.
The latter are always going to exist, and they are not going to be swayed by a change in culture. The former are not necessarily callous people, and for them it’s not about power; it is just about sex. Lumping these two groups together as if their crimes are equally heinous is, I think, counterproductive. You’re not going to win over a man who makes bad choices when the line of consent is blurry if you treat him as if he’s holding a knife to the woman’s throat.
I think it necessitates a change in tactics (that “don’t be that guy” campaign your reader mentioned is, I think, a step in the right direction). But more importantly, it necessities a change in rhetoric within the movement.
Another reader raises a further issue, illustrated in the above PSA:
One way to address prevention without blaming victims and survivors is to focus on the potential role of bystanders.
Decades of research on sexual violence has shown that rape often occurs in contexts where we, through our cultural dialogues and habits, are not expecting it—for example, when the perpetrator is known to the victim, or rather than using extreme physical force, the perpetrator uses alcohol/substances/verbal threats. Contrary to being harmless, these rapes affect survivors in so many ways and for potentially long periods of time.
As a community we can use this knowledge to be proactive bystanders, recognizing that situations we assume to be part of the “normal” experience of socializing and sex are often environments with high-risk factors for sexual assault. By being aware of the risks, we can be more vigilant of our friends and those around us, taking on a community-level responsibility for prevention as opposed to an individual-level responsibility.
One pitfall is to assume that prevention means abandoning all environments of risk, when in fact prevention can be maintaining a higher level of awareness and caution in those places (e.g. drinking environments). And we can be less doubtful and more supportive of individuals who come forward to report a rape.
And finally, a word of caution about empowerment. Those who experience sexual assault cruelly and unjustly have their power wrested from them in that moment by a perpetrator. Regaining power is a complicated, crucial, and unique journey, and conversations about empowerment in a context of healing are different than conversations about empowerment in a context of prevention.
The backdrop for this conversation, after all, is a reality where 67 to 80 percent of acts that meet a Justice Department definition of “rape or sexual assault victimizations” are not reported to police. Society and survivors alike have a strong tradition of already placing plenty of power with victims and not with perpetrators. Unfortunately so many conversations about rape are pandering and petty arguments over the use of words, anecdotes, and analogies, when there is enough consistent data and research available for us to ground our conversations in reality and focus on solutions.
Anything important we’ve missed in the discussion so far? Drop us a note.
Some remaining thoughts from readers on the taboo topic:
One of your readers is quoted as writing, “It’s clear to any sane person that a rapist is completely to blame for a rape.” The problem here is that word “blame”—because for most rapes, there are many, many people who think nobody is to blame, because (they think) there was no rape: The person assaulted wanted to have sex, but changed their mind later, or was ashamed, or was just a lying slut with mysterious motives.
This discussion is hard, because some of the answers are incongruously lofty and nuanced relative to the stark evil of rape. But I think it’s too important and the topic needs to be exhausted.
The distinction between the onus for prevention and criminal responsibility is getting muddled: of course the perpetrator is the only person responsible for the crime, and of course, in a specific instance of rape, it is entirely inappropriate to broach prevention at risk of exacerbating the victim’s tendency to feel ashamed. But speaking generally, the major point is that the onus for prevention cannot be placed on the perpetrator, any more than the onus for defeating ISIS can be placed on ISIS. It’s nonsensical. A rapist is not going to heed a listicle of ten ways to avoid sexually assaulting a person, and a PSA on serial killing will never stymie a future Ted Bundy.
Only a decent society and potential victims can take steps to prevent rape. It’s unfair for any responsibility to fall on potential victims, but we live in a world where systemic solutions are slow-moving and imperfect. We have to consider prevention from the individual point of view. Obviously the most controversial subject of prevention is clothing, and I think nothing short of a gender-concealing robot suit would have any effect. But if we care about prevention more than fairness, we should be willing to study the situations around sexual assault and the minds of sexual deviants from every angle, and consider and share every conclusion.
