Martial Arts for women to fight back rapes?

Here’s a question I have been meaning to share.

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Prakhyath asked in an interview: For all these rapists, I believe they are using the girl’s lack of physical strength as an advantage. Don’t you think martial arts/gym and being strong will help them? Do you believe in self-defense kit for girls to fight rape?

My response : I should blog about this. While physical fitness would help in any crime or violent situation, I am not sure if it would protect a woman from a gang of, say eight or ten, or even four violent criminals. It seems, in 90% of sexual assault cases, the rapist is not a stranger, so it might help some women in dealing with those acquaintance rape, where there is only physical force being used and not some other form of coercion (like blackmail or verbal threats).

Martial arts require training, practice and general physical fitness, so how much time should women be expected to devote to keeping themselves safe from sexual assaults?

Also not all sexual assault victims are young adults, there are also the disabled and older women and children, not sure who and how much gym and fitness would help.

I am sure, it could give confidence and could ensure that one is able to escape if and when there is a chance to escape. Being able to jump over a wall or fence, being able to run reasonably fast, being able to drive, being able to use a cell phone, knowing emergency numbers etc should also be equally helpful, I think.

***

Many who suggest martial arts/self defense training for women may or may not approve of Indian girls playing in the sun, wearing anything but (often difficult to run in) traditional clothing, traveling alone for work or classes, jogging or walking alone, participating in sports (Uterus might slip!) or using cellphone, even eating before their husbands and brothers.

Women are rarely encouraged to be, or to look strong.

“Hers is a body that is so different from the usual physical ideal that is shoved down women’s throats — the slim, uniformly “toned” but not muscular, waifish model body… “[Link]

And yet Patriarchy celebrates acts of violence (like a slap or burning of a motor cycle etc) by women who are protecting that which belongs to Patriarchy – their modesty/honor/chastity. And it also assumes all rape victims are young women being assaulted by strange men.

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49 thoughts on “Martial Arts for women to fight back rapes?

  1. “And yet Patriarchy celebrates acts of violence (like a slap or burning of a motor cycle etc) by women who are protecting that which belongs to Patriarchy – their modesty/honor/chastity. And it also assumes all rape victims are young women being assaulted by strange men.”

    So very true. It is inconceivable to society in general, that a woman might not want any kind of sexual assault, because it makes her feel violated as an integral person. This view, that women might need to learn to protect themselves, also puts the onus on her shoulders, (not unlike the ‘she asked for it’) aiming to maintain the status quo of the right of men to do as they will, instead of looking towards a solution where a woman can be an ordinary human being.

    Sad.

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  2. Breath of Fresh Air your perspective! Just yesterday a conversation on similar lines with a friend led to a similar conclusion. The solution always seems to come back to the woman doesn’t it!!

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  3. I learnt martial arts for several years as a child, and then as a young adult – not for self defense but for love of the sport. My father actually worried that learning martial arts would put me in greater danger in case of assault, because it sort of changed my reflexes. He said that it was always better to attempt to run first, scream or shout and try to get away from the situation or even resign yourself to it rather than fight back and get seriously injured, or worse in the process.

    Despite several years of training, I’ve realized much to my consternation that it is considerably difficult to overpower a man. While I have the ability to punch, kick and even do serious damage, when it comes to wrestling I’m easily overpowered by the guys in my class who aren’t as competent in martial arts as I am. It would take the average woman seriously intensive training to be able to handle one or more men in a fight.

    Moreover, it takes years of training and commitment to achieve a level of skill in martial arts. Is this what we want all girls to go through simply to protect themselves? Not only do we want girls to dress a certain way, to make sure they’re with ‘safe’ people, to not go out late, to not go to lonely places, on top of that we want all of them to be ninjas now! It is the State’s and society’s collective responsibility to keep people safe, not every individuals.

    Don’t get me wrong, there are many wonderful reasons to learn martial arts. It’s fulfilling, it builds confidence, improves your health and stamina, and makes you feel powerful and happy. Defense from sexual assault should not be one of the reasons.

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    • Yep, this. I will never be as strong as my husband but I am still his equal. He doesn’t just beat me up because he ‘can’ and I wouldn’t just put up with it because I am physically weaker.

