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Sunday, May 22, 2005

Dangerous Fantasies of Revenge

Treppenwitz isn't what one might call an issue-driven site.  In fact, I usually leave the sharp, shiny issues and fresh political wounds to those who are better qualified to offer commentary.  But occasionally I stumble across something that so outrages my sensibilities that I'll willingly take the risk of sounding like a complete idiot. 

This is one of those posts.

A friend recently forwarded a link to a site about a Swedish (I think) anti-rape device called FemDefense.   As a man, I have to admit that rape hasn't occupied a very prominent place on the list of things I've worried about during my life.  With the exception of a prison environment, the typical man lacks the basic equipment that would logically bump this topic up his priority list. 

However, as a son, a brother, a husband and a father, I have thought about rape the way a man might think about breast, uterine or ovarian cancers.  By this I mean that I would be horrified to contemplate one of my loved ones being attacked... but I have no first-hand experience with what that kind of vulnerability must feel like.

This link I mentioned took me to a site which tried to force me... shock me, actually...into contemplating feminine vulnerability.  But it just ended up making me angry.

The FemDefense device itself can be described simply as a tampon with a spike.  While the device was obviously the result of someone's horrible (and probably justifiable) revenge fantasies, the informational film on the site did nothing but depict horribly wrong-headed personal choices in order to justify and promote their product. 

Go watch the film and then continue reading.

Scene One:  Two women dancing drunkenly at a club with bottles of vodka clutched in their hands.  The female voice-over asks: "Do you like to get drunk?"  The scene switches to the women kissing a drunken goodnight on one of their doorsteps as the voice-over asks, "Do you like sexy clothes?"  The final scene shows the remaining woman walking tipsily home through a deserted underpass as the voice-over asks, "Do you hate being scared?".  The scene closes with the camera approaching her rapidly from behind... and then cuts to a picture of the FemDefense device.

My Problem:  To my way of thinking, this scenario advocates tossing good judgment to the wind.  It seems to be saying that if you dress provocatively, get sloshed and then choose a sketchy route home... everything will be just fine so long as you arm yourself with their device for the inevitable rape attempt.  Certainly, women have every right to dress, imbibe and walk as they please and without restrictions... but the makers of this film seem to be telling us that this silver spike is some sort of silver bullet against an attack.  I don't believe in blaming the victim... but I also don't condone lulling the victim into a false sense of security.

Scene Two: The second scene is thankfully free of voice-overs, but it continues along what seems to be a developing theme of throwing all personal responsibility to the wind.  The scene opens with a woman waking up groggily in what could easily be any of the following: a) a crack house; b) a frat house;  or c) a brothel.  There are flashing lights and loud anxiety-producing music playing in the background, as well as random people either passed out or stumbling drunkenly through the shadows of the place.  It is hard to tell if the screams we hear are from the soundtrack or from one of the squalid, noisome rooms.  The camera follows the woman as she walks through the trashed apartment and comes to a closed door.  When she pushes the door open the flashing light inside the room reveals a scantily clad woman cowering against a wall... and a fully clothed man in the fetal position on the floor clutching his genitals.  Cut to a picture of the FemDefense device.

My problem:  Again we seem to be hearing a subtext from the film's makers saying bad judgment is not the enemy here... only the man is!  I can't help thinking that if a woman has the presence of mind to slip this little defense weapon into herself, she should have the good sense not to place herself in the kind of scenario we have just witnessed!  Just as men frequently get rolled (and even killed) when they get smashed and pass out in such an unregulated environment... women who do so put themselves at risk for the worst sort of abuses.

Scene Three:  The last scene is by far the most troubling (at least for me).  Again, we are spared the voice-over, but the lack of verbal communication seems to emphasize the bit of sound one hears.  The scene takes place in a bedroom where a woman lies facing the camera with her eyes open...and her back to the door.  We hear the bedroom door open, and the sound of someone moving around in the shadows.  All the while the woman's eyes remain unblinking, so one can assume the visitor is not unexpected.  We then see a man in underwear approach the bed and slide in next to the woman.  It is only now that the woman feigns sleep.  The man caresses the woman's shoulder in an attempt to get a reaction and is rewarded with an annoyed shrug.  He then roughly grabs her leg, rolls her over and forces himself on the woman who we now assume is probably his wife.  As he forces himself on her, he makes one more token gesture of affection by caressing her cheek, but there remains no question that she is not a willing participant in what is taking place.  Cut to a picture of the FemDefenese device.