Any final thoughts? Shoot me an email and I’ll post. Update from a reader, who quotes the one above:
[T]he major point is that the onus for prevention cannot be placed on the perpetrator, any more than the onus for defeating ISIS can be placed on ISIS. It’s nonsensical. A rapist is not going to heed a listicle of ten ways to avoid sexually assaulting a person...
I actually think their point about separating responsibility for prevention vs guilt is reasonable, but the argument I quoted is flawed. A big part of the modern anti-rape movement is the realization that many people sincerely do not realize they’re committing rape—for example, with women who are too drunk or otherwise incapacitated to consent.
That’s why you have campaigns like “Don’t be that guy [poster seen above],” which are actually trying to address rape prevention from the male perspective. Their effectiveness seems to be inconclusive so far, but the premise doesn’t seem unreasonable on the face of it.
Anyway, thanks for doing this discussion! It’s an interesting one to have.
I’m not interested in wading into the debate over Chrissie Hynde, but I’ll dip my toe in enough to say that the approach to rape prevention expressed by Katie Russell makes me think of the abstinence-only approach to sex ed. The absolutist approach actually results in more problems (pregnancy and STDs on one side, rape on the other) because proponents refuse to accept the reality of the situation they face (kids like sex / women are vulnerable to rape).
This reader uses an analogy:
A rape and the situation that led to it are two different things. A woman can take some responsibility for what led up to it while laying blame for the rape at the rapist’s feet.
Say you’re driving without a seat belt and someone hits you, ejecting you from the car. If you were belted, you wouldn’t have gotten hurt as bad, or maybe at all. It’s the accident your fault? No, of course not. Could you have foreseen trouble and done something to minimize it beforehand? Absolutely.
That analogy only goes so far, but I think it’s the gist of what people are saying.
Another reader rolls out more analogies:
I have the responsibility of cleaning the snow off of my sidewalk after a blizzard. I am not to blame for it snowing. I have the responsibility for locking my doors and carrying insurance. I am not to blame if I am robbed or my house burns down (unless I set it ablaze myself).
There is a difference between taking responsibility and accepting blame. All people have the responsibility to take reasonable measures to protect themselves, but they are not to blame if they are assaulted or raped. Until people recognize that difference, then there will be tragedies that could have been prevented, if only some people taken precautions.
An excellent and tragic point from this next reader:
I can assure you rape victims rarely feel free of culpability, even when they’ve checked off all the boxes of “things to do or avoid in order to prevent getting raped.” We can speak in generalities about what women should or shouldn’t do, but that by definition puts the onus on the victim versus the perpetrator, which is a difficult argument to hold together.
Sophie has a thought provoking piece on the controversy surrounding Chrissie Hynde—the lead singer of the Pretenders—and her comments regarding a sexual assault she experienced four decades ago. Sophie isolates an interesting irony among Hynde’s critics:
[T]here’s no denying that speaking publicly, as Hynde has done, about how women can be to blame for being sexually assaulted if they’re dressed provocatively is both wrongheaded and extraordinarily damaging to many victims of rape. But Hynde’s choice of words—comparing the outraged responses to her comments to a “lynch mob”—seems to demonstrate that she feels more victimized by the flood of comments and messages and thinkpieces and news hits responding to her story than she does by actually being assaulted in the first place.
Which raises the question: Is attacking Hynde for blaming herself (and yes, by association, blaming others) ultimately productive and worth the cost of revictimizing her? Or is the impulse to shame her and others like her sometimes more about self-gratification than advocacy?
Sophie continues with an incisive indictment of Twitter as a means of expression. Meanwhile, a few readers take on the highly-charged topic of rape prevention:
Chrissie Hynde is refusing to be a helpless victim. There’s a fine line between taking responsibility for what one can take responsibility for, and blaming the victim or letting bad people off the hook … but I believe she is properly walking that line. Chrissie is what a genuinely empowered woman looks like.
Shit happens, for sure. The difference between the empowered person and the victim is that the former refuses to see him/herself as a helpless object. In this instance, Chrissie is deciding to focus on herself and what part she played in the instance, and not merely saying that someone did X to helpless, innocent little her. She is a better, stronger person for her attitude.
