One thing that I see pretty commonly in discussions of rape and criminal violence against women in general, especially in the firearms community which is very used to the idea of shooting bad guys to stop them, is that women should simply be armed and shoot anyone who’s trying to seriously fuck with her. In basic principle, I agree with this; the only way to stop someone who has decided to do you serious violence is to return it in kind and hopefully in a terminal fashion, and if you are in the majority of the population that is less skilled and determined at assault than most violent criminals, then you had better be armed if you want a good chance. So yes, I agree with the principle and premise that a part of an overall solution of sexual violence against women by violent men is for women to be more capable as a class to respond with terminal violence.
What I see as a problem is when it’s put forth as a truism that women, if they don’t wish to be victimized, should just shoot the bastard and be done with it and if she didn’t she’s weak, silly, stupid, or on some level actually wanted the violence. In cases of rape this is especially problematic because most rapes are acquaintance rapes rather than “a stranger jumped out of the bushes” crimes and about the only way a woman doing such would be ruled as a righteous shooting rather than a homicide is if she was attacked on her way home from church group in a public park while wearing a snowsuit and the dead perp was out on parole for sexual assault, but when I started out mulling over writing something about exactly that issue, it occurred to me it’s rather a broader issue.
The issue with women and violence in self-defense in general isn’t as superficial as “the media and debased Western culture have taught us that all violence is bad and women are particularly susceptible”, it’s that even in a more traditional age and more traditional subcultures, boys receive a great deal of cultural training from birth giving them instructions on circumstances in which they might have to be violent in a justified way, and girls typically receive none at all. Boys are taught by, if not their fathers, than by fiction that part of the nature of manhood is that at some point or points you’re going to have to put up your fists and defend either yourself or your honor. Girls receive no equivalent messages; while a boy might grow up with the understanding implicit that at some point he might get into a fight with his schoolmates or a bully might try to push him around and he should be able to fight back if only to stop the bully, a little girl’s cultural experience of violence is that it’s something boys do, and that if it is any sense relevant to her, her experience of violence will be with a shadowy caricature of “bad guy” whose mental picture is something of a menacing version of the Hamburglar. When it comes to more mundane violence- boys’ violence- that’s the sort of things that, if her honor requires defending, will be covered by her fathers and/or brothers, and if they aren’t available, with a knee to the groin and a withering comment.
The cultural construction of manhood is wrapped up in violence; no matter what circumstances a boy grows up under or what his opinions of the rightness of it all might be, a boy does not grow up without a variety of what-if manhood tests in his head, like what to do if he encounters a bully in public that’s harassing him or his wife or girlfriend, or what to do if threatened by a mugger. From a woman’s perspective the degree to which many men dwell on such scenarios is often rather bizarre, because women are not initiated into and not held to the standards of manhood and manliness; manhood qualities and tests are far more on a man’s radar than a woman is, even if her presence and opinion is part of the scenario*. This can be taken to a scary unhealthy degree for men in general, as when there is the unspoken assumption that a man should be able to fight off overwhelming odds or else he’s less of a man, but the key point in general is that the possibility of violence among peers is part of the male cultural experience and identity from early childhood on, but not so for a woman. Women have extensive social rules and contexts, but none of them really include violence except in terms of the “catfight”, which is much more male fantasy than female experience for the most part- and is not a fantasy that ever includes real injury or death.
Male roles and fantasies and female roles and fantasies play out in fiction; nowadays girls get more role models that are active rather than passive, but the traditional girl adventurer isn’t the violent type. These types of characters usually solve their monster and bad-guy problems with wit rather than with force, and while it might be fitting for a girl adventurer to be good with a sword, she’s rarely good with a gun, and if part of her background includes such proficiencies, it’s rarer that she puts them to serious use in killing rather than using the skill itself for some other plot reason or just stating that the skill is there and proceeding as though it weren’t from there. Actual action-oriented heroines usually tend to be expilictly superpowered/far-from-normal, and whether she’s a presented as a more or less normal human or not, there’s a huge temptation on the part of writers to create drama by having such characters killed, de-powered, or raped.