My Problem: Having volunteered in a shelter for battered women during college, this was a scenario where the correct course of action was crystal clear... and was ignored by the film makers.  Simply put, if a woman has reason to believe that she is likely to be raped by her husband, she needs to get out... not use her body as a bear trap!  The scenario in the film scared me badly because in the real world the best possible outcome would be her arrested for assault... and the worst case would probably end with her being bludgeoned to death by her angry (and injured) husband.  What were these people thinking?  Here is a woman who knows she is in danger.  She knows her assailant, and she has decided the best course of action is to inflict a non-lethal injury on a man who has presumably already demonstrated many times that he will abuse her without hesitation.  If a wife is certain enough that her husband is going to rape her to take the FemDefense route, then she should already be in a shelter, not waiting for him in bed.  The marriage is DOA... what possible reason can there be to join it in the morgue?  As far as I'm concerned this last scene is a lawsuit waiting to be filed on behalf of some dead rape-victim's estate.

What none of these scenes depicts is the fact that a rapist who has just been jabbed by the FemDefenese device is likely to kill the rape victim in a fit of rage.  Another point that is glossed over is that for the device to work, the woman does indeed get raped.  And lastly, even if the device works exactly according to plan and allows the woman to escape with only the momentary violation of her body... she will now have to undergo months of medical testing to see what kind of blood-borne 'gifts' her assailant may have left behind from his wounded weapon!

The tag-line for this product is:

FemDefense:  A protection against rape. 

However, in my opinion it should be:

FemDefense:  If you're only going to make one semi-rational choice this evening... choose the most pointless and potentially dangerous revenge fantasy ever contemplated by a rape victim.

I'm truly horrified.

Posted by David Bogner on May 22, 2005 | Permalink

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Ew! Ew! AND DID I SAY EEEEEEEEWWWWWWWWW!

That, and BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH I CAN'T HEAR YOU (she screams covering her eyes without once contemplating viewing the movies!!!!!!!).

Posted by: zahava | May 22, 2005 10:31:55 AM

David,

You didn't note that this is a design...it doesn't really exist...yet

here is what the website says "Femdefence is an on-going project first presented in 2003. The project includes the creation of an imaginary product, which bears the project’s name. The “product“ is a kind of protection against rape, somewhat similar to a tampon..."

I think as an ad/awareness tool it is pretty strong....but I agree, it isn't how I would want to defend myself.

Posted by: Safranit | May 22, 2005 10:54:12 AM

Wo. Wasn't expecting to see THAT over my morning cereal!

By the way, I have been reading your blog every day. I just don't always have the time/inclination/politeness to leave a comment. I enjoy the blog very much and always learn something new. Loved the latest Photo Friday.

Posted by: Sarah | May 22, 2005 12:08:20 PM

Zahava... Calm down honey. You've just described my exact reaction each time you've sent me to pick up something for you in the 'feminine hygiene aisle'.

Safranit... Yes, I read the interview and description quite closely. The fact that this is not yet in production doesn't reduce my horror. We're not talking about Iran developing the bomb here... this could be in production, like, tomorrow! My big problem is with the attitude behind the device. Let me ask you... as a woman, did the film make you feel empowered... safe... better-equipped to take on the world? My guess is 'no'. The truth is that my father (and a certain amount of hard won personal experience) taught me that there are certain situations and places I should avoid if I want don't like the idea of being mugged (or worse). The good part about this advice was that if I ever decided to ignore it I could simply leave most of my money at home. What are women supposed to do... leave all semblance of their yonic vulnerability at home? Clearly the answer lies in taking personal responsibility not to be alone and inebriated in areas in which you might become vulnerable to attack. Also, if you know from experience that you are likely to be attacked by someone you know... end all contact with that person! The film seems to avoid all discussion of personal responsibility for one's safety... opting to dwell on revenge instead.

Sarah... Sorry... I thought it would be closer to lunchtime when this got launched out into the world. Sometimes typepad's scheduler has a mind of its own. Oh, regarding comments... I will tell you what I would tell anyone who visits here: If you have something to add, feel free to comment. Otherwise, please don't feel obligated. You've probably noticed that I rarely comment on your blog, yet I rarely miss a day of reading it!

Posted by: David | May 22, 2005 12:37:18 PM

I understand the appeal of this product. The third scene you describe, David? The woman tensely awaiting her husband's unwelcome arrival home? That was me, twleve years ago. And though the marital rape I experienced was not violent, it was still rape. I risked being beaten for refusing, so it was accomplished through implicit threat of violence, even if the event itself was merely exceedingly dull sex. It was rape because it wasn't consensual: I wasn't allowed to say “no”. I was disgusted at and by him.

