Sunday, February 3, 2008

Protect Yourself: Hide From Men or Learn to Fight?

Mexico City has established women-only buses to protect women from gropers. This isn't a new idea -- in a comment posted to the Ambling Along the Aqueduct post on the subject, Vandana Singh notes that New Delhi ran a few such buses when she was growing up. And I've heard of them in other countries as well.

This doesn't strike me as much of a solution. As Jessica Valenti observes in The Nation, "I'm all for safe spaces for women, but is segregation really an answer to sexism?"

Singh noted in her comment that getting on the woman-only bus was always a relief, which I can certainly understand: When I was in law school, we had a women's lounge -- a restroom that included a large area with couches, comfy chairs, and tables -- and it was always a relief to hole up there to study. We weren't hiding from gropers (though there may have been a few), but from the pressure of continually fitting into what was decidedly a male-dominated world -- our class was about 10 percent women.

A recent study highlights the fact that women are still in a double bind when dealing in the world: do things the way men do, and you're labeled unfeminine; do them in a more feminine style, and you're too soft. Just ask Hillary Clinton. So the occasional respite into a woman-only world does provide some relief.

But protecting women by segregating them from men leads to protecting them by keeping them out of some professions and public spaces. It reinforces the idea that women are helpless. And it limits the lives of the victim of abusive behavior, instead of stopping the abuse.

Besides, the bus isn't the only place where women get harassed. The Washington Post reports that a man -- or perhaps, judging by the varied descriptions, several men -- has been been attacking women in Northern Virginia. The police haven't caught anyone, and women are responding by taking cabs and giving up walking. Of course, cabs are expensive and walking is good exercise, so fear is taking a large toll on these women's lives.

I haven't noticed any cities declaring streets off-limits for men.

Judging from the description of the attacks, I suspect most women could fight this particular attacker off if they had a little training. He's apparently not using a weapon. But the article doesn't even mention learning how to fight as a solution to such attacks. It's not the only answer, of course -- good lighting, regular police patrols, and a societal decision to take such attacks more seriously can all improve safety.

But women can learn enough to protect themselves from such attacks, just as they can develop skills to deal with gropers on the buses. In Singh's comment, she noted that she developed a tough style when riding on mixed buses in New Delhi (though she found it a relief when she didn't have to do that). Making a scene is also a reasonable response.

Women taking action to protect themselves, whether from gropers or rapists, will eventually provide more safety than token respite on public transportation. After all, as the Valenti article notes in a quote from Katha Pollitt:
Obviously, there would never be enough women-only space to accommodate all women all the time - half the subway cars or half the hotels …Women-only space is just a little breathing place for a few women every now and then.


silk-noir said...

The men must be accountable.

Vandana Singh said...

Thanks for posting this! I really think learning self-defense/ martial arts is the way to go for women. At the same time we have to sensitize civil and municipal authorities to what women go through, and have them come up with ways of deterring the men who do this. Thirdly this is a cultural issue as well and has to be fought in that arena also by doing what it takes to change attitudes. (When I say "cultural" I don't mean that it is limited to, say, Indian culture --- harrassment of women is unfortunately a hallmark of every patriarchal culture in the world. The flavors are different, that is all).

I actually learnt shotokan karate in my mid-twenties when I was a graduate student in the US. (I dealt with harrassment in this country too, except it was more subtle). I remember during my first trip home to Delhi after having gotten some training --- I was just waiting for some creep to make my day by trying to mess with me! Unfortunately (!) nobody tried any stunts with me --- that is the great thing about martial arts, it changes the way you carry yourself, tells the world you can't be messed with. I haven't done martial arts for years and don't know if I can go back to it, but the instincts --- and the walk --- are still there.

the Stolen Child said...

Wow! This blog is great!
I am a big fan of the idea of learning self-defense (I did take an Aikido class in college, but that was it), so I love this blog completely about defending yourself.
I am moving to Chicago very soon, and will be living in the big city itself, so I need to start taking self-defense classes as soon as I get there. I have often felt unsafe walking the streets in Salt Lake City (which is where I'm living now), and Salt Lake is not a big tough city.

Anyway, thanks again, I'll continue reading!

Sid The Sexist said...

Creeping Globalization will put women back in their proper place; which is, obviously, in the home and raising their children. The third world invasion of America will make everything from shop-till-you-drop-consumerism to women's self-defense classes completely un-affordable for most Americans.

FYI, the same corrupt institutions that have outsourced our jobs and bankrupted our government are also responsible for giving women a false sense of entitlement and empowerment. Today's America spits in the face of both common sense and our Biblical traditions! This corrupt system will, and must, come to a crashing end in the near future!

My advise? Buy gold, guns and storeable food! Support your husbands! Stay in your marriage and take the time to raise your children properly and in the traditional manner.

The coming economic collapse, followed by the North American Union, means that western civilization will have to be rebuilt from the ground up. In order to do that we'll need wives and mothers who understand and accept their proper role in life. If not, than western civilization will be exterminated and "liberated American women" will be raped and slaughtered in the crossfire! The laws of nature never change no matter how hard Marxist feminists try to change them!

Nancy Jane Moore said...

I think Sid is going for satire here ;-)