Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The "Gentle" Wolves



Today's Google Doodle commemorates the 388th birthday of French author Charles Perrault. He wrote (based on folk tales) some of today's widely-read, widely-watched, and widely-merchandised classic fairly tales, including Little Red Riding Hood. Today's versions of the tales, however, have been sanitized to make them more family-friendly (and marketable). As this article notes:
"His version of Little Red Riding Hood, for example, made it more explicitly obvious that the 'wolf' is a man intent on preying on young girls who wander alone in woods.
"From this story one learns that children, especially young lasses, pretty, courteous and well-bred, do very wrong to listen to strangers, And it is not an unheard thing if the Wolf is thereby provided with his dinner," he wrote.
 "I say Wolf, for all wolves are not of the same sort; there is one kind with an amenable disposition – neither noisy, nor hateful, nor angry, but tame, obliging and gentle, following the young maids in the streets, even into their homes. Alas! Who does not know that these gentle wolves are of all such creatures the most dangerous!"
Some things haven't changed much in the last 400 years.  Most people still envision those who mean harm as looking like monsters.  Pretty easy to spot, right?


If all "bad guys" were this obvious, there wouldn't be as much of a problem evading them, right?  But, alas, not all those who mean harm look like scary monsters.  Most, in fact, look like regular people.  Just like the three photos below, all of whom are Ted Bundy.  (If you don't know about Ted Bundy by now, do a web search.)  


I could have told you the fellow depicted was an actor, a tech startup CEO, an attorney, or just any regular joe.

You don't have to be a famous serial killer/rapist to get away with crimes.  Most perpetrators are someone the target knows, and to some extent likes and trusts.  That's a deliberate ploy.  Most perpetrators depend on their targets' trust, and manipulate it to their advantage.

And they rely on silence.  Not only the silence of their victims, but silence of those around them.  Silence of those who think they're a "nice guy."  (Bundy got away with his crimes longer than he should have because he was well regarded by a number of influential people.)  

This is why we spend time in our self-defense classes learning to recognize the "red flags" that a person's intent may not be good for you.  I've heard from some students, in retrospect, that this turned out to be the most valuable and useful part of class.

Because not all monsters look like wolves.








Thursday, September 03, 2015

If I Were the Mom of a Girl Going Away to School . . .


I'd have a few concerns. But I'm not a mom of a girl going away to school, I just teach personal safety skills to girls whose moms are concerned as their girls are growing into independence.

Recent headlines tell us about a young man at one of America's elite prep schools who engaged in the school tradition of "senior salute."  How that particular encounter turned into non-consensual sex and a rape charge.  The young man was convicted by a jury of one count of using the internet to have sex with a child, and three counts of misdeameanor sexual assault and child endangerment.  He was acquitted of the more serious charges of felony rape.

According to CNN's legal analyst Sunny Hostin, "the jury did not appear to believe the former prep school student's claim that there was no intercourse, but it also seemed to dismiss his accuser's testimony that it was against her will."

My focus, as a self-defense teacher, is less on the legal issues and more on what we're teaching girls, explicitly as well as implicitly.

This article from the New York Times details the young woman's testimony.  She describes a mixture of emotions during and after the assault -- of politeness and pain, then secrecy versus standing up for herself. 
“I didn’t want to come off as an inexperienced little girl,” she said. “I didn’t want him to laugh at me. I didn’t want to offend him.”
Afterward, she said, she felt physical pain and utter confusion, and blamed herself for the events; it took several days for her to tell anyone, in full, what happened.
“I feel like I had objected as much as I felt I could at the time. And other than that I felt so powerless,” she said, adding, “I was telling myself, ‘O.K., that was the right thing to do, you were being respectful.’ ”
This girl's feelings of powerlessness are common among teens in this sort of situation.  Girls encounter a host of contradictory messages.  They should be polite, nice, and certainly not rude -- while at the same time keeping themselves safe.

I believe respect is a very important social grace, and it should not trump safety.