So, when I read the description, I have to confess that my first reaction was a visceral and savage sense of “Yes!!!” You pegged it exactly when you called it revenge fantasy. You've been treated like that, you want to hurt him. You want him to feel the fear you've felt; you want him to feel the pain he's inflicted on you. And to hurt him, hurt him badly, THERE?? Revenge doesn't get much more satisfying.

However, it took me all of about four seconds to get past that to the next scene, unplayed by the camera, the scene in which the woman is savagely beaten by her enraged partner. If a woman actually used it, she'd be betting - possibly with her life - that the thing would incapacitate him long enough for her to flee. And she'd have to leave instantly, never to return.

This product is wrong in so many ways, I am absolutely astounded it's gotten as far in the development process as it has. I, too, am horrified.

Posted by: Ilona | May 22, 2005 4:36:13 PM

As I rabbi I really love once told me, "It's better to avoid a fight than to win one."

We live in a world litered with out of control men. (As is it has always been if you ask me.) This improves when men teach their sons about women -and the world BTW- not owing them anything. Teach respect, morals, a sense that if no one here catches them God knows everything and has a perfect memory, model great behavior towards women, etc. I used to work in a Junior High and witnessed an antirape program designed for adolescents. (It was excellent.) Bottom line was that the majority of the boys AND girls thought that in the little scenario that was played out for the class, the girl owed the boy some kind of sexual favor because he had paid for the food on their date. These were bright kids and yet they thought something so stupid. Becuase parents were too afraid to talk to them about this stuff and no one would ever want to assume that their little boy would ever think a girl owes him sex (except fathers who actually believe females do owe men sex, which leads to my next point.)

Next point, given that women are much smaller and weaker (and usually weaker even when they out weigh the guy) and given that there are ridiculously large numbers of males who weren't raised properly and have lunatic ideas about women, women must behave sensibly or they will pay for it dearly. Don't get trashed anywhere near men. Learn some martial arts (just one year of hap ki do will a)show the female involved just how weak she is compared to males and b)show her how to defend herself despite that.)

And just for the record, I would never insert something with a mean spike on it into my body. Sounds like a great way to impale oneself!

Posted by: Alice | May 22, 2005 5:08:10 PM

I agree with you 100% David. This is a good way for a woman to get herself killed. I'm really unsure what the point of this product is.

Posted by: psychotoddler | May 22, 2005 8:08:33 PM

I am speechless, but I have to agree with what has been said here. A product like this is not protection, it is asking for more trouble. If you are already in that situation you are already in immense trouble and I can see this enraging the person it was used upon.

It is not a solution.

Posted by: Jack | May 22, 2005 8:31:38 PM

Er, thanks for sharing this with us, David... *runs away retching*

Posted by: Alice (in Texas) | May 22, 2005 8:47:25 PM

Ilona... While I am very pleased that you weighed in on this issue, I hope with all my heart that it my writing about it didn't conjure up old ghosts for you. Thank you for lending a woman's point of view.

Alice... to address your last 'point' first, the blueprint on the web sight seems to indicate that the spike is hidden inside the device until it is needed. I'll admit that it didn't make sense to me, but then I was too busy just being angry about the larger issues I already discussed. You make some excellent points about self defense... but a healthy dose of common sense and personal responsibility is probably the best defense.

Psychotoddler... If that pun was intended, you are going to find yourself over on the 'Group W' bench with Pearl, Jack et al.

Jack... The man in the film who was shown on the floor incapacitated was not very realistic. I have no doubt that this kind of thing would end up getting women killed.

Alice... I've missed you! I hope your 'travels' are going well. Sorry about the shock to your system with today's post.

Posted by: David | May 22, 2005 10:13:17 PM

wow... thats pretty twisted. but i agree, i think its the rong kind of device for the wrong kinds of reasons. i know rape victims, and i know people who pretend to be rape victims, and this seems much more like the type of device supported by the second. and the commercials mostly ignore the fact that most rapes are with two people who know each other. seems like this is more of "when youre sure youre going to get raped tonight" kinda thing. i wouldnt use it. thats twisted.

whatever happened to good old mace?

Posted by: wildroze | May 22, 2005 10:44:25 PM

Wildroze... An even better solution than mace is just having a little bit of a clue about not deliberately putting oneself in danger! The whole premise of this thing is beyond my comprehension.

I really need to stay away from this dark subject matter... it really put a damper on my day.