This is starting to take on a resemblance to a feminist rant, and I suppose in part it is, but I want to stress that I don’t think these patterns are necessarily the result of misogyny or sexism; these are simply the fictional patterns that occur to writers and their audiences as the way the world works, and are happily consumed by women and men alike. The primary fanbase of some of the most egregious examples of extremely gender-polarized fiction are often women as well. It works precisely because it’s an easy mental role for women and girls to occupy and project themselves in as part of the fantasy. Rape and/or a truly severe beating occurs as a dramatic idea to so many male writers not because they hate women, but because they are horrified by the notion and therefore it seems like a natural dramatic direction. A male character being similarly treated could not come through the plotline without being seen by most of the audience as having been emasculated and therefore no longer eligible for heroic status, therefore it doesn’t happen to them nearly as often.
This isn’t mean to be about fiction any more than it’s meant to be about feminism, but fiction and fantasy are mental models that both reflect and shape how their creators and consumers see themselves. It’s merely meant to be a powerful reflection of my primary argument: violence and how it relates to themselves is as much a part of men and male experience as sexuality, but it’s not nearly so much a part of women and female experience. Men play out in their heads how they might deal with a violent encounter, with whatever mixture of dread and bravado, but most women simply don’t think about it unless forced to, at which point fear and confusion tend to reign because it is so outside their experience and mental modeling of the world and themselves.
On a less explicitly violent level, this is reflected in the kinds of cultural training boys and men receive to be assertive or to push or reinforce boundaries; standing up for yourself is again included implicitly under the umbrella of manhood. Women and girls, on the other hand, are encouraged not to be loud or rude or overly assertive- the idea being that her role is to be polite and cooperative and that people will respect a nice girl like that. Respect is received for being “good”, not earned by standing up for it. Women and girls who are aggressive in establishing and enforcing boundaries usually wind up with some variant of the “bitch” label, depending on context; mean bitch, crazy bitch, frigid bitch. Some don’t mind, but another thing that tends to be tied up in the “girl” experience is that social acceptance and social alliances and ties are emphasized- being an outcast comes with punishment and usually lacks recourse to any sort of “cool loner/rebel” alternative image.
All of this translates into a basic tendency- and desire- to fit developing social situations into one of the categories that are mentally familiar and seen as applicable to the girl or woman in question. This is the primary ground in which sexual predators operate; as long as doubt can be maintained that his intentions are truly predatory, then desire to not be bitchy and a belief that behaving correctly will protect her boundaries can be pushed all the way into a rape that she may not even fully convince herself was rape, or a belief that the blow was earned or somehow accidental. Violence is what the shadowy Violent Man does: so long as he can maintain he is not Shadowy Violent Man, then that must not be exactly what happened. Defending herself with force is not in the mental checklist of “ways to respond to an unpleasant situation”, so having it occur to her that that was even an option may come late or not at all- and in the meantime, the message from outside suddenly goes from “do not be a bitch at any cost” to “why didn’t you defend yourself (did you want it?)”
Obviously there are lots of women who are completely capable of using force in their own defense or in the defense of others; I’m making a broad generalization, not a statement of absolute truth. What I AM saying is that broadly speaking, men and women grow up with far different mental modeling and training for seeing situations as ones in which some defense, small or large, is required- and that for a woman who has been brought into contact with cold and violent reality by force, often the situation is not nearly so simple as “buy a gun and next time shoot the bastard”, or “learn martial arts”. It’s one that has to start with her own identity and the core assumptions and values of how she views the world and others.
*One bizarrely common thing I’ve seen is the idea that, if a man is harassed and humiliated in public by a rude, pushy man in front of his girlfriend, she will be attracted to the man who successfully dominated him. Guys, this is exclusively a male fantasy/fear; the woman in question may have be alarmed by the situation, but she experiences a strange bullying man chiefly as a threat of male violence, not sexy masculinity. She may be dismayed if she feels suddenly unsafe, but only men experience this scenario as a manhood contest.