My concerns include:
  • The jury's verdict indicates that many adults still don't believe girls could be telling the truth about rape.  These jury members are also community members, and could very well be among those from whom a girl seeks advice and help.
  • The girl not being aware of other tools at her disposal to discourage and perhaps prevent the rape.
  • The girl's feelings of powerlessness over her own body.  As noted sexual health educator Amy Lang says, she should be the boss of her body
Not only should any girl expect to have her "no" respected, she should have other options in case it is not.  That's what I teach, and in self-defense classes we practice skills when unfortunately "no" isn't enough.



Monday, May 04, 2015

Do You Have Faith in Frank, Pete, and John?


I'm not a football fan.  But, because I'm not a supporter of domestic violence, I was glad to hear that both Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and manager John Schneider avowed they would never allow an abuser to play for them.

Yet here we are today, being asked by the Seahawks' new draft pick, Frank Clark, to have faith in him.

The selection of Clark as a Seahawks draft choice is dogged by charges that he struck his girlfriend, Diamond Hurt.  They got into a fight in a hotel, someone called the police, the officer determined there had been some physical violence and was obliged to arrest Clark.  Larry Stone's article in The Seattle Times lays out more of the evidence and issues, and you should take a look at that.

One quote from Stone's article bears special notice.  He cites John Schneider as saying, “I would say there are always two sides to a story. You have to go through the whole thing. You can’t just go with one police report. You have to talk to everybody involved. Everybody.”  Stone also notes that they did not talk to Diamond Hurt.  So much for everyone?

[Update Tuesday May 5: A subsequent article in today's Seattle Times revealed that those Seahawk representatives charged with investigating this incident in fact did not talk to any witnesses, of which there were several.  Except for Frank Clark.]

That is not surprising, as another article noted that Hurt didn't want to press charges.  She may have not wanted to harm Clark's nascent football career, especially in light of the Ray Rice publicity.  A very common response in abusive relationships.

Again, I don't know much about football.  But I do know something about abusive relationships and why they exist.  Abusers too often continue to abuse because they can.  It is a learned behavior, it gets them what they want, and there are often few if any meaningful consequences for them.  That's because often people around them make choices that help minimize and mask the "not-so-bad" behavior."

Renowned psychologist Paul Ekman has written, in his book Telling Lies, that intelligent people can sometimes fail to see blatant untruths because they have a vested interest in believing the lie, in "collusively helping to maintain the lie, to avoid the terrible consequences of uncovering the lie."

It can be easy to minimize abuse when the abuser is someone you like, or you think can perform well for your organization.  It can be easy to minimize a police report when that certain someone has skills you want to exploit.  Domestic violence is perpetuated not only by those doing the hitting, but by those with a vested interest in other aspects of the abusers' lives.  By those well-meaning ancillary enablers who want to give some a second (or third?  fourth?  fifth?) chance, but up teaching that abusers can get away with a LOT of bad behavior before suffering serious consequences.

We will probably never know for sure what happened that evening.  In general, however, by the time a relationship gets to physical violence, there's been a lot of power and control and manipulation happening.  And physical violence in a relationship, once it begins, happens again, and again.  As a self-defense teacher, my suggestion to students is to recognize the relationship for what it is, and plan how to keep themselves safer.

Going forward could be challenging.  The first step I’d like to see is Carroll, Schneider, and the Seahawks as an organization express accountability for their decision to draft a player who, by witness accounts, did hit his then-girlfriend.  I’d like to see them own up to not really interviewing “everybody.”   Second, I’d like to see them discuss how to hold Clark accountable going forward.  Finally, I’d like to see Clark take seriously being accountable for his behavior, which would involve being publicly honest about that evening’s events.  Because, whether or not I follow football, my community is affected by prominent public figures publicly deny abusive behavior.


Friday, March 20, 2015

You Can Dress Up Old Cheese, But It Still Stinks



I resisted watching this video for a couple of months.  Really, the first few moments of music made me want to hunker down with a glass of wine to go with the cheese.  I caved in only because a class of high school girls wanted to dissect it.  And, as I watched, the overly cute morphed into creepy.

