Friday, November 26, 2010

Should She Fight Back?

By now most everyone has seen the Youtube post of the woman on the New York subway who screams: “Then I see his penis out.” Link here.

And we have all thrilled to see the woman fight back against a man who had been trying to press his erect organ against her.

But what is the moral lesson here?

Those of a more Kantian bent, like Jaclyn Friedman, want to universalize the response. To her, all women, faced with harassing behavior, should fight back. If harassment were always to elicit an aggressive response, it would, in her view, stop. Link here.

Why don’t all women fight back as effectively as the woman on the subway? According to Friedman, women feel ashamed, as though they are responsible for what happened to them.

If only they could get over their feelings of shame they would call out the men who harass them.

Speaking of shame, Friedman is especially thrilled that the woman in question is shaming the man who was trying to harass her.

Shaming him in front of those who were sharing the subway ride, but also, once the encounter was taped, to the general public, and hopefully, to law enforcement authorities.

Women need to overcome their own shame while shaming the man who are harassing them. So says, Jaclyn Friedman.

Keep in mind, however, that a man who is willing to expose himself in public has largely overcome his sense of shame. Many of the men who indulge in this kind of harassment are actually proud of themselves for doing it.

While I am certainly in favor of shaming as a punishment, the truth is that the value of the video lies more in its probity as evidence for the prosecution than in its ability to shame the perpetrator.

Shame is a very tricky and very difficult concept. It should, as they say, be handled with extreme care. No one wants to encourage people to become shameless.

If we take our analysis to the next level, we must recognize, as Friedman does, that this woman is empowered and protected by the fact that she and her harasser are surrounded by other people, mostly, by the evidence of the video, by people of the masculine gender.

As Friedman puts it: “It’s not like she's in actual danger -- there are a million people around, some of whom even have cameras out. He's not a threat to her physically in this situation.”

This is not a minor detail. Would Friedman recommend the same response if the woman were in actual danger?

The video may look like a tale of female empowerment. In truth, this woman is empowered by the presence of men, all of whom are presumed to be on her side.

She is relying on the masculine instinct to protect women. Most men look severely askance at what the man is doing. And most of them would help a woman who was in distress for being harassed.

If this is a female empowerment narrative, its basis would be that women cannot count on men to protect them, because all men are harassers, actual and potential.

Sometimes fighting back is right; sometimes it is wrong. To say that it is right in all cases is simply wrong. To say that it is wrong in all cases is also wrong.

Compare the woman on the subway to another woman, named Virginia, who wrote to Margo Howard, advice columnist on the WOWOWOW blog. Here is her story: “I am utterly humiliated! I’m 32, the mother of a 14-year-old daughter, ‘Sarah,’ and a general supermom: intelligent, athletic, attractive and competent. My daughter worships me, and her friends think I’m terrific. I’ve taught Sarah to be independent and assertive, and I always try to set the example.
“A few days ago, Sarah and I came home from shopping and walked in on a couple of young punks burglarizing our home. Assertive me froze! I put my arms around Sarah and told the guys to take what they want and not hurt us. Thankfully, we were not harmed, but we were left on a bathroom floor bound and gagged with duct tape — safe but feeling helpless and humiliated. Neither of us could get loose, and we had to lie there squirming for hours until my husband came home and found us.
“Never during the time we spent bound did Sarah cry, and her fierce efforts to get loose long after I had given up made me feel proud. But her first words when our gags were removed were, ‘Mom, we could have taken them. Why did you let them tape us up?’ Those words punished me more than being confronted by robbers, more than spending hours tied up and gagged. I felt I had let my daughter down. I don’t think I’ll ever recover from the feeling that I gave in without fighting. How do I make this up to her and regain my sense of competence and authority? — Virginia” Link here.

Clearly, Virginia, and her daughter, have both learned that women should always fight back. Perhaps they have read Jaclyn Friedman, perhaps not. At least, they have drunk from the same source.

Whatever Virginia had been taught in Women’s Studies, she forgot it all when she and her daughter were confronted by punk burglars. She instantly shifted into survival mode and chose submission over confrontation. 