      It is a folly to try to ‘explain’ rape because men can overpower women. We then accept that little children’s rapes can be explained because they can be overpowered. It is a criminal offence against a person. The government and law enforcement agencies have a protocol to deal with crimes already. In a robbery, we do not blame the victims for owning a TV, we don’t have panchayats protecting robbers, we don’t have courts asking victims to marry their robbers and we don’t have people telling the victim that they are zinda laash!

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    • Exactly… Spot on Aray! I am also training for the last 2 years. While I love it and my fitness level has increased fabulously, I doubt it will help against these kinds of assaults. May be we do know how to punch accurately and whr it hurts most and those stuffs… but unfortunately other party is not standing idle either.
      Funny how people say feminists are unreasonable. All we are asking is to treat rape as rape. Instead it is treated as anything but- attack on family name, honour, teaching a lesson, helplessness, was provoked.. ufff!
      And women? Shes mother, goddess, object, epitome of goodness, sacrifice, ghar ki izzat bla bla… anything but human.
      And there is this Women’s Day- like one’d throw a bone to puppy.
      We dont want your scraps thank you. We want all of it.

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  4. And yet I’ve come across physically strong girls who often pretend to be delicate and weak just because many guys otherwise think of them as unfeminine :(
    I pride myself on being athletic and physically fit, but I’ve often got leers at any display of that fitness. I’ve seen a lot of guys act funny, and take it as a personal blow to their ego and sulk when a girl am able to lift something they couldn’t, or displays more stamina.

    Damned if we do, damned if we don’t :(

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    • Oh yes, the number of guys who claim to be ‘scared’ of me when they find out I practice martial arts!! And the number of my boyfriends’ (male) friends who have told him to be ‘careful’ of me! I don’t go around beating people up – I’m a martial artist, not a psycho!

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      • In the West, being physically fit has nothing to do with being unfeminine. In fact, it’s considered attractive. A woman will go from sweaty track pants in the morning to work/formal clothes to a pretty dress in the evening without being slotted into categories such as ‘feminine’ or ‘unfeminine’. That’s because little boys see little girls being just as active as them, right from the word go. Little girls bike, swim, go to gymnastics, and play soccer – and we should encourage our Indian little girls to do the same.

        Nowadays I find that neither boys nor girls in India are encouraged to be athletic – they are so busy studying or going from one tutoring place to another all day – this is a sad trend. When I was growing up, more kids were allowed to engage in sports and there was less obsession with ranks and scores.

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  5. Powerful men/women exploit less powerful men/women in so many ways.being physically strong and able is never bad but meeting physical strength being misused by equal or more physical strength is sadly a realistic option only in the DABAANG genre of hindi movies.Would this also then mean that those of us who have a physical disability or as IHM suggested too young or too old to defend ourselves would be more prone to assaults and that is okay?
    It is like advising a pigeon to grow paws and canine teeth to fight the cat but we aren’t animals and I believe the human mind is capable of being sensitized and educated to respect people as people irrespective of their gender.why don’t we work on that as parents,educators and in whatever way we can.

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    • //”It is like advising a pigeon to grow paws and canine teeth to fight the cat but we aren’t animals and I believe the human mind is capable of being sensitized and educated to respect people as people irrespective of their gender.why don’t we work on that as parents,educators and in whatever way we can.”//

      I so agree with that. I believe that is what will work.

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  6. It’s true that martial arts may not be an option for everyone – women with health issues, the very young and the very old. However, some physical training can be beneficial. For most people, it IS possible to get into better shape, regardless of age or ability. The body does influence the mind. Physical training sharpens your instincts, your reaction time is quicker, your fist is tighter, and you slam it harder.

    When I was a kid, I ran on the track, biked a lot, played tennis. By the time, I got to my late teens, all of this stopped for lack of opportunities (no more play partners) and time (parents breathing down my neck about focusing on academics). So I became a ‘delicate flower’ in my twenties – in other words, unathletic.

    In my 30s, I was forced to get fit – constantly going biking with my sons, getting them out of trees, down from the fences, or giving in to their repeated requests to play soccer and basketball. So I started walking, then jogging. When I hit my forties a couple of years ago, I started going for a run. I can’t begin to tell you how liberating it feels from all the challenges/stresses that life invariably throws our way.

