Women Must Become Dangerous: A Response to R. O. Kwon

On January 7th, the Paris Review published an essay by R. O. Kwon entitled “On Being a Woman in America While Trying to Avoid Being Assaulted.” It’s a well-written piece, accurately detailing what many women go through on a daily basis. Holding one’s keys between one’s fingers while walking at night, checking the back seat of the car before entering, never leaving a drink unattended. I’ve done all of this and more. It’s a dangerous world we live in.

I wish it wasn’t. I wish Kwon didn’t have to deal with creepy online messages from men and being catcalled. I wish I didn’t have to feel the ice-cold stiffness of fear shoot up my spine when I hear a man’s voice yelling across the parking lot when I’m locking up my workplace after closing. I wish I didn’t reach for my phone and dial my boyfriend so the man loitering on the corner won’t try to talk to me while I’m waiting at the crosswalk. Kwon and I both “make so many more fake phone calls than real ones.”

Kwon’s essay is most evocative when she’s listing the many precautions she takes. She’s right: it is ridiculous that we have to go through whole pantomimes designed to make us look like less-than-optimal targets. It is ridiculous that we have to coach our faces to look stern to mask our fear—but what would happen if we didn’t?

Most of the time, probably nothing. For better or worse, I’m jumpy and paranoid—I can’t even sleep with the bedroom door open to my own hallway after one too many nights up late reading creepy novels as a child—but I’d rather be paranoid than dead. Kwon’s essay ends abruptly and she doesn’t tell us what solutions she envisages, but, in her last paragraphs, when she mentions Brett Kavanaugh and the blue emergency phone boxes on the campus of their shared alma mater, Yale, I get the sense that her ideal solution is something along the lines of restrict men.

I get it. Kwon is angry, and she has every right to be. She writes, “What I’ve learned about angry men is that they can turn dangerous.” I fully agree. I’ve stood down some very scary men in my customer service day job. It’s both pathetic and chilling how violent ordinary men can become over a store’s returns policy. In those situations, I do not hesitate to give a warning, and then to pick up the phone and dial 911.

But, as much as I agree with Kwon that violent, predatory individuals are a problem, we don’t live in a dystopian world where we can put a curfew on all men. In a free world, in situations of danger, the best thing we can do is protect ourselves. Kwon is right to hold her keys between her fingers when she walks at night. I live in a city with a homelessness problem at near crisis levels, which means desperate men roaming the streets at night, congregating on street corners and outside twenty-four hour shops. When I walk home from my bus stop in the dark, I walk fast, push my long hair up under my hood so I look more masculine, and plan what I will do if I’m ever attacked. I will unleash a guttural roar; I will bare my long nails like claws; I will scream I’ll fucking kill you! like a deranged psychopath. If I ever meet a violent man at night, I am prepared to become a very violent woman.

Unfortunately, that roar, those nails and that scream are the only things my government allows me to use in defense of my own body. If I could, I would arm myself on those walks in the dark, but automatic, centrifugal and gravity knives are illegal in Canada, as are mace and pepper spray. Bear spray, while commonly carried by adventurers in the back country, is also highly suspect when carried outside of that context. “Any device designed to be used for the purpose of injuring, immobilizing, or otherwise incapacitating any person” can bring legal trouble in Canada, according to Lethbridge lawyer Greg White. While Canadian law protects the defense of one’s self and property, if you injure or kill your attacker, you can expect to be arrested and charged with a crime, go through years of legal proceedings and spend tens of thousands of dollars on legal fees. In the end, you’ll likely be found not guilty—almost no self-defense cases end in convictions—but you and your family will hardly emerge from the situation unscathed. In a 2016 article about self-defense in Canada, readers are advised that “calling police for assistance in matters of personal safety is best.”

What if I’m face-to-face with an attacker, with my life at stake? No matter how swift police are, a call to 911 could never save me faster than a can of pepper spray or a knife.

I wish we lived in a feminist utopia, in which women could skip through the night without a care in the world. But we don’t, and it’s a waste of time to lament this perfect, fictional world. In our world, I would rather advocate for the right of every woman to carry a knife, pepper spray or firearm if she so chooses. The fact that I could be prosecuted for protecting myself fills me with such rage that I’d gladly step up on a podium and talk gun rights all day long.