Here is Margo Howard‘s response: “I beg to differ. Unless your teenage daughter has a black belt in karate, there’s no way the two of you could have ‘taken them.’ And even if you thought you had a chance, it wouldn’t have been a wise thing — or a sure thing. In such a situation, law enforcement people stress that you acquiesce to avoid the robbers becoming rattled and harming you. The things they took are only things. Your instincts were right, and your daughter’s were immature. (Or she’s been watching too much television.)
“This experience was an extreme version of a teachable moment, and rather than feel humiliated or that you’ve failed, make the lesson to your daughter be that the correct response is not to get into a physical altercation with two men — even “young punks” — intent on criminal activity. You in no way let her down, and I hope you will reinforce the wisdom of behaving as you did.”

Of course, Margo is right. Even if they both had studied martial arts, what would have happened if the punks had studied it also? And what if the punks had had weapons?

Do you want to bet your life on your ability to overpower two men who are, at the least, significantly stronger than you?

One should be careful not to tell women that a few lessons in karate and kung fu will so thoroughly empower them that they will be able to take down men who are bigger and stronger than they are.

Virginia’ instincts were right; her daughter’s were not just immature, and not merely the result of watching too much television. Her daughter had learned from her mother the lesson that feminists have been purveying.

Virginia’s is not exactly a happy ending. She ends up feeling humiliated and, to compound the humiliation, she has to explain to her daughter why the advice that she had been handing out now appears to be so much braggadocio.

Humiliated, yes, but also alive. Dare I say that the story could have had a much more unhappy ending.

Now Virginia feels humiliated for having been found out. She is not equal to her boasts. But how humiliated, how ashamed would she have felt if she had decided to fight back, and if her confrontational attitude had led to the burglars hurting one or both of them?

As a mother Virginia has a moral responsibility to protect her child. When their lives were at risk, her moral sense came to the fore and she chose not to take the risk.

It was surely the right thing to do.


Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Dr. Schneiderman
RE: Okay....

Why don’t all women fight back as effectively as the woman on the subway? According to Friedman, women feel ashamed, as though they are responsible for what happened to them. -- Stuart Schneiderman

....please explain the incident from several years ago in New York City's Central Park in which some, apparently 'attrative' young woman in a tank top had it yanked down by a group of men.

Where is the proverbial 'line' in 'baiting'?

I recall hearing a report, as an officer in the US Army, by some soldiers billeted meeting in a a 'coed-barracks' where some attractive young woman roamed the halls in her skivies. And if anyone made comment and/or mention of her behavior/apparel, they'd get either what they wanted or something markedly 'different', depending upon her 'mood' and/or their own 'attractiveness' her eyes.


.....what's up with this double-standard?

I can recognize what you're getting at. I'm wondering about the other side of this particular coin.


[Harassment is in the eye of the 'beholder'.]

Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Dr. Schneiderman, et al.
RE: Taking On the 'Odds'

Do you want to bet your life on your ability to overpower two men who are, at the least, significantly stronger than you? -- Stuart Schneiderman

Well, having taken on men bigger and allegedly 'tougher' than I am, and having them face down in the spilled beer of the bar table, I have no problem with such. It's all a matter of (1) skill and (2) fighting spirit.

On the other hand, I'm not a woman.

On the 'gripping' hand, I'm reminded of a famous truism....

God made Men. Colt made men equal.


[I may not be armed, but I'm always dangerous.]

Chuck Pelto said...

TO: All
RE: The Question Becomes....

....WHEN do you fight?

Obviously, it's all a crap-shoot. As we say in the Army—all too often—it all depends on the situation.

For instance, Virginia and daughter walk in on a burglary. They probably don't have a concealed carry permit, so they are, for all intents and purposes 'unarmed'. Therefore, they are unprepared (1) physically and likely (2) mentally, to deal with the encounter. The burglars probably weren't planning on encountering potential witnesses. Therefore, they might not be personally inclined to commit murder in cold-blood in order to protect their identities.

It's dicey, at best. So Virginia rolls the 'dice' and came up a 'winner'. Good for her. Good for her daughter.

On the other hand, consider a deliberate home-invasion scenario. Here, the perps figure they're going to encounter people. People who could 'finger' them to the Law. Therefore, it is in the perps best interest that there should be no one to do such.

Three guesses....first two don't count.

What to do? How to 'prepare'? As the economy continues to grind its way down into near oblivion, there could well be an increase in such 'invasions'. Argentina, of late, has experienced such.

From my personal perspective, you have to think through these sorts of things and train yourself to respond to them. But be aware, that it's not likely that any particular scenario you can think of will actually happen. However, going through the 'steps' and preparing your environment according DOES help in providing the necessary (1) materials and (2) 'spirit' to provide a better chance of (1) survival and (2) eliminating the 'problems'.