You may have seen it — this video was all over my Facebook feed earlier this year.

“Slap Her.”  The one in Italian with boys ages 7 to 11.  An off-camera interviewer asks them a few preliminary questions, to prove they’re just regular joes (but smaller, and cute).  Name and age.  What do you want to be when you grow up, and why?  (Firefighter, baker, pizza maker — because they want to help people, make messes, like pizza.  Regular li’l joes.)

Next they are introduced to a girl.  Martina bounds into the frame.  Taller than the boys, looking more like a tween than little girl, Martina may be 11 or 13 years old.  A bit of makeup is balanced by the braces on her teeth. 

One more question is directed to the boys:  What do you like about her?  Various answers, all on appearance (well, they don’t know anything else about her since she hasn’t said or done anything, what else could they say? other than uhhhhh . . .).  Her hands, eyes, shoes, hair, . . . everything.  She is a pretty girl.

Enough with the questions.  On to commands.  The voice behind the camera tells them to caress her.  Then to make funny faces at her.  The boys comply, with varying degrees of awkwardness.

The final command: to slap her.  The cheesy music stops.  They boys look at the camera.  They seem not sure they really heard correctly.  They look at her, look at the camera, look at the camera some more.  They refuse.  And the cheesy music resumes, with the addition of a string orchestra swelling in the background.

The boys give various reasons.  Because we’re not supposed to hit girls (not even with a flower).  Because she’s pretty.  Because hitting is bad.  Because Jesus said so.  Because he’s against violence.  Because he’s a man.

Fade to text scrolling on the screen:  In the kids’ world women don’t get hit.

I really wanted to get sucked into the cuteness.  But I could not, even when accompanied by a glass of red rhone.  The “creepy” factor just overtook the “cute.”  Let’s count the ways:
  1. Martina doesn’t talk.  She giggles, behind her hand, at some point.  She is portrayed more as a Disney automaton (an object) than a real person. 
  2. Martina is an object labeled “girl.”  The boys are asked what they like about her after having first met her.  What can they say, really?  Is the interviewer leading the boys to believe that the only parts worth assessing are what’s visible?  That’s annoying.
  3. The really creepy part for me began when the interviewer told the boys to caress her.  Huh?  How about ASKING HER?  With all the media coverage these past months about “consent,” this stands out in an out-of-touch way.
  4. So by the time it got to “slap her,” I was past annoyed.  The cheese was spread thick, and no wine was cutting through that stinky layer.
But we all know that in the real world, women and girls (and boys and men, and transgender and questioning) do get hit.  Is the question we’re left to ponder how that happens?  What transpires between the magic of childhood and the mundanity of adulthood to make violence okay?  I think the structure of the video makes that clear:  both boys and girls got pigeonholed in very hetero-normative boxes, where girls are pretty objects (for boys) and not to be hit, and boys are active agents. 

The whole point of learning self-defense skills is NOT to beat up others, nor to lock yourself in an apartment cell to keep harm at bay, nor even to set up invisible impenetrable boundaries.  You learn self-defense so you can go out and meet others and travel and study and go to parties and gatherings and meet other people and make friends.  You get to pick your wine as well as the cheese, or decide whether or not you want either.  You learn skills so you can be happy and successful and expand the scope of your activities.

So you are an active agent in your life.  Anything less is cheating on yourself.


Postscripts: 

While this has the look and feel of a PSA, it is not.  This video refers viewers to Fanpage.it, is an Italian news company (too bad I don’t know if this news company is more like the New York Times or the National Enquirer).  No references to domestic or dating violence resources are provided at the end, which diminishes the value of the video.

Here are a few other YouTube comments on this viral video.
    •    Sad that the NFL has become so susceptible to parody:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HNPfT0-Ss3g
    •    Kids React had these American children watch and comment:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ar20hv0rpBM (Lucas’ reaction to why abuse happens:  They are dumb)  These kids were also asked would girls hit boys, and some believed yes.
    •    While in India, girls were asked to slap boys:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Np4xpXYV1rE