    I know I cannot beat up 7 to 8 guys (or even a couple of them) like a Bollywood hero. Nevertheless, physical training feels good. It’s this mindset – strength, purpose, clarity – all women can benefit from it. And maybe, just maybe, it’ll come in handy.

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    • Kudos to you getting back those activities you once enjoyed. I know how hard it is to get back into athletics after years. Still struggling with it actually. If I do 2km jogging today, I am so lazy to go tomorrow. May be I will start again 2-3 days after. I really want to get disciplined. Juz how i was 6-7 yrs back.

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      • Thank you Nidaa! Sorry for posting this here but couldn’t find a way to email directly -Nidaa, when I first tried to jog for 30 min everyday, I was panting so hard I just couldn’t do it. I gave it up very soon. What worked for me eventually was – walk 95% and jog the last 5% of the time as a starting point – so I started with a very modest goal – to end my walk with 5 minutes of jogging. I kept at it for 2 weeks, then ended with 10 min of jogging, and so on. Kept increasing gradually until I reached my goal 6 months later. The key is starting modest, being consistent. If you start with an ambitious stretch, you are less likely to keep at it the next day. Hope that helps. I’m sure you’ll get back into it. All the best!

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  7. It is important to teach young girls physical fitness regardless of whether they can use it to defend themselves against a crime or not. It gives them confidence and better instincts, which may help during an attack, or may not. It doesn’t hurt, and it certainly helps a lot. Obviously this doesn’t mean that this is the only way to prevent crime, or that we are pushing the solution on to the woman. Yes, deeper changes need to happen in society to prevent crimes.

    If the question is – will teaching women martial arts keep them safe, the answer is – sometimes no, sometimes, maybe. If the question is – would teaching martial arts to our daughters make them feel empowered, the answer is yes.

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  8. I wouldn’t be surprised if people then started blaming rape victims for not practicing enough, or being skilled enough or whatever.

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    • Yeah,so then if a girl gets raped,she either asked for it or was bottom of her Martial Arts class,so nobody need be punished.
      The rapist can not be held responsible, right.
      How dare the girl nojot equip herself with the necessary skills like Karate and kkung fu and fall easy prey tothe rapist? Cant blame the guy for attempting to rape her

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  9. I am sure, it could give confidence and could ensure that one is able to escape if and when there is a chance to escape. Being able to jump over a wall or fence, being able to run reasonably fast, being able to drive, being able to use a cell phone, knowing emergency numbers etc should also be equally helpful, I think.”

    Exactly. There cannot be and there is not a simple solution to such a complex issue, that involves people from all sections, sub-sections and cross -sections of the society. Simply knowing martial arts is no guarantee for safety.Rather it might invite more trouble. Amrita Mohan who beat up her attackers landed up in trouble with the police and ended up with an FIR registered against her.

    Now as we know our ‘step-society’, those who do not approve of a tracksuit clad girl, also do not like macho women, much less a girl in a legal conflict.

    (I think my internet dongle is a patriarch too!! its not letting me post my reply :( )

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    • Oh heavens….flashback moment: There is one chap I bump into on different online forums who actually advocates that all the time. Without sarcasm.

      head:desk

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      • Absolutely! Lets not forget that every man with a ‘patriarchal’ outlook was raised by women were steeped in those values. The women need to wake up and smell the coffee too. Gender equality cannot be left out at the threshold of the home – it has to find its way into the kitchen, into childcare, and onto the dining table!

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  10. Can learning martial arts help build confidence? Maybe. Depends on whether you’re good at it.

    Can it be empowering? Yes, if you like martial arts. No, if you don’t enjoy it and it’s being forced upon you ‘for your own good’. I personally would much prefer to spend my time dancing.

    Can it help fight rapes? No. It may help women escape in some cases.. but it cannot ‘fight’ rape. At best, it is just another bandaid solution that is not addressing the root cause of the issue. At worst, it allows people to blame women if they get raped. We can then add ‘if only she knew better karate’ to ‘if only she wasn’t wearing jeans’ and ‘if only she had called them ‘bhaiya’ and pleaded’.

