Why women need not be victims

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TODAY newspaper opinion piece titled ‘Women’s right to refuse’ is a classic example of contemporary feminist thought. The writer, Ms Kokila Annamalai, claims that “Men should not have to prove their masculinity by committing violence against women, while women should have the right to say no to sex without fear of repercussion.” In an ideal world, this would be so.

But this world is not.

Welcome to the real world

People certainly have the right to say no, and would reasonably expect others to respect their wishes. However, the influence of drugs and alcohol diminishes social consciences and good judgment. It is unreasonable to assume that someone temporarily incapable of rational thought would always respond to reasonable requests.

Furthermore, there exist a number of criminals, sociopaths and mentally deranged individuals who do not feel constrained by the law. While a minority, these predators have placed themselves outside the reach of social norms, immunising themselves against feminist thought.

Annamalai places the burden of personal protection entirely on people who have no ability or reason to care for the well-being of others. Exhorting people to respect others’ rights and choices works only on people who wish to do so. Most of them are not and will not be outlaws. Outlaws require a different approach, what is generally called self-defence.

In practical terms, the first step is avoiding places and people known for criminal activity, keeping an eye out for suspicious behaviour and avoiding predators. If approached by undesirable people, the proven response is to convince them to move on: being assertive, having friends, suggesting someone is expecting you, even feigning or telegraphing the presence of weapons if necessary. If attacked, the only sane response is to break contact and flee—and if necessary reducing the assailants to broken, bleeding bodies.

These principles have been tried and tested in the real world, and are taught by experts like Marc MacYoung, Rory Miller, Kathy Jackson and Teja van Wicklen. The best defences are layered. Should awareness and evasion fail, de-escalation and clear communication defuses malicious intent. If attached anyway, the answer is focused violence and escape.

Choices and consequences

Blame and criticism have no place in self-defence. Just rights and responsibilities, choices and consequences. The right to personal safety comes with the responsibility to maintain it. While people are free to choose how they act, they are not free from the consequences from those choices.

If a woman chooses to compromise her judgment and awareness, such as by drinking excessively or not watching for predatory behaviour, she has to live with the consequences. If a woman sends mixed messages or does not enforce personal boundaries, thereby undercutting her ability to assert herself, she has to live with the consequences. If a woman escalates a situation by causing a drama or belittling a drunken suitor, she is provoking violence and has to live with the consequences. If a woman does not take adequate measures to protect herself, instead counting on the kindness of strangers, she has to live with the consequences.

If those consequences means being attacked, it is entirely on her, in the same way a student who fails an examination for want of preparation is responsible for that failure. Women do not get a pass simply for being women. Predators do not pass over easy prey; the surest defence is to be a hard target.

But if a person did everything right, and is attacked anyway, tough luck. There is no perfect defence, and sometimes bad things happen for no reason at all. Hence the concept of layered defence: by managing risk, it minimises one’s chances of getting into trouble, and maximises the chance of evading and neutralising what little trouble one might get into.

The same cannot be said of approaches that abdicate personal safety to the attacker.

No victims here

Annamalai’s argument harms men and women. She paints all men as aggressors, fuelled by desires of sexual conquest, even though the majority of sexual crimes are committed by a minority of society—who are not always male. She also infantilises women, implying they are completely incapable of protecting themselves, and thus somebody else—namely, men—must be responsible for their safety.

The original goal of feminism was to raise women to the level of men. Not to tear men down or to turn women into perpetual children. By providing a woman the mindset and techniques to spot, avoid and survive violence, she is empowered to protect herself, without having to rely on the mercy of wolves. Modern feminism calls this ‘victim blaming’.

The real question is, why be a victim?