TO HIT BACK OR NOT TO HIT BACK: "Street Weapons" and Violent Self-Defense
chilly powder. bamboo stick. baygon spray. toy gun. body spray. big bag. eyes. elbow. steel scale. nails. confidence. rings. pens. pepper spray. paper cutter. pencil. angry look. mouth. hand. fists. feet. elbows. sharp pencils. teeth. handbag. comb. body spray. stilettos. fat psychology book. cell phone. cerebrum. swagger. attitude. mobile phone. books. files. bag. crossed arms. conversation. pens. pins. sewing pins. breath spray. bunch of keys. hair pin. blank noise pamphlet on s.354. dupatta. crossed arms. staring at the ground. scowling. talking on cell phone. not making eye contact.
These are just some of the "weapons" used by women to make themselves feel safer in public spaces. Most of the objects listed above are not weapons in the conventional sense. However these are used by a number of women all over the world to give them some sense of security.
:Can they be and should they be used as "weapons" of self defense?
:Is it ok to use pepper spray on someone who is harassing you?
:Would you use the pepper spray if he groped you breast once. Or would you only use the spray if you feel there is a chance of you being raped or murdered?
:What does SELF DEFENSE mean?
:Is it ok to hit back if someone hits you first? if he gropes you?
:If he may be likely to rape you is it ok to shoot him with a gun?
A few months ago Blank Noise initiated a discussion on facebook- "The museum of street weapons" to share and think through the things women use to make themselves feel safer in public spaces. This led to a number of number of questions regarding the legitimacy of violence as a form of self defense, and individual reactions to harassment being raised.
A lot has been thought and said about reactions to harassment, and how a lot of times our reactions serve as our defense to the act. With specific regard to violent self defense I feel it is important for us to think through certain issues.
Accepting violence as a legitimate response to harassment I feel faces the risk and possibly inevitable consequence of "naturalising" violent self defense to an extent where it is made possible to shift the blame for violence against women away from the people who perpetuate it and make prevention the responsibility of the female victim. Not very unlike "cautioning" women to dress properly and not go out at night in order to prevent harassment.
Accepting violent self defense as "the" way to solve the problem of harassment may also result in expecting women to be trained in wenlido/karate or carry pepper sprays/safety pins around with them to protect themselves. This again could very well be extended to courtroom where the defense may argue that if a rape-survivor didn't really want it she would have fought harder (since women may be expected to know violent self defense in order to protect themselves). (J. Lynch)
[And this is apart from the fact that something like a pepper spray- the empowered urban woman's must-have can be as or more easily used against her/by men as a tool of harassment as it can be used by a woman as a tool of self defense]
Feminists like Martha McCoughey(Real Knockouts) argue that self defense training for women is essential as it serves to "rescript" the body and abolish the identity of women as the "weaker" sex, and this would not only deter potential rapists and batterers, but also move feminism away from its victim orientation. I do acknowledge the importance of challenging notions women have about their capacity for physical strength, anger, and violence and also the fact that self defense may result in women no longer being perceived and perceiving themselves as physically weaker and hence inherently/biologically different from men.
However, are we willing to accept that if a woman chooses not to learn self defense techniques, she is in some way morally responsible for the violence committed against her?
Violent self defense should definitely not be the primary response to the problem of sexual harassment, but should it be a response at all?