And I’m not blaming the rape victim here. I’m applauding how she responded to her rape, by HER deciding to take back some level of control by taking some level responsibility for the obvious mistakes in judgement she made. It’s a hugely self-actualized thing to do.
At UCLA where I work, every year a dean warns young women not to get drunk out of their minds at frat parties or Spring Break, because the stats show that they raise their chances of being raped astronomically. And each year the dean (a female) gets slandered as anti-woman and a rape apologist by the kids who are angry at the fact that humans can be very ugly and that life is unfair.
Another reader has a similar stance on the dangers of college life:
In a perfect world, female students would be able to drink as heavily as they would like with no risk of sexual assault, and no amount of drinking makes them deserve to be raped. In this world, though, alcohol is the most common date rape drug. It shouldn’t be considered impossible to tell students that while a woman incapacitated by drinking is in no way to blame for her rape, she still should be aware that controlling her level of intoxication is a vital part of protecting herself.
Rapists exist and will continue to exist for some time. It’s clear to any sane person that a rapist is completely to blame for a rape. We are right to disagree with the Hyndes of the world when they seek to remove blame from the correct targets and heap it on those who suffer from their actions. But taking that to an extreme—where we ignore realities and withhold advice that could help women—isn’t positive either. We need to find a balance between the two.
All this makes me think of a quote from an article I read recently regarding a rape drug detection device in the form of nail polish that would test drinks for contamination on-the-spot:
“Whilst Undercover Color’s initiative is well meaning, on the whole,” [Katie Russell from Rape Crisis England & Wales] said, “Rape Crisis does not endorse or promote such a product or anything similar. This is for three reasons: it implies that it’s the woman’s fault and assumes responsibility on her behalf, and detracts from the real issues that arise from sexual violence.”
“For us, we work with victims to make them realise that they did nothing wrong,” she added. “Among primary cases, some do ask if they could have done anything to stop it. Products like this suggest otherwise. The emphasis must be placed 100% on the perpetrator.”
That organization isn’t suggesting the devices wouldn’t work for the intended purpose; they are literally saying that they would rather these tools did not exist because they imply even to the slightest degree that a woman might take an active role in protecting herself. They would discourage women from using them—and perhaps allow actual rapes to happen that could have been prevented—in order to protect the sanctity of this idea.
The president crossed an important line when he canceled a meeting with the Danish prime minister.
Yesterday, President Donald Trump canceled a meeting with the new Danish prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, because she refuses to discuss the sale of Greenland. Greenland used to be a Danish colony but now belongs to the people of Greenland—the Danish government could not sell the island even if it wanted to. Trump likely did not know that Denmark is one of America’s most reliable allies. Danish troops, for example, fought alongside U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and suffered 50 fatalities, and Danish forces were among the earliest to join the fight against the Islamic State.
Many Americans may laugh off Trump’s latest outrage, but Trump crossed an important line. It is one thing to float a cockamamie idea that no one believes is serious or will go anywhere. “Let’s buy Greenland!” Yes, very funny. A good distraction from the economy, the failure to deal with white supremacy, White House staff problems, or whatever is the news of the day. It is quite another to use leverage and impose costs on Denmark in pursuit of that goal—and make no mistake, canceling a presidential visit is using leverage and imposing costs. What’s next, refusing to exempt Denmark from various tariffs because it won’t discuss Greenland? Musing on Twitter that America’s defense commitments to Denmark are conditional on the negotiation? Intellectual justifications from Trump-friendly publications, citing previous purchase proposals and noting Greenland’s strategic value and abundance of natural resources? (That last one has already happened.)
Meritocracy prizes achievement above all else, making everyone—even the rich—miserable. Maybe there’s a way out.
In the summer of 1987, I graduated from a public high school in Austin, Texas, and headed northeast to attend Yale. I then spent nearly 15 years studying at various universities—the London School of Economics, the University of Oxford, Harvard, and finally Yale Law School—picking up a string of degrees along the way. Today, I teach at Yale Law, where my students unnervingly resemble my younger self: They are, overwhelmingly, products of professional parents and high-class universities. I pass on to them the advantages that my own teachers bestowed on me. They, and I, owe our prosperity and our caste to meritocracy.