As we've learned in the Army, the best way to survive a 'near ambush' is IMMEDIATE and VIOLENT action directly against the ambushing force. And, it's ALL so much 'reflex' than anything else.


[Chance favors the prepared mind. -- Louis Pasteur, the Father of modern microbiology]

Obsidian said...

Hi Doc,
Jf's certainly one to talk - after all, if anyone should be ashamed of their actions, its her, right?

But here's the real deal: JF is protecting in extremis. In that you're in the mental health field etc, i certainly don't need to hip you to what that's all about. She is assuming that because something that has been known to work extremely well on WOMEN, ie, shaming, should also work as well on Men, and the simple truth of the matter is, it doesn't - s you have pointed out, having cameras and the like don't stop guys from committing crimes. It does, however, give credible evidence of same.

Hang on, gotta get your take on something else...


Chuck Pelto said...

TO: All
RE: The 'Argentina' Link....


The thrust of it was that as their economy tanked, home invasions became a popular way for the lawless to survive. Break into a house, kill the occupants, live there for a while on their wherewithal.


[Come into my house as 'uninvied', you better (1) have your insurance paid up, (2) your last will and testament up-to-date and (3) wear body armor.]

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I think it's fair to say that if you have had military training and have had a career in the military your attitude toward a home invasion differs radically from that of a teenage girl and her mother.

I was not aware of the wave of home invasions in Argentina, but I do know that they happened fairly often in Brazil in the 1980s. I don't know whether America could become like some of those Brazil or Argentina, but I suspect that given the second amendment, the chances are that they would be less likely.

I like Obsidian's point... namely that the woman in the subway faced a very specific set of circumstances, where she was empowered by the fact that she was surrounded by men. One needs to be very cautious extrapolating to saying that every woman who is harassed ought to respond in exactly the same way. And we should certainly respect the fact that different women will react differently under different circumstances, and, unless you have walked in their shoes, it is best not to second guess them or to criticize them for not making a scene.

Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Dr. Schneiderman, et al.
RE: That....

I think it's fair to say that if you have had military training and have had a career in the military your attitude toward a home invasion differs radically from that of a teenage girl and her mother. -- Stuart Schneiderman one of the many reasons I'm an advocate of Universal Governmental Service: a debate topic I argued during high school forensics in the late 1960s.

The first part, i.e., 2 months of which, the training was as in US Army Basic Training. Everyone learned how to use a weapon in a tactical situation.

If everyone was reasonably versed in such, home invasions would be less likely. After all, look at the Swiss model. Where "....there is more per capita firepower in Switzerland than any place in the world, it is one of the safest places to be."

If everyone knew how to use a weapon, there'd be fewer instances of home invasions or what happened to Virginia and her daughter.

There are other benefits to the model we argued, my team-mate and I. But those are a widely diverse discussion not germane to this topic.


[Qui desiderat pacem — praeparat bellum. -- Vegetius]

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Actually, I agree with you that some form of universal service would be good for all young people. And that it should include some military training. As you know, they also do it in Israel....

By now I think that most people agree with you and me that the second amendment keeps communities safer... or at least I hope so.

Comment Monster said...

I disagree that the women faced with the home invasion reacted optimally. It's true that the time for them to get mentally and behaviorally prepared was long past when the emergency occurred.

But they did have the option of attempting flight, and should have taken it. Bad idea to voluntarily leave yourself at the mercy of the bad guys.

Assuming these guys were garden-variety burglars, which they likely were since they chose an unoccupied target, they're likely to prefer flight themselves to chasing you down and escalating the crime.

Assuming these guys were real bad guys, you don't want to be in private and under their control for a long period of time.

Submitting as these women did was a risky strategy. They're lucky that they weren't at least raped.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Certainly, if flight was an option, it should have been taken. Fighting back and running away are not the same thing.

I assume that they did not have that option.

I see your point that they are putting themselves at the mercy of two bad characters, and that there is a high risk in such behavior.

If it did work out well, it may be that the mother made a correct evaluation of the punks involved and decided, again correctly, that it was better to allow themselves to be tied up. As it happens, it worked out for the best.

Sometimes it is better to play dead than to fight back. My concern, and that of some of the others, is that if they tried to fight then they might have provoked violent behavior that would not have occurred if they had simply allowed themselves to be tied up.

Still and all, it's a difficult decision, one that is difficult to second guess... especially because there are certainly occasions when fighting back is the better course of action.