Skip to content

Tag: violence against women

I don’t believe self-defence training is “victim blaming”. And I’m a feminist.

I’m a proud feminist. And I’m the CEO of Australia’s largest provider of in-school workshops for teen girls that help develop self-worth and resilience. And I promote self-defence classes to young women.

Here’s how, and here’s why.

The uncomfortable truth? Teen girls are likely to experience violence in their lifetime; this can occur in a wide range of contexts ranging from schoolyard bullying and peer based aggression, through to street based harassment and stranger intimidation, through to physical assault and sexual violence.

And while we all agree this is a situation that needs to be urgently addressed, where feminists disagree is on the kind of advice, if any, which should be given to girls given this reality.

Some argue passionately that any attempt to modify young women’s behaviours is in effect victim blaming, and that the onus on change must always be placed squarely and solely at the feet of those who would harm.

I agree that often the dialogue on what women should do to stay safe, particularly after high profile media reporting on the death of a woman, can become (sometimes unintentionally) focused on what women wear, where they choose to go, whether they chose to drink alcohol. It focuses on limiting women’s freedoms.

This is never helpful. This is never OK. And it tends to assume that men who would harm are strangers lurking in dark alleys, waiting for their next vulnerable victim. As the statistics on domestic violence here in Australia clearly show, this is not always the case.

However, if self-defence is framed within a context of unpacking victim blaming and emphasising why violence is always the fault and responsibility of the perpetrator, and never the fault or responsibility of the victim or survivor, it can do much to shift this type of thinking. In fact, at the end of our sessions, many girls have approached us to explain how for the first time they felt understood; “I’ve always felt like maybe I must have somehow been to blame for my boyfriend hurting me like that. I now know that it had nothing to do with me …”

Importantly too, there must be an emphasis on the fact that we must also never blame a victim who doesn’t (for whatever reason) act assertively or fight back when in a threatening situation. Any of us, even trained professionals in the army or police force, can freeze in the face of danger. By explaining the body’s instinctive fight, flight or freeze survival mechanism, again much can be done to alleviate victim blaming and shaming.

In this age of body-image angst, self-defence classes also challenge the myth that women’s bodies are merely ornamental. Girls can be fast, strong and powerful; they can set physical boundaries. They can take up more space.

And girls can learn how and when to set verbal boundaries: “Stop! I don’t like it!”. Self-defence classes encourage girls to find their voices which is in contrast to the passivity-push that would have us believe girls should be sugar, spice and all things nice; seen and not heard.

In addition, girls are encouraged to shout-out not just for themselves but for others too; we also teach ethical bystander behaviour. There is great strength in connecting girls to each other and in fostering a sense of sisterhood.

And let me tell you, girls love all of this. Our self-defence workshop would be one of the ones girls rave about the most in their evaluations of our work. There is always laughter, giggling and a real delight in feeling powerful rather than powerless.

Finally, there is plenty of evidence to show self-defence classes can be useful in certain contexts. After news of an English women who had been trained in martial arts beating her sex-attacker unconscious broke recently, journalist Rhiannon Lucy Cossett argued that it was her own knowledge of self-defence that had saved her in an attack too; “After fighting off my attacker … (I kicked, scratched, punched, wrestled him to the ground, and told him he was a motherf****r) … I am baffled as to why self-defence has become so apparently outmoded, because it helped me when I needed it most. I grew up with a mother who used to run workshops for women who were victims of domestic violence in South London. It was she who taught me to face my attacker kicking and screaming, and in doing so she saved my life.

“That’s not to say that I might not have frozen … you cannot predict how any human will react, and I speak only for myself — but I am baffled that it is not taught more in schools. Why not have kickboxing and martial arts in PE lessons? Ultimately, extra-curricular karate lessons proved more useful to me than netball ever did.”

And what do the schools we have worked with say?

I have had emails from three different school principals in the years since we have been running these courses thanking us for giving their students the information they needed when they were in a potentially dangerous situation. On all three occasions their girls had been harassed on trains and knew to follow their instincts, move away quickly and to let other adults around them know they were feeling unsafe. Importantly, they also knew it was not their fault that they had been targeted: “They felt angry rather than ashamed which is just as it should be.”