Leaving weapons aside, there are many things a woman can do to make herself strong. If I could, I would give every woman a copy of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and a couple spare hours in which to read it. Stoicism, the fortification of the mind and the cultivation of resilience, is a tailor-made weapon with which to battle catcalling and other uncomfortable situations. The worst part of confrontation, to me, is how it plays on an endless loop in my head afterward. I fixate on the bad feelings and berate myself for not handling it differently, or for attracting attention at all. The person who yelled at me or harassed me is at fault, but my reaction is entirely under my control. I can wallow in regret and self-flagellate, or I can acknowledge my feelings and then let them go. It’s a game-changing lesson on a personal level, and if stoicism became a trend among feminists at large, I think it could be revolutionary.

Don’t get me wrong: if a man victimizes a woman in any way, he’s 100% to blame. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make it harder for him to hurt us. I don’t see the utility in complaining that men are stronger and, when they are predatory, women are more vulnerable. Nature made the sexes this way. No one is to blame for the fact that I’m shorter and weaker than most men. Am I better off complaining and wanting all men to be restricted and freedom to be eroded, or in making myself strong to increase the odds that I’ll survive an attack, both physically and mentally? Any object that will help stack the odds in my favor against an attacker, I will take. It would be wonderful if my government would let me. I’m increasingly coming around to the idea that rights to self-defense are women’s rights, and I can’t believe more feminists aren’t shouting this from the rooftops.

I want more for Kwon than to bemoan the fear she has to face on a daily basis. I want her to feel safe, empowered, and strong—and I want her to be a stoic. Not all women will want to carry weapons, but if even ten or twenty percent of the women walking alone at night had deadly force at their disposal, even the most criminal man would think twice about accosting a woman.

We may be the weaker sex, but we too can be dangerous.

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24 comments

  1. I have a solution for the author: move a few miles south, get a handgun, and learn how to use it well. Washington state will issue a concealed pistol license to any adult without a history of felony conviction or mental illness.

    The author’s problem is not being attacked, but the fear this might happen. Carrying a gun and knowing how and when to use it will mitigate this fear.

  2. “men are stronger and, when they are predatory, women are more vulnerable. Nature made the sexes this way. ”
    It’s not nature. It’s sexual selection, by women. Women want strong men. As Darwin described, the female chooses the male to mate with. She’ll often choose the biggest male. In the human race, women choose men who are taller than them, and always have. Hence men are generally stronger than women, because that’s what women want.

  3. whilst it is more “empower women” than “#killallmen” it is still written with a healthy dose of ideological victimhood and ever-present first tenant of feminism; “men are the cause”. As several commentators have pointed out, women are significantly less likely to be assaulted than men, and we live in the safest era our species has ever enjoyed, yet to listen to even the most moderate feminist tell of the trials of being a modern woman you’d think you were listening to a Mad Max script rehearsal.

    I understand fear is not necessarily a rational emotion, however the manner in which MSM and various agenda driven interested parties feed fear is a significant factor in the way women and the latest generation entering young adulthood (over) react to perceived threats, particularly the threat from men, most of which are vanishingly likely to occur (the author even admits this herself). I am genuinely sad that an entire gender has been spoon-fed a narrative demanding they be compliant victims (and so must seek the protection of the sisterhood) whilst the other entire gender play the role of barbarian at the gates.

    I most certainly do not want to live in any ideologies idea of a utopia, least of all a feminist one where men are the avowed enemy and the movement as a whole has now assumed cult-like behavioural patterns, led by a good many noxious and damaged ideologues.

  4. whilst it is more “empower women” than “#killallmen” it is still written with a healthy dose of ideological victimhood and ever-present first tenant of feminism; “men are the cause”. As several commentators have pointed out, women are significantly less likely to be assaulted than men, and we live in the safest era our species has ever enjoyed, yet to listen to even the most moderate feminist tell of the trials of being a modern woman you’d think you were listening to a Mad Max script rehearsal.

    I understand fear is not necessarily a rational emotion, however the manner in which MSM and various agenda driven interested parties feed fear is a significant factor in the way women (over) react to perceived threats, particularly the threat from men, most of which are vanishingly likely to occur (the author even admits this herself). I am genuinely sad that an entire gender has been spoon-fed a narrative demanding they be compliant victims (and so must seek the protection of the sisterhood) whilst the other entire gender play the role of barbarian at the gates.

    I most certainly do not want to live in any ideologies utopia, least of all a feminist one where the movement as a whole has now assumed cult-like behavioural patterns and is led by a good many noxious and damaged ideologues.

  5. Thank you, Rebecca, for a well-articulated understanding that the world is such that it requires one to be dangerous when needed.

