For a chunk of my teens, stranger rape was a clear and present danger. The likelihood of it was written all around me and permeated my daily life. I wasn’t paranoid about it; quite simply, the way my life was structured meant that I was regularly putting myself at risk of certain things happening, and stranger rape was one of them. That was how it was, because reasons, and if I had to go back I’d most likely do the same things all over again.
When I got the chance to change my luck, I did. My risk profile changed accordingly. Other issues became more significant. For instance, for about 10 years my greatest concern was getting the snot beaten out of me by one or more deranged people. I was responsible for security for a park sandwiched between a social housing block overflowing with teenage drunks and addicts and a mental institution with a fascinating open-door policy. When you get called out because a man dressed in long robes and carrying a full-scale keyboard on his back is trying to convince female walkers to follow him into the bushes, and you have to somehow make the problem go away, and you’ve got no back-up nor force enhancers, and the police generally take upwards of 30 minutes to turn up because you’re in the boonies, and anyway you can only call them if something actually happens, and whatever happens is most likely going to happen to you because you have to go and stick yourself into that potential mincer, because that’s what pays your bills… Well, that can make you think long and hard about your lifestyle choices.
That was a couple of lifetimes ago. Right here and now, my most frequent self-defence issue is forgetting yet again that school closing time is not a good time for me to be walking into town and ending up in a scrap with an enraged parent (I maintain that just because it takes a scant 9 months to pop out a baby, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take steps to keep the ones you’ve already got alive and well. Some of the local residents disagree.) I live in a rural area and have no immediate connections with people living high-risk lifestyles. These days, if I want an adrenaline rush I have to work for it.
My main self-defence concerns have changed multiple times during my life. If my assessments have been correct, those changes reflected changes in my risk profile. My risk profile has been the result of a cost-and-benefit analysis of whatever opportunities were available to me at the time, or of my own stupidity.
Most women I know have led and are leading very different lives. Their concerns are different from mine. Where they live, what they do for a living, who their dependants are, which circles they move in, and a myriad other factors all combine to shape the likelihood of them having to deal with various problems.
That doesn’t seem to matter, though, when we go shopping for self-defence, and women self-defence in particular, because we all have vaginas.
The greatest bulk of women self-defence is all about stranger rape. It doesn’t matter that, for many if not most women, there are much more likely dangers out there. Stranger rape is where it’s at.
I have no idea how this came to be. Could be that not enough people learn how to interpret statistics and carry out risk assessments. Could be that too many people focus so much on the worst possible case scenarios, for whatever reasons, that they become oblivious to everything else. Could be that it’s hard for some people to contemplate that worse things than stranger rape could happen to women. Could be the whole “destiny worse than death” thing. Could be that rape and the fear or rape are just so easy to sell. Rape is such a common trope in what passes for entertainment these days, be it fiction or real life accounts, that most of us have normalised the fact that some people peddle it. Stranger rape is also very, very scary, and for good reasons. Apparently it doesn’t matter that it’s infinitely less likely than rape by an acquaintance, and that the best tactics for each have often little in common.
Defence against stranger rape is really not primarily what I’m interested in learning these days. Rape in general is pretty damn low on my personal list of current concerns; not impossible, of course, but statistically less likely than many other forms of attack. So, when I look at a “women self-defence course” that assumes that the only thing I’m going to be defending is my genitals, I’m just not buying.
It doesn’t even particularly matter whether the taught defences are actually any good or not (hint: very often, they’re worse than useless). I’m just not willing to buy a tool that performs a task I’m unlikely to face, particularly while there are plenty of other issues that I actually really, really need to get a grip on. The same applies to most women I know. That doesn’t make us “right,” but it does affect what we spend our money, time, and energy on. We invest our resources in order to meet our priorities.
I’d like to see women self-defence courses that consider both likelihood and severity of possible attack types. For me, self-defence has to start with accurate risk assessments. Without knowing what dangers we’re facing, I can’t see how we can possibly decide what to train against. (Rory Miller wrote some wonderful pieces about this. Shame it’s not yet filtered into the SD culture.)
What I see instead is an endless string of courses that push stranger rape as the be-all-and-end-all, perhaps with a smattering of other unlikely-yet-awful scenarios, at the exclusion of every “lesser” problem; and then the endless whining because not enough women are interested. The fact that many women are clearly stating that the subjects offered are just not germane to their situation is treated as yet another proof that women can’t think their way through self-defence. We just don’t understand “real violence”, and get all wound up about nonsense. The fact that some of that nonsense is what is statistically most likely to send us to hospital is irrelevant. The fact that this kind of attitude insults and belittles us is seen as proof of our peevishness. And on and on the argument goes.
I used to be annoyed by the whole issue; now I think it’s great. A self-defence instructor who predetermines your risk profile based solely on what you carry in your pants is unlikely to be very useful, or very pleasant to deal with. So let’s have them sell a product nobody’s buying, and let’s have them advertise it in the most unappealing ways possible. The less customers they’re able to short-change, the better.