And I have had many, many messages from teen girls that have told me that they suspect knowing that it is OK to set boundaries (and how to do this assertively) has kept them safe in a myriad of different situations. Everything from being bullied in the playground by other students, to being cornered at a party by a guy they trusted who tried to coerce them into sex.

Doctors Jill Cermele and Martha McCaughey, women’s self-defence advocates and founders of site “See Jane Fight Back!” also argue: “Self-defence challenges the belief that rape is thwarted only by the perpetrator “coming to his senses”, through bystander interference, or divine intervention. “Yep. In a perfect world? It would not be necessary to focus on how women and girls can learn assertiveness and self-defence skills. But we do not yet live in that world.

And while the vital work to help curb violence continues, so too should the programs for girls and women that provide options and strategies for keeping safe.

Knowledge is power. And I choose to pass power on.

This post originally appeared in News Corp’s popular online opinion site RendezView. 

 

An open letter to Beyoncé (from a bewildered fan)

This week’s blog is by Enlighten’s Senior Presenter, and Program Director for Western Australia, Nikki Davis. You may read more about Nikki at our “Meet The Team” page.

nikki

Dear Beyoncé

I have been a big fan of yours for about ten years now. In many ways I suppose I fit the demographic of a typical Beyoncé fan – female, old enough to remember Destiny’s Child but young enough to still be able to take style inspo from your outfits. I am also an ex-professional dancer who cannot resist a great pop song with an infectious beat and an outstanding female vocal, even if the only time I break a sweat to it these days is on the treadmill.

When you released the B’Day album full of kick-him-to-the-curb anthems – climaxing with ‘Irreplaceable’ (yes I am that girl who always does the “to the left” actions when I sing along) – just as I was going through a break up with a cheating lying boyfriend myself you got me, hook, line and sinker. I became a true “Bey” fan. I now loved the heart-wrenching big belt ballads just as much as dance floor fillers.

And really, there is so much to love about you! You are beautiful – like crazy beautiful. You embrace your curves and flaunt them in leotards on stage. LEOTARDS! Who else looks fierce in a leotard? You’ve inspired me to sometimes wear the short tight skirts that the fashion world has us women believing belong only on young girls with slender, almost boyish figures. In fact you have told us honestly how hard you worked to regain your famous figure after giving birth to your daughter through exercise (take note all super model mums who cite “breastfeeding and good genes” – we don’t believe you).

I admire that you have also kept some of your private life private (we have never seen a single snap from your wedding with Jay-Z), you stand up for what you believe in (standing alongside murdered child Trayvon Martin’s mother and marching with the people in Manhattan for Civil Rights), you sing to sick children on stage (remember when you sang ‘Halo’ to little Chelsea James during your 2009 Sydney show to stadium full of crying fans – myself included?) and you speak out when it comes to equality (or lack thereof) between the sexes (more on this later).

And, boy can you sing! Your voice never ceases to amaze me. When you sang an accapella version of ‘I Will Always Love You’ during the Sydney performance of The Mrs Carter World Tour in tribute to Whitney Houston, I cried. Ok so I cry when it comes to you quite a bit – I told you I was a proper fan!

Ok gush over. You see Bey, I am having some trouble with some of your lyrics of late and well, I’m really struggling.

It began with your track ‘Girls Who Run the World’… great sounding song! But what do you mean when you say girls run the world? Um, cos we don’t. At all. Anywhere in the world. Here in Australia Bey, women make up more than half of the workforce but we still, on average earn 18% less than men. And anywhere from ¼ and up to ½ of all Australian women will experience some kind of physical or sexual violence by a man at some point in their lives. That’s kind of the opposite of running things yeah? And let’s not mention the countries in the world where women are not allowed to drive or go to school or are stoned to death for adultery.

But I know you know this stuff. You very recently wrote an essay for The Shriver Report’s Special Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back From the Brink where you agree that we are kidding ourselves if we think we live in an equal society.

And this stuff matters to me Bey. I am a feminist. I also now not only work with young women in dance but also teen girls in schools. I work with a brilliant company called Enlighten Education, empowering young women and inspiring them to really find their true voices in this patriarchal world.