    For those who haven’t seen it, Sam Harris makes a similar ethical claim for self-defense that I find compelling in his essay, “The Riddle of the Gun.”

  6. I do love the idea of women’s empowerment that comes from learning to take care of themselves, rather than depending on men or pretending feminists will deliver a utopian paradise where men won’t ever victimize them. Many men do weight training, learn martial arts, or carry weapons. It seems sexist to assume women can’t do the same. We simply need to apply the same logic as every other crime. We lock our doors, avoid risks, install alarms in our homes, etc. That’s just the reality of living in an imperfect world.

    But, damn, the tone of this essay. So much fear and trepidation. Whenever I see feminists write like this, I wonder if they think they’re living in Syria. Most parts of the developed world are incredibly safe. Read the book The Better Angels of Our Nature and you’ll be astonished by how incredibly safe we are. We are safer than ever before in history, especially in the last couple decades when feminist fears of assault have been at a fever pitch. I know some women really are constantly terrified, but not all fears are rational.

    I pointed this out to a feminist once, and they accused me of male privilege. They said I’m blinded to all the violence against women because I’m a man and don’t have to experience it. They told me to ask women, and I’ll see. So I did. I emailed every woman I know and asked them. All of them said they are rarely afraid. They take mostly the same precautions as me, though they’re slightly more risk-averse, which is in line with well-documented gender differences.

    Other comments have already pointed out that men are far more often the victims of assault than women. Of course, women are weaker than men on average, so they’re less able to defend themselves, but a lot of men are pretty weak. I’m a very weak man, and I know if I was attacked I’d have my ass readily kicked. I’m not much more capable of defending myself than women, but I’m not going to walk around terrified all the time. I take precautions, I avoid risky situations, and then I live my life.

    It’s also worth pointing out that women that are victimized are most likely to be assaulted by someone they know. So, statistically speaking, they’re safer walking home alone at night than they are when they get there.

    1. “Of course, women are weaker than men on average, so they’re less able to defend themselves, but a lot of men are pretty weak”

      That is not true. The overlap between strength levels is astounding if you start analyzing it. You could probably make a better argument that the ability to inflict damage is not simply a factor of strength — but basic kinetics of mass and speed are still primary influence. Grip strength is a very straightforward example — approximately 90% of men are stronger than 90% of women. The average man easily outguns the average woman, but more crucially, even a man in the bottom decile could overpower any women but the top decile(s). Of course this is just on grip, but it generalizes. Attackers need only pick off only the most obviously inappropriate targets.

  7. Predators have the nasty habit to strike when there is no help around.
    So I’d say everyone needs to (try to) be able to become dangerous.
    With regard to this, mindset and how you look at violence is key.

    “We as a society have stigmatized looking at the tool of violence. And unfortunately that has left it only with the predators.”

    https://youtu.be/HROsqfsJkx8

  8. I don’t think she said any thing about men not being victims. She is writing about personal experience. However,I believe all of the same principles apply to men,

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  9. Good post! I would also say martial arts/self defense training is an excellent option for women (my wife being a martial arts instructor). With the right skills a woman can succesfully defend herself – and be dangerous to – a much larger and stronger male attacker.

  10. I am always stunned when I read essays like this bemoaning how vulnerable and unsafe women feel when they are for example walknig alone at night. It is a outrageously sexist approach which never thinks it worth asking what it is like as a man walking alone at night.

    The facts are that a man is far more likely to be attacked, injured or killed than a woman and strangers are far less likely to intervene and help a man. When I walk alone at night I am both nervous if I believe I am being followed or walk past a large group of strangers but also very conscious I might scare women so eek to avoid following or approaching them. We don’t live in a utopia and we need to make sensible decisions to reduce risks but the idea that women are uniquely disadvanatged in this way is contra-factual. What is true is that men and boys are encouraged to face fear and manage risk whereas women and girls are encouraged to consider themselves as passive victims incapable of resistance and any advice on managing risk as misogyny.

    The claim that self defence in the UK is considered bad is total nonsense. The law is that reasonable force is legal in self defence. I can’t imagine it could sensibly be anything else. The attitude of almost everyone within society is that sensible self defence is to be admired.

    1. She was talking about Canada not the UK, and if you read the article she wasn’t bemoaning the plight of women, she was speaking about empowering herself .

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  11. In Chicago last week a man approached a woman alone at a bus stop at night and pulled a gun. During a struggle she pulled her own gun and shot him dead. Both black by the way. The conceit in Canada and the UK that self-defense is bad is insane. How is it justice to be made helpless?

