For those of you that have missed the latest excitement from Miss USA, Miss Nevada won this year’s competition.
Miss Nevada, or Nia Sanchez, has apparently caused a stir because, in a round of questions, she advocated that women should learn to defend themselves in order to combat rape. While in the running for Miss USA, Rumer Willis asked why colleges have “swept [the rape epidemic] under the rug.” Nia Sanchez replied,
I believe some colleges may potentially be afraid of having a bad reputation, and that would be a reason that it could be swept under the rug because they don’t want it to come out into the public but I think more awareness is very important so women can learn how to protect themselves. Myself as a fourth degree black belt, I learned from a young age that you need to be confident and being able to defend yourself and I think that’s something we should start to implement for a lot of women.
To put it simply, women should learn to protect themselves to bring down the rate of rape. According to several conservative outlets, this sparked a fury from online feminists. Buzzwords like “rape culture” and “victim blaming” washed over Twitter like a tsunami. But that isn’t the whole story.
1. The “controversy” isn’t a real controversy.
There have been a few articles thrown around the blogosphere. Jezebel blogger Rebecca Rose writes, “College women shouldn’t have to ‘learn to protect themselves.’ College men should ‘learn not to rape.'” But then she adds, “Would it hurt if we all become black belts to defend against possible violent threats? No.” Beyond that?
Feministing has nothing.
Bitch Media has nothing.
Media Girl has nothing.
Finally Feminism 101 has nothing.
Feministe has nothing.
In other words, the “outrage” is confined to some angry people on Twitter. And hey, people on Twitter stay stupid stuff all the time.
While I’m completely aware that, here, I’m appealing to authority, I want to point out that no major individual or group is seriously accusing Ms. Sanchez of perpetuating rape culture. It was not an issue until conservative media made it out to be.
2. “Victim blaming” actually means blaming the victim.
I’ve seen victim blaming in many forms. “Oh, she shouldn’t have been wearing that short dress,” or “he was coming on to him” or “she shouldn’t have gotten so drunk” are all examples of common forms of blaming. But is anyone going to say, “Rachel, you wouldn’t have gotten raped if you had trained for the past four years to become a black belt in tae kwon do”? No. Absolutely not. It’s like saying, “Rachel, you wouldn’t have gotten raped if you carried a shotgun with you at all times.” (As a side note, most people are unwilling to use self defense in rape cases to begin with.)
Nia Sanchez is advocating for women to have agency to help defend themselves, and offers a way to do so—the advice is not so different than walking with car keys out and headphones off. As I have written before, education and common sense are not enough to stop rape from happening. As Julie Borowski accurately notes, it’s like asking a robber to stop robbing instead of installing a home security system. Women should play a role in defending themselves—but that doesn’t mean rape victims are not victims.
3. Want to end rape culture? Offer realistic solutions to rape.
I don’t think that I’m stretching when I say that most people are educated enough to know rape is bad. It’s been beaten into us—especially young people—since we were young. Education helps. Pointing out rape culture in media helps. But we should do everything that helps, including advocating for women’s agency to defend themselves.
Ending rape culture isn’t just about stopping rape in the media—it’s about ending rape itself. And if men aren’t going to be proactive about it, women should be. There’s the ideal world and then there’s this one. And in this one, Nia Sanchez’s approach is a good step forward to ending the “rape epidemic” in this country.