    Often, women are raped/ killed by gangs of men. If this is just about the ability to physically overpower someone, why don’t we have a huge problem of ‘gang muggings’ on men? Even a man can’t easily fight off a violent gang 6 men (as in the case of the infamous delhi rape).

    The only way to fight rape is addressing the root cause, the rape culture. Pepper spray, karate kicks and safety pins only go so far (and I carry them too) and let’s not kid ourselves. When we stop bringing up our sons with a sense of entitlement over women, stop questioning the character of the women being raped, make hoardings telling men NOT to rape instead of telling girls to ‘go home after school’, then we will be ‘fighting’ rape. Teaching our girls Karate might be good for other reasons, but it cannot fight rape.

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    • Ugh, this was me- Carvaka. Wrong handle from a different place. I am indeed a biology nerd but this is obviously not about biology. :D

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    • @carvaka – “…why don’t we have a huge problem of ‘gang muggings’ on men? Even a man can’t easily fight off a violent gang 6 men (as in the case of the infamous delhi rape).”
      Gang or single muggings of men are *extremely* common in Delhi, especially in deserted streets/parks at nights. They are not considered newsworthy enough unless a ‘ring’ of muggers is busted and even it, it isn’t as sensational as a rape case. Even the police refuses to register an FIR in most cases.
       
      It is presumptuous to think a crime doesn’t exist, just because it is not sensational enough to grab headlines.

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      • “It is presumptuous to think a crime doesn’t exist, just because it is not sensational enough to grab headlines.”

        Yes, that’s fair to say. Sexual crimes are treated differently than other violent crimes, for better or for worse. More attention, more stigma and so on. Let’s consider the case of all violent crimes against individuals. I think a sense of impunity in the culprit is more to blame than their ability to physically overpower the target.

        I think learning martial arts won’t ‘fight’ rapes or muggings.. they may help people escape in some cases but one person cannot fight multiple attackers (which seems to be the case in many reported rape cases). Accepting that it’s people’s personal responsibility to fight violent crimes makes children, disabled and the elderly fair game. In a civilised country with law and order agencies, we shouldn’t have to face a constant threat of violence if we can’t physically fight off the perpetrators.

        Sorry to hear about your friend. That’s just awful.

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    • Just five days back, a Manipuri friend of mine was severely assaulted in DU North Campus area, by a gang of Haryanvi thugs. He died in the ICU last Friday and it isn’t even news yet.

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      • Sorry to hear about your friend AI. Wouldn’t that be grounds to charge his assailants with muder? But then, it’s Delhi and those goons probably had political connections which in their minds, is free license to commit any crime, murder included. I hope your friend gets justice. :(

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  11. Some posters wrote that this is taking the problem back to the woman. I disagree. I think those are 2 separate things. This reminds me of my s-i-l who didn’t want to learn to drive because her in-laws would make her responsible for even more chores. She was getting 2 different problems mixed up – learning to say ‘No’ is the problem, not the ability to drive. The 2 are mutually exclusive. Driving is a basic life skill and not learning it to ensure she doesn’t get blamed is illogical.

    Some posts said that changing society’s mindset is the only thing that will prevent rape. I think the question was ‘Will it learning martial arts help?’ NOT ‘Is martial arts the only solution against rape’? and certainly NOT ‘Should every girl be taught martial arts, even if it’s against her wishes?”

    Al of these things were implied in an obvious way – it’s not a blanket solution, it can’t be forced, and it’s not about taking it back to the woman.

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  12. If someone trained to the level of Jackie Chan..then maybe it might help. But if you are not devoting your life to training to protect yourself (and really why should anyone? that is what the police are for), then yeah it’s not going to help against a gang of men. And martial arts takes effort, there is no magic spot on the body that if you kick just the right way the other person will die (as far as I know!).

    On the other hand given that many assaults are not committed by gangs, having greater physical strength might be of use there. Right now ‘protecting women’ seems to be = keeping them away from men, so at least this is a better approach. And I think being fit gives a person confidence, so it definitely wouldn’t hurt to exercise a bit so that you can at least run away or punch/kick someone hard enough to hurt.

