CONTENT WARNING FOR DISCUSSION OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE.
I ran across this website this past weekend, and it made me take many pauses. At first, I was amused, after all a company called “Damsels in Defense” has to raise a certain amount of hilarity. As I went through their website, however, I went from amused, to pretty horrified.
Self defense should not need to be pink or covered in pretty patterns to be appealing to women.
Furthermore, simply having a houndstooth printed “kid safe” pouch of pepper spray, or a stun gun in a colour which accessorizes perfectly with your purse is not taking your safety seriously.
The insidiousness here isn’t just that this is Self Defense “For Girls” but that it genderizes safety in a really dangerous way.
For one, it makes ALL perpetrators of violence into men. Two, the website itself seems to focus on gendered crimes, like sexual assault, to the point where it feels as though what we’re protecting aren’t our bodies, but our vaginas.
This is a problem with the general world of gender specific safety training, however. I’ve heard of some good programs, but most that focus on a single gender populace are focusing on the protection of a single, specific body part: that of an able-bodied cis woman’s vagina. Not only does this neglect that all genders are capable of sexual violence, but it also excludes trans women as a part of the equation of “women related violence”. A category which seems to be defined by what parts you have is not inclusive of all women. Furthermore, the kind of violence that these classes and products are often trying to prevent is that of penetrative violence. Whether with a penis, or with a knife or a bullet, these are all forms of penetrative bodily harm. Hate crimes are a violence that women are not being protected from with these courses.
The products offered also aren’t disability inclusive, and whether or not that matters to you, it should. Women with disabilities are increasingly more likely to face partner abuse, and random abuse at the hands of strangers because of perceived vulnerabilities.
These kinds of programs and products don’t serve all women. They serve hetereonormative, able bodied, biological women. A blind person like myself probably shouldn’t use mace or pepper spray, not just because the aim might be off, but because if it gets in my eyes (for example) that’s an ER trip and more pain than my attacker would be in. It leaves me vulnerable.
A stun gun has the same issue.
Wheelchair users are at higher risks (as was seen in the Bataclan shooting in Paris) because they are vulnerable to being moved by other people, yet I have not seen a class on disability self defense that was open to all kinds of women. I have not attended a course where my needs as a low vision woman were met with the same veracity as that of the able-bodied women in the room. For self defense, I had to seek out people who might have ideas about how best to use the tools I have to protect myself.
My fears are different from an able-bodied ciswoman’s fears. The fears of a heteronormative woman are different from those of a homosexual woman’s fears. The fears of a transwoman are going to be different.
There are different kinds of violence that matter to different kinds of women, so a catchall, one defensive method fits all approach to self-protection is not the answer. The answer is not that all women need the same things, but that all women need to be met with whole body approaches to the concept of safety.
SAFETY SHOULD NOT HAVE A GENDER.
PERPETRATORS DO NOT HAVE A GENDER.
The people who enact sexual violence, or any violence on another person can be men or women. They can be of any race, of any social class, of any religion.
All people deserve to be safe, and creating companies that cater to the feminine side of safety doesn’t just genderize safety products, but it also makes it unattainable for women who don’t identify in those ways.
Safety shouldn’t be sassy, or sexy, it should be accessible for everyone, and it shouldn’t be specific to one gender.
I hope all people are safe, and know how to be safe, I hope we can break out of the molds of traditional thought about what needs protecting, so that ALL women can be safer everywhere.