But you know what? Because I love you I have been able to move past these strange lyrics. In your documentary film you tell us that this song was intended as a love letter to women, celebrating their strength. OK, cool. Perhaps the lyrics were maybe more of a wishful thinking thing?

But Beyoncé, with your latest release I’m stuck.

I can overlook the insane amount of time you spend on the album telling us about your sex life with your husband. And it really is, like, a lot of time. Apparently your sex life is so good it involves kitchens, temporary memory loss and accidental damage to rare works of art. Sure, none of the couples I know who have been married for a while and have a small child seem to be going all night long but if that’s the way it is for you guys then super!

I can also cope with the fact that you call your lady parts “skittles” (just) and dedicate a whole track to society’s obsession with perfection whilst appearing in every single clip looking immaculate. But hey, I love the sentiment (that’s one of the core issues I work with teen girls on) and to be honest I do love seeing your outfits/make up/nail art and admiring your beauty.

I want to say “She has done it again and pushed the boundaries even further this time with a new brand of arty-edgy-pop. Yippee!” And then cry happily at your talent and general amazing-ness.

But I can’t.

And it’s not even because the song “Flawless” is so perplexing with it’s feminist themes including a brilliant sound bite from Nigerian Feminist Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie mixed in with you repeatedly saying “Bow Down Bitches” – perhaps you were ironically using the word bitch there? Or telling men to bow down and calling them bitches? Surely Bey, you had a grand plan mixing those two elements together? I’m trying to trust you there, I really am.

However, when I listened closely to ‘Drunk In Love’ and looked at the lyrics (as it is such a catchy track and was fast becoming a favourite) I went cold.

Beyoncé, why would you include your husband rapping lines about Ike and Tina Turner in this song? You have long cited Tina as one of your heroes (and you performed in tribute to her many times including at the “Tina Turner Tribute” in 2005 – another YouTube clip in which I, of course, cried.)

But then in this super sexy number about how much you have sex with your husband, you somehow let him start making comparisons with Ike and Tina – a notoriously violent relationship and one which almost killed her. I had to consult Google and find out if anyone else was having a major, stomach churning issue with this. I found that my disappointment (scrap that – my horror)  was shared by others. Holly McNish in her opinion piece for The Mirror writes:

Jay Z – What are you saying?

“I am Ike Turner…Baby know I don’t play. Now eat the cake, Anna Mae. Said Eat the Cake, Anna Mae”. Beyoncé mouthing the words behind him, smiling.

For those of you who, unlike me, are not obsessed with Tina Turner and did not watch the film of her life story – What’s Love Got To Do With It – almost 100 times, this line is from that film…. Ike is jealous. He tells her to “eat the cake”… and when she refuses, he stands up, shoves it in her mouth and across her face. Her friend and backing vocalist tries to stop him. Ike threatens her, beats her and she runs away shouting to Tina Turner, “You are dead if you stay with him.”

It’s one of the most humiliating scenes in a film that charts the continuous rape and beating by a jealous and violent husband of his wife…”

Bey I don’t know what to say. What the? Remember how I mentioned those statistics about women and violence? There is nothing sexy about that. It’s criminal.

Holly McNish ends her piece on this with #Whatdoestinathink. I have a different question and it’s for you Bey, and it’s simply, WHY????

Actually no I lie – I have another question too…. I thought I could live without knowing this and still love your music but I’ve changed my mind… You write feminist essays but also shy away from the label of feminist – telling British Vogue in 2013 that the word “can be very extreme”. (Even though it’s correct definition – someone who believes in equal rights – is actually stated by Adichie in your song ‘Flawless’). You flirt with feminist themes in so much of your music and then confuse us by continuously using terms like “bitch” and collaborating with male artists like Kanye West who are notoriously misogynistic.

So my question is, as a woman with the power to educate girls and women on what it actually means to be a feminist and why it is so important in this world, ARE YOU WITH US OR NOT?

I’ll probably always sing along to “All the Single Ladies” (and I know many a feminist has much to say about this song too) but Bey, this new album is being deleted from my iTunes account.