Two decades ago, when I started writing about economic inequality, meritocracy seemed more likely a cure than a cause. Meritocracy’s early advocates championed social mobility. In the 1960s, for instance, Yale President Kingman Brewster brought meritocratic admissions to the university with the express aim of breaking a hereditary elite. Alumni had long believed that their sons had a birthright to follow them to Yale; now prospective students would gain admission based on achievement rather than breeding. Meritocracy—for a time—replaced complacent insiders with talented and hardworking outsiders.
He understands men in America better than most people do. The rest of the country should start paying attention.
Every morning of my Joe Rogan experience began the same way Joe Rogan begins his: with the mushroom coffee.
It’s a pour-and-stir powder made from lion’s mane and chaga—“two rock-star mushrooms,” according to Joe—and it’s made by a company called Four Sigmatic, a regular advertiser on Joe Rogan’s wildly popular podcast. As a coffee lover, the mere existence of mushroom coffee offends me. (“I’ll have your most delicious thing, made from your least delicious things, please,” a friend said, scornfully.) But it tastes fine, and even better after another cup of actual coffee.
Next, I took several vitamin supplements from a company called Onnit, whose core philosophy is “total human optimization” and whose website sells all kinds of wicked-cool fitness gear—a Darth Vader kettlebell ($199.95); a 50-foot roll of two-and-a-half-inch-thick battle rope ($249.95); a 25-pound quad mace ($147.95), which according to one fitness-equipment site is a weapon dating back to 11th-century Persia. I stuck to the health products, though, because you know how it goes—you buy one quad mace and soon your apartment is filled with them. I stirred a packet of Onnit Gut Health powder into my mushroom coffee, then downed an enormous pair of Alpha Brain pills, filled with nootropics to help with “memory and focus.”
“Wealth work” is one of America’s fastest-growing industries. That’s not entirely a good thing.
In an age of persistently high inequality, work in high-cost metros catering to the whims of the wealthy—grooming them, stretching them, feeding them, driving them—has become one of the fastest-growing industries.
Low-skill, low-pay, and disproportionately done by women, these jobs congregate near dense urban labor markets, multiplying in neighborhoods with soaring disposable income. Between 2010 and 2017, the number of manicurists and pedicurists doubled, while the number of fitness trainers and skincare specialists grew at least twice as fast as the overall labor force.
While there are reasons to be optimistic about this trend, there is also something queasy about the emergence of a new underclass of urban servants.
Can straight men and women really be best friends? Their partners are wondering, too.
In 1989, When Harry Met Sally posed a question that other pop-cultural entities have been trying to answer ever since: Can straight men and women really be close friends without their partnership turning into something else? (According to The Office, no. According to Lost in Translation, yes. According to Friends … well, sometimes no and sometimes yes.) Screenwriters have been preoccupied with this question for a long time, and according to a new study published in the Journal of Relationships Research, the question is also likely to be on the minds of people whose romantic partners have best friends of the opposite sex.
For the study, Eletra Gilchrist-Petty, an associate professor of communication arts at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and Lance Kyle Bennett, a doctoral-degree student at the University of Iowa, recruited 346 people, ranging in age from 18 to 64, who were or had been in a heterosexual relationship with someone who had a different-sex best friend. When they surveyed participants’ attitudes toward cross-sex best friendships, they found that people who are engaged to be married look more negatively on those friendships than married, single, or dating people. They also found that people who are skeptical of cross-sex best friendships in general are more likely to “lash out” at their partner when they feel threatened by the partner’s best friend—as opposed to constructively communicating with their partner, or with the friend, about the situation.
AM stations mainly wanted to keep listeners engaged—but ended up remaking the Republican Party.
