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“That’s some training to give to girls.” The criminalization of female self defense

Posted in Editorials on May 9th, 2014

If you asked people to sum up Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth, you’d get responses like “It’s about a Jewish guy who is neurotic about sex.” But people tend to look over the fact that the book ends with (Spoilers!) a “funny rape scene.” Portnoy is smitten with an Israeli soldier who is not interested in him, so he tries to force himself on her.

And when she tried to leave I blocked the door. I pleaded with her not go out and lie down on a clammy beach somewhere, when there was this big comfortable Hilton bed for the two of us to share. I’m not trying to turn you into a bourgeois, Naomi. If the bed is too luxurious, we can do it on the floor.

Sexual intercourse? she replied. With you?

Yes! With me! Fresh from my inherently unjust system! Me, the accomplice! Yes! Imperfect Portnoy!

Mr. Portnoy, excuse me, but between your silly jokes, if that is even what they are-

Here a little struggle took place as I rushed her at the side of the bed. I reached for a breast, and with a sharp upward snap of the skull, she butted me on the underside of the jaw.

Where the hell did you learn that, I cried out, in the Army?


I collapsed into my chair. That’s some training to give to girls.

That’s some training to give to girls. I mean, who in their right mind would ever teach a girl to fight back? How dare they? The military should put the interests of men’s desire to assault women unharmed ahead of national security. Obvs.

But Portnoy’s Complaint is, or at least is supposed to be, satire. No one really thinks that a woman who knows how to physically defend herself is a bad thing, right?

In May of 2012, I wrote about the NYPD’s repulsive crowd control tactic of grabbing women protesters by their breasts. The tactic was thought to both humiliate women, and enrage men, provoking them to violence and creating more arrestable offenses. One of those women, Cecily McMillan now faces up to seven years in prison for elbowing a police officer in the face after her grabbed her by the breast from behind. She had no way of knowing he was a police officer in the moment, and caused no permanent harm to the officer.

This week, I have heard the story of a transgender teenage girl who is in prison because the