Let me know if you have any answers for me and all the women out there who feel that casually referring to violence against women is not controversial or edgy but incredibly problematic and in fact, dangerous.

Yours truly

Nikki Davis – Feminist, Educator, pop music fan and serial crier.

Videos that move

This week I want to share three of the videos I’ve watched recently that have deeply moved me.

The first is a TED Talk by Jackson Katz, Ph.D. The YouTube clip describes Katz as:

…an anti-sexist activist and expert on violence, media and masculinities. An author, filmmaker, educator and social theorist, Katz has worked in gender violence prevention work with diverse groups of men and boys in sports culture and the military, and has pioneered work in critical media literacy. Katz is the creator and co-founder of the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program, which advocates the ‘bystander approach’ to sexual and domestic violence prevention. You’ve also seen him in the award winning documentary ‘MissRepresentation.’

I felt compelled to share this with all my male friends and was so pleased that they too found Katz’ talk so very powerful; I trust you will also want to share it and use it as a stimulus for some vital conversations.

In a similar vein, Patrick Stewart (the actor best known for his roles in various sci-fi’s) beautifully articulates why violence against women is a choice a man should never make:

And finally, a video that touched me in a very personal way. This was made by teen girl Tanya Shanmugharaj, a student at United World College in South East Asia. I had the pleasure of meeting Tanya and her incredible classmates and educators on a recent trip to Singapore; I presented to all the Grade 6,7 and 8 girls and keynoted at the College’s Middle School Conference. How could one not feel enormously humbled and thrilled to witness these girls’ passion and gratitude for the lessons I was privileged to share with them about empowerment? Wow.

I hate this part right here

Have the PCD’s (The Pussycat Dolls) stooped to a new low?  I was watching the film clip to their song “I Hate This Part Right Here” when I was stunned by the scene depicting one of the girls draped in a very suggestive “come and get me” pose over a pinball machine. This appears in a film clip set in the desert (it’s all lone roads, cacti, wolves and deers up to this point) which made the shot all the more bewildering. It’s about 2min 30 in:


 
The first thing that came to my mind was that this was designed to be reminiscent of the infamous gang rape scene in the Jodie Foster film The Accused – a scene in which Foster’s character is gang raped on a pinball machine in a small-town bar. This scene was absolutely harrowing and had me, like so many other cinema goers, leaving the cinema sobbing.

Am I reading too much into this? And if I am, what else are we to make of a pinball machine in the desert decorated by a panting Pussycat Doll?   

Glorifying violence against women is sadly not new. Dolce and Gabbana alluded to gang rape in their 2007 advertising campaign:

And what about the episode of America’s Next Top Super Model that featured the wannabe models posing for shots that depicted them as victims of violent crime?


 
The judges comments were breath-takingly offensive and included: “Gorgeous!”, “Fantastic!”, “Amazing!”, “Absolutely beautiful!”, “You don’t look dead enough” and, “Death becomes you, young lady!”

Loved blogger Venice of Brasil’s post on why we should all be vigilant against any attempt to eroticise violence against women:

It also seems like just one more crime the beauty industry commits against women. This is not a place where women are celebrated. They are scrutinized, demeaned, told they are too old, not thin enough, not pretty enough, etc. just to sell more products. Top Model sells at least one new product an episode through its format. I am sure that this is just another publicity stunt for the show in which media people and feminists get upset, and the majority of the desensitized public sits back thinking, “what’s the big deal?”

I guess that is the question. What is the big deal?
The big deal is that it makes violence against women appear beautiful and acceptable
The big deal is that if a picture is worth 1,000 words, what did we just learn?
The big deal is that it is another media depiction of violence that makes the real thing seem “normal”.
The big deal is that violence against women is real, and this is fashion mocking the reality of so many.
The big deal is that right now thousands of women die everyday around the world from preventable violence while shows like Top Model tell the models that they don’t look “dead enough”.
The big deal is that how many women have died in Iraq? Where are their pictures? Where is “blown up by cluster bombs” crime scene photo? Or is that not pretty enough?

Subscribe By Email

Get every new post delivered right to your inbox.

Please prove that you are not a robot.

Skip to toolbar