Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Gender, Socialization and Violence

Last week I started my classes, including "Personal Defense for Women." (By the way, I have been excited about this class for months and have mentioned it a lot, and nearly every time I mention it to a guy he says, "A whole semester of learning to kick guys in the balls?" and one of my friends told me, "Doesn't matter, I always wear a cup around you anyway.")

This class is being taught by two male police officers, one Captain and one Officer. In our first class we just talked. Well, mostly Captain Chapman talked. He's pretty funny. I'm looking forward to his insights over the semester. ("I don't ever want to hear 'I'm sorry' in this class! If you accidentally miss the dummy and punch me in the face, break my classes and cut my eye, good for you! If I hear, 'I'm sorry,' you're doing pushups!")

Aside from swearing a lot and doing a lot of hilarious imitations of girls talking on their cell phones at night, Captain Chapman read us 3 police reports from the last week. I had been aware of 2 of them, although only known details about one. (My university has a spotty record with giving out safety information.) In the past week in the surrounding area of my university (an urban campus), one young woman was raped at 4:30 in the morning, one student was treated for a rape kit after going to a club and waking up in her dorm with evidence that she had been date-raped, and one student was taken to SVU after sex with an acquaintance she was too drunk to consent to.

As the Captain explained, all three of these incidents had elements in them that could have been preventable. In the first, the woman left her boyfriend's apartment in a particularly bad part of the surrounding campus area at 4 in the morning because they had had a fight. Not walking alone at night is an important feature of safety not only for women but people in general. Her boyfriend, even though they did have a fight, could have told her to wait until morning or walked her home himself. The student who believed she had been date raped had left someone take her drink from her in the club and add ice to it. She didn't watch him, and after she got it back she started to feel fuzzy and had difficulty remembering her night. And the last example demonstrates a failure of "the buddy system." When you drink with your friends, you should be looking out for them, and if you sense your friend is too drunk, you should help them when it seems like they're making a choice they wouldn't make sober.

All of these are "common sense" tips I heard as a college freshman and probably throughout my entire life. Actually I remember my mom telling me to mind the buddy system at middle school dances, which probably sadly for some people, is an important safety tip. Captain Chapman explained that this class will be about giving us the skills to not only live and get away from a potentially unsafe situation, but have the mental tools to be able to recognize unsafe situations of all types and ergo, prevent a bad thing from happening.

What I found striking, as someone who is a feminist and has read a moderate amount about women's safety, rape culture, sexual assault and violence, is that male violence was accepted as a fact. And yes, to some degree it is a fact. Those three examples are three of many women who have been victims of male violence. But in the acceptance of some guys being "creepy motherfuckers" (love this class already), the brunt of violence prevention falls on individual women.

In June I posted a poster called, "Sexual Assault Prevention Tips," which unlike the majority of similarly titled things, was aimed at men. Preventative tips that women get ("don't drink from a beverage you left unattended") were flipped and written to be geared toward men ("don't put drugs in people's drinks in order to control their behavior.") This semester I'm also taking a class called "Violence: an Anthropological Approach" taught by Dr. Mindie Lazarus-Black, who is an expert in the field of domestic violence (as well as several other academic pursuits). On our first day of class we watched a film called Violence: An American Tradition (I believe this is available on youtube) which chronicled the very beginnings of American violence through history, and how media portrayals have affected American opinions on violence and violent criminal behavior.

I couldn't help but be reminded of the film Tough Guise, which I highlighted last semester. In Tough Guise, expert Jackson Katz talks about violence as being a problem closely linked with masculinity--as the majority of violent offenders are male, why aren't we looking at violence more often as a male problem? Only two of the violent criminals mentioned in Violence: An American Tradition were female. If statistically men are much more likely to be violent, we should be looking at how the way masculinity is influencing violence. This absolutely does not mean that all men are violent and all women are not. But if masculinity is constructed to favor violence and violent means, then we have a problem with masculinity. And while many (weirdos) are bemoaning the epidemic of sissy dudes and whatever, the fact remains that male violence, and male violence against women is still an incredible problem. I'm looking forward to both Personal Defense for Women and Violence: An Anthropological Approach this semester and hopefully will be able to draw some connections between the two as the semester goes on.

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