As a child and a young man, I was a victim of violence. I was a clever kid with a funny accent, and in Far North Queensland that made me a fair target, apparently. It was bad enough when I reached high school that I had something of a breakdown (after three months of consistent death threats, ambushes and king-hits) and wound up going to a much smaller, experimental school.
Let me make it clear: this was violence by males, against a male. This is by far the most common gender equation when it comes to violence. Don’t take my word for it, though. Go and look it up for yourself. Check police and crime statistics. They’re readily available. There certainly is a good deal of violence from men towards women… but men are far more likely to be violent towards other men. We’ll save the psychology of it for another day, and simply observe this demonstrable fact, shall we?
My response — once I came back out of my shell, years later — was to take up martial arts. At first I believed that by acquiring combative skills I’d be able to defend myself against violence. Gradually, however, I learned a great deal more about the nature of violence and the purpose of martial arts. Now, as a teacher of a defence-oriented martial art I expect I could acquit myself quite comfortably against most of the aggression with which you’re familiar… except that now that I understand it better, I don’t have to.
I learned to see violence. I learned to understand it. And I learned to avoid it fairly successfully.
That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped training and teaching. As a matter of fact, I teach very, very carefully. The martial techniques are the least part of how I teach people to deal with aggression and potential violence. They’re simply the most visible aspect, and because they add up to a complex physical skill-set, they require the most practice and training. But in each and every session, I make a point of grounding the material in real-world ideas. I take the students out to places, and we practice looking for exits, identifying possible aggressors, listening to conversations, planning escapes, spotting potential weapons, and so forth. We talk about our dress, our mannerisms, our chosen destinations, the people we’re likely to encounter, and anything else I can dream up or get the students to put forward.
More: I sit down with the women (middle-aged, young, and sometimes even quite young) and we talk about violence and aggression. I do not send the men (and boys) out of these conversations, because I want them to hear, and learn. I point out the differences in a man-on-man fight versus a man-on-woman act of aggression. I try to ensure that we cover the causes of aggression and violence, the triggers, the purposes and the outcomes. And though it hurts me, I have to tell women that many of the softer, easier techniques we learn won’t be useful if they’re attacked by a man simply because many men hold a certain violence as part of their identity. Such men may be able to accept being physically outmanuevred by another male, but are likely to become more aggressive and violent if they are outmanuevred by a female.
The short story: if a woman takes down an aggressive man, for safety she has to take him down hard enough that he’s not going to get up quickly. I do not like this truth, but I don’t hide from it, or try to conceal it. I acknowledge it, and I try to teach my female students to deal with it — and my male students not to be it.
All of this is to say that I am well versed in violence and aggression. I have studied it in practice and in theory and in detail for many, many years. I continue to read, learn, and research so that I can do the best possible job in preparing my students for the reality of aggression and violence outside the dojo.
It is in part for these reasons that I am particularly offended by the idiotic, sexist, demeaning post doing the rounds of the ‘Net in the wake of the shootings by Eliot Rogers in California. The post in question — written by a foolish, thoughtless man but endlessly reposted by foolish, thoughtless and privileged women — compares men to a bowl of poisoned candy.
I do not object to the idea that the foolish man wants to convey: that women feel as though they are confronted by a stream of constant, potentially lethal encounters.
I do not object to the recognition of violence by men against women.
I object to the language, the metaphor, the objectification, the disempowerment, and the absolute demeaning of the section of the population at which the rather stupid metaphor is directed. And I object very strongly to the fact that it is being promoted and promulgated by women who call themselves “Feminists”.
First: that the statement is offensive is unquestionable. If you doubt this, try repeating the same “poisoned candy” description about homosexuals, muslims, blacks, or women. If you find yourself recoiling at the idea that we are justified in treating all Muslims as potentially poisoned candy because some Muslims are terrorists, then you must realise this argument is morally repugnant. If you find yourself repelled by the idea that all homosexuals are to be treated as poisoned candy because some homosexual men carry HIV, you must recognise that this argument is morally repugnant.
(On the other hand, if you see no problem with either of those ideas I think you should go somewhere else. Now.)
Second: that the offensive statement is being repeated by women who call themselves Feminists is also unquestionable. I won’t name names, but all you have to do is wander around Facebook for a while.
So where does this lead me?
It’s very simple. Feminism is supposed to be about equality. It is specifically supposed to NOT be about demonising one gender to exalt the victim status of the other. The language standards which Feminists demand be applied to women (and to other marginalised populations) must be applied to all, or the central arguments upon which Feminism rest become invalid.
More clearly and bluntly: if you claim privilege to make sexist, baseless, thoughtless accusations against an entire sector of the population, you are becoming exactly the thing you claim to hate.
I don’t care at all if you want to discuss violence against women. I don’t care if you want to make the entirely valid point that the majority of violence against women comes from men. I don’t care if you want to make the entirely valid point that many women harbour a fear of men in public places. Please, by all means acknowledge these facts and bring them into public discourse.
But do it with respect. Not just respect for my gender, but respect for your own principles, and your own integrity. If you cannot make these points without resorting to empty, thoughtless, divisive, dismissive and disempowering arguments; arguments without references, without data; arguments which can be turned against you by the people you claim to oppose — if you can’t make your arguments without childish sexism, then you need to stay out of the debate until you have learned better.
I will make a suggestion, by the way. If you fear violence, don’t shy away from it. Study it. Learn about it. Become fluent in its language. You don’t need to be a martial arts instructor to learn how to steer clear of violence and aggression. Nor will you achieve your ends by decrying violence and demonising whole sectors of the populations. Violence and aggression are part of human psychology — both male and female (check the statistics on domestic violence sometime) and you will never be rid of them.
You can choose to remain ignorant. You can choose to cry out and beg other people to save you from this evil. You can choose to cast yourself as a victim. Alternately, you can do what I, personally have done with regard to having been a victim of violence: you can learn to recognise it, understand it, and find ways of dealing effectively with it.
Whichever choice you make, please: when you enter this debate under the guise of Feminism, recognise that you are setting yourself as an arbiter of moral and ethical standards. If you cannot adhere to those standards in the course of debate, you run the risk of debasing the movement you claim to represent.