No one set out to turn the airwaves into a political weapon—much less deputize talk-radio hosts as the ideological enforcers of a major American political party. Instead the story of how the GOP establishment lost its power over the Republican message—and eventually the party itself—begins with frantic AM radio executives and a former Top 40 disc jockey, Rush Limbaugh.
In the late 1980s, AM radio was desperate for new content. Listeners had migrated to FM because music sounded better on there, and advertising dollars had followed. Talk-radio formats offered a lifeline—unique programming that FM didn’t have. And on August 1, 1988, Limbaugh debuted nationally. At the outset, Limbaugh wasn’t angling to become a political force—he was there to entertain and make money. Limbaugh’s show departed from the staid, largely nonpartisan, interview and caller-based programs that were the norm in earlier talk radio. Instead, Limbaugh was a consummate showman who excited listeners by being zany and fun and obliterating boundaries, offering up something the likes of which many Americans had never heard before.
Hundreds of skeletons are scattered around a site high in the Himalayas, and a new study overturns a leading theory about how they got there.
In a kinder world, archaeologists would study only formal cemeteries, carefully planned and undisturbed. No landslides would have scattered the remains. No passersby would have taken them home as souvenirs, or stacked them into cairns, or made off with the best of the artifacts. And all this certainly wouldn’t be happening far from any evidence of human habitation, under the surface of a frozen glacial lake.
But such an ideal burial ground wouldn’t have the eerie appeal of Skeleton Lake in Uttarakhand, India, where researchers suspect the bones of as many as 500 people lie. The lake, which is formally known as Roopkund, is miles above sea level in the Himalayas and sits along the route of the Nanda Devi Raj Jat, a famous festival and pilgrimage. Bones are scattered throughout the site: Not a single skeleton found so far is intact.
Just a few hours of therapy-like interventions can reduce some people’s anxiety.
The strange little PowerPoint asks me to imagine being the new kid at school. I feel nervous and excluded, its instructions tell me. Kids pick on me. Sometimes I think I’ll never make friends. Then the voice of a young, male narrator cuts in. “By acting differently, you can actually build new connections between neurons in your brain,” the voice reassures me. “People aren’t stuck being shy, sad, or left out.”
The activity, called Project Personality, is a brief digital activity meant to build a feeling of control over anxiety in 12-to-15-year-olds. Consisting of a series of stories, writing exercises, and brief explainers about neuroscience, it was created by Jessica Schleider, an assistant professor at Stony Brook University, where she directs the Lab for Scalable Mental Health. She sent it to me so I could see how teens might use it to essentially perform psychotherapy on themselves, without the aid of a therapist.
Next week’s deadline to qualify for the third Democratic debate could leave half of the large field of candidates on the sidelines.
For a handful of Democratic candidates stuck at 1 percent (or lower) in the polls, a Wednesday afternoon in the dog days of August could be the moment when their lifelong dream of the presidency dies a quiet death.
August 28 is the deadline for candidates to meet the Democratic National Committee’s heightened threshold for entry into the September debate, and as much as half the field is expected to wind up on the sidelines. Those who don’t make the cut will, at a minimum, be forced to reassess the viability of their long-shot bids. Some of those also-rans may trudge on through the fall, in the hopes of rebounding for the next debate in October, or simply out of a commitment to stay in the race until the first votes are cast in Iowa next February.
The president often implies that what determines national loyalty is not citizenship but ethnicity, religion, and race.
Donald Trump isn’t only venomous; he’s also vague. So when he said yesterday that “any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty,” it wasn’t entirely obvious whom he was accusing Jewish Democrats of being disloyal to. But the most plausible explanation is that he was accusing them of being disloyal to Israel.
In the previous sentence, Trump had condemned Democrats for “defending these two people”—Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar—“over the State of Israel.” And in the past, Trump has repeatedly spoken about American Jews as if they were Israelis. In an April speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition, he called Benjamin Netanyahu “your prime minister” and warned that a Democratic victory in 2020 “could leave Israel out there all by yourselves.” At the White House Hanukkah Party last December, he told the mostly Jewish audience that Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, “love your country. And they love this country.”