  12. Rebecca, I fully understand and support you. Crime is a part of a human’s nature and criminals are mainly men.
    But not all of them.
    Protect the women is our second basic instinct, trust me – life of rapist in prison is dangerous and very short sometimes. In prison we are less afraid of the law and follow the nature.
    That’s why I’m for your right to self-defense. Firearms included, because I’m a male supremacist – women are weaker, let the man Sam Colt make you equal.

    1. Because what usually happens in that kind of situation is that the criminal, who is already primed and ready for violence, shoots first the instant he sees another gun. Same with cops. So instead of a robbery or a rape, we now have a murder as well as a criminal who now has a ‘nothing to loose’ mentality in his next crime. We also have innocent men being shot on sight by overly twitchy women who suspect the worst (but that doesn’t make the news). Eventually we have Chicago where no one is safe.

      Yup, I support the notion of self-defense too, but things often don’t work out the way we like to imagine that they should.

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      1. In case someone is robbed at gunpoint, not even the fastest person in the world will be fast enough to
        – pull their gun
        – Pulling back the slide, hammer, bolt, charging handle, etc. of a firearm to chamber a cartridge
        – take off the safety switch

        In case of sexual violence where the predator is relying on body weight/strength for control, there is stuff like this:
        https://youtu.be/EDGvbVHuy3c?t=10

        1. People have been taking martial arts training forever, but I think in real world situations people, especially women, find they are not Bruce Lee after all.

        2. Yup. Victimography always privileges some victims above other victims. The way the Identitarians frame things, one would think that if I get mugged by another male, it is as if I mugged myself. If I get mugged by a black male, that’s only because I made him do it — he being a victim of my racism and oppression after all, how could he do anything else?

  13. I didn’t know that Canada doesn’t allow pepper spray, that’s a shame. Pepper spray is not lethal, and doesn’t even cause lasting harm. When combined with the mental fortitude to react to assault with all the violence possible, even a slight woman can protect herself. Firearms are a lot more trouble than they are worth. If I felt it necessary to carry concealed I’d move to a safer place. We should all advocate for safe streets for all, night and day.

    1. Not to mention half of all men are below average, for males, in terms of physical strength and ability to defend oneself. Most attackers aren’t men drawn from the lower have of the hierarchy of physical dominance. So why is always cast as an issue facing women? A huge portion of the population of males are subject to the same risk of being victimized, we clench our keys, walk quickly, and fear strangers at night.

      And as you pointed out, men are overwhelmingly more likely to be the victims of violent crimes than are women. So maybe this is a people issue, not a women’s issue, and all the bluster about feminism can be parked while we address the problem.

      1. Well I have like all of my male peer group been the victim of violent assault none reported to the police and the idea that physical strength and the ability to defend yourself makes a difference is crazy. The best odds I have encountered was two to one and that was when I was by myself and struck without warning in the back of the head. OK I did try to fight back, but when you are already on the ground it is not easy and had no real effect. When I have anticipated an attack it has been two against a crowd in this case i think I did some signifcant damage to the one attacker but it was not really self defence in that I knew from the start that I would lose and receive a kicking.

        No problem with trying to protect women but this idea that women are the main victims of violence is completely against the statistics in every western country. In th eUK we have a violence against women and girsl policy from the givernment when the group most exposed to violence is young boys most commonly by their mother and the least likely group to suffer violence is women and girls.The safest person statistcially to look after a young child is the biological father. All government policy with respect to violence and child abuse supposedly priority areas runs directly contray to the evidence it is infuriating.

        1. It is a very similar picture in Australia, however I think (hope) that the level of ideological crazy being pushed by the vocal minority has reached the point where “normal” people have woken up to it and are now more frequently saying “hang on, that could have been my son/father/brother that was just falsely accused, suffered trial by social media, and had his life ruined by the Justice system, this just doesn’t feel right”. The activists and SJW’s have entrenched themselves well in higher education and government however, it will be a difficult battle to return the West to something resembling a true and just culture where facts are held in higher regard than feelings.

          1. @Ryan

            “it will be a difficult battle to return the West to something resembling a true and just culture where facts are held in higher regard than feelings”

            Time to get past the ideological quibblings. We know what these people are trying to do, and we also know that there is no longer any point in trying to discuss it with them. May as well discuss the merits and demerits of antisemitism with Himmler.

            War.

            They are now entrenched, so it’s going to be bloody, but the fundamentals of civilization, tho cracked, have not yet crumbled completely, so there is time. But we dare not loiter.

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