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  13. While martial arts or any defense techniques might not be the solution, and while I agree with commentators that its unfair to put the burden on women and I also second that situation and other aspects might not allow for physical retort: I think some level of physical agression ( which is dfferent than mastery in defense arts) in attitude is badly required. I can speak for several of urban middle class women I know of – who have never been taught the importance of being physically active IF the situation demands. So many women avoid the possible confrontation and miss out on several experiences. My mother told me to stomp on feet or elbow ( in schoolbus), hold wrists and bend fingers( in crowded marketplaces) and slap/ kick anywhere if you find someone molesting you. This was when I was like ten years old. I confess I haven’t executed these home-made (!!) defense arts in each and every situation. I am neither recommending physical violence as an answer. But it definitely gave me confidence. Even thinking about retaliation gave me a physical confidence while I travelled in overnight buses/ trains, watched first-day-first-shows in non-multiplex theatres, rode locals, walked alone in night. And I have seen that a woman physically retorting always scare these f***verts at least in public places. In private, if a woman is faced with a situation, I would recommend she at least lash out a little. Remember Lisbeth Salander who kicks ass with 2 Neo Nazi goons triple her size & weight!!!
    And I personally find it very therupeutic to bend a finger thats strayed on my butt magically on a crowded bus and here a painful yowl from the crowd.

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    • Yes, fighting back is claiming your power. This is what I tell my younger sister to do if she find herself in a sticky situation. I have mentally rehearsed the things I would try on any attacker, if the situation arises! A blog post I love about this: http://cynublog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/stay-in-power.html .

      I just think it’s important to be clear about the difference in fighting to protect yourself and solutions to fight rape. While I support carrying pepper spray or kicking hard for my own protection, that is not how we ‘fight’ rape. Many times it’s not a one-on-one fight between equally matched people/ adults and the problem of sexual violence does not exist because of women’s lack of physical strength. I’m just wary of people blurring the lines between the government’s/ police’s/ society’s responsibility onto the need to teach girls karate to stop rapes.

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    • Exactly! The attitude is a problem…it does not take much strength or training to give someone a swift kick in the groin…but so many women have been trained to ‘just ignore it ya’ or ‘don’t invite trouble’ that we just keep our heads down, make no eye contact, and do nothing. We need to be less fearful and more assertive, aggressive even.

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  14. I think advocating for women to work harder at protecting themselves is not addressing the crime.It is merely telling the victim to take care not be become a victim. Lets stop advocating this seriously flawed ideology. Rapes or assault do not occur only to people who do not defend themselves. They are committed by seriously perverted people- the focus of prevention should be on the perpetrators and society not on the victims. Society should work harder to condemn assault- and not create another thing by which to blame the victim- now it will be “you did not fight back enough to protect yourself”.

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      • “It is merely telling the victim to take care not to be a victim.”

        The above is not the same as victim blaming. Telling the victim to not be a victim by being more educated, more aware, more confident, more assertive, and more fit is a good thing. We all want to raise our daughters that way. It does not mean that women who are less educated, less confident, or less fit should be denied equality.
        In many US schools there are huge posters that scream ‘Don’t be a victim. Get fit.’ They show 2 pictures of a teen – one with a shy unsure smile, the other has an open, assertive neutral expression look. Young women are strongly encouraged to be physically active and portray a body language that conveys strength. This is not victim blaming at all.

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      • I agree with anonymous’s comment here. I also want to add that I think blaming of a female victim for not being fit enough is unlikely to happen. For that it will take a huge shift in the perception of women – from a weakling that needs the protection of men to someone who is capable of taking care of herself.

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  15. Suggesting a shift in attitude is not putting responsibility on victim. The attitude that a woman can be physically active and retort back aggressively – is badly needed in society. It doesn’t have to be only as defense. Physical confidence is key for women to explore several experiences which, whether we like it or not, women do not for fear of physical intimidation. And not just defensive, mind you. Physical confidence also gives women more agency to move in public.

    Its definitely not a SOLUTION. But one way of making women seen more in public.

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  16. Pingback: “How to react when you know somebody is staring at you? I am not sure if I should slap him…” | The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

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