Thursday, March 6, 2008

Go Jump in the Lake

I've been getting back into the self-defense manuals I collected while at the Library of Congress this fall. In the grand scheme of things, they will become part of a chapter (?) on advice literature aimed to guide women's behavior in public space. In the short term, they will be a part of my presentation for the Michigan Women's Studies Association meeting next week (yes, yes, I'm working on it now... really).

The whole self-defense craze in publishing (and classes as well, though I am not looking at those) came in the 1970s and 1980s. The literature divides pretty neatly into two camps: (1)feminist and feminist-influenced books that assert women's right to be in public space and right to react aggressively and proactively to anything there that makes them feel endangered and (2)conservative tracts that stress women's need to avoid public space (or at least avoid entering it alone) and practice a whole set inconvenient, limiting, accommodating, and, at times, degrading behaviors to keep themselves "safe" in the hostile world.

Here is just one example from the latter group, from a book entitled The Womanly Art of Self Defense: A Commonsense Approach, by Kathleen Keefe Burg (1979):

"Strolling by the lake. It sounds lovely, doesn't it? But what if you are walking down by a lakefront in a city like Chicago and someone attacks you? If you're a good swimmer (and it's not midwinter), your best escape route might be the water. Jump in and swim underneath the surface as far out as possible... In the water, you'll have a far better chance of survival than on dry land. be sure to stay underwater as long as possible. When you do have to surface, try to come up just enough to obtain sufficient air for you to go under again."

C'mon, what are you scoffing at? As the subtitle for the book clearly indicates, this is just pure common sense!

1 comment:

biscodo said...

I for one am glad for the modern inventions of mace/pepper spray and other civilian non-lethal self-defense devices. Sure does avoid inconveniences like jumping into a lake. I mean, you can defend yourself and then go about your day, rather than having to walk around in wet clothes afterward. Nothing more pleasing than a simple technical solution to an urban "etiquette" problem.

That wasn't the point though, was it?