Posted by: David | May 22, 2005 10:51:16 PM

David,

I tried hard not to do it, I tried really hard to but this thing just pricked my interest in stupid puns. Sorry, weak willed when it comes to this I guess.

Posted by: Jack | May 23, 2005 12:02:05 AM

David - I'm not sure if someone else commented on this yet, but after clicking a bit, this doesn't seem like it's ever intended for mass production. It appears that this is an artist's "art". If you click through, you'll see he deals in quite a bit of disturbing and violent issues. Seems like this is just another case of an art "installation" done for the shock factor.

Posted by: Aidelmaidel | May 23, 2005 1:30:58 AM

Sorry, but I am not going to click on the link. I think Aidelmaidel is right. This sounds like "shock art". I once read a sci-fi story with a similar theme. Women had the ability to zap rapists with electricity right in the family jewels. None of it is realistic at all.

Posted by: Mirty | May 23, 2005 5:16:25 AM

It sounds like you were outraged, disgusted and horrified by a piece of fiction created only to outrage, disgust and horrify. See, you actually need more lame goofiness from Psychotoddler, Jack and me. Had we designed the site, we would have called the fictional product "The Kielbasa Skewer" and then you would have known it was a joke. Shock is better when it comes with a banana peel underfoot, or a cream pie in the face.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | May 23, 2005 5:50:16 AM

Jack... I was waiting to see how long that one would take to surface. I admire your restraint. :-)

AidelMaidel... Yes, but that is sort of besides the point. It is not in production now, but there is nothing in any of his site literature that says it won't be produced. Also, while he purports to be interested in raising awareness of male violence against women, his "art" as you call it, is very likely to encourage women to contemplate fantasies of revenge instead of using common sense to avoid situations where they would be likely to become victims.

Every other species on earth has developed the ability to instinctively avoid situations where they would become victims of predatory attacks... except humans. For some reason we encourage the weaker members of our society to feel 'empowered' and continue placing themselves in dangerous situations. This person's 'art' ignores the most obvious solution to violence in order to dwell on avenging it.

Mirty... I respect your decision not to click over. I didn't share this with my readers in order to preach or force people to confront a potentially troubling topic. It just made me angry so I vented a bit. :-) You and Aidel Maidel may be right about this being 'shock art', but that doesn't mean the ideas and remedies suggested by their 'art' aren't also dangerous to women.

Doctor Bean... I'm sure we could have done a really wonderful 'over the top' parody of this, but it would have fallen flat because there remains the problematic direction that the real or imagined device takes the discussion of violence against women. There are those who would say that any discussion of an important topic is preferable to leaving the subject tucked away in a dark corner with the word 'taboo' stamped on it. I don't agree with that sentiment. There are topics that are better not discussed if the discussion will lead to even more dangerous scenarios for a group that has already been victimized.

To remove the present discussion from the 'mine field' of women's issues, let's say for the sake of argument that the problem under discussion is that fictional problem of people stealing kidneys from unsuspecting travelers. Let's say that people begin waking up in hotel bathtubs full of ice without their kidneys in cities all over the world because of the scarcity of available transplant organs. Then let's say that someone proposes that the best solution is to have everyone begin taking a drug that would cause irreparable kidney damage so as to make all organs unsuitable for transplanting. However the drug would also lead to eventual renal failure and death for the person taking it.

This is obviously an imperfect analogy, but it works for me since you have:

a) a victim who feels vulnerable and helpless
b) a predator who needs to be stopped from preying on the victim
c) a solution that denies the predator what he wants, but...
d) ... the solution also ends up denying the victim the safety and security since they would end up being killed as surely as they would have from having their kidneys forcibly removed.

The FemDefenses whole 'deny the attacker what he wants at all costs' strategy ends up endangering the person it was intended to protect. In my mind that is not only irresponsible, but also dangerous.

Posted by: David | May 23, 2005 9:28:25 AM

Yikes! I didn't even realize there was a pun in there. Went right over my head. Must've been one of those Freudian things.

Posted by: psychotoddler | May 24, 2005 3:21:06 AM

I am almost a year late for commenting on this post, but David, I have a problem with your message here. You keep repeating that if a woman takes on some common sense and avoids certain behaviors and actions, such as walking alone in a dark alley, then she will be safer. Never underestimate a Rapist. It's not about the woman, it's about Power and rape can happen anytime, anyplace. Awareness and learning self defense is the key to safety.

Posted by: jaimeselvin | Mar 24, 2006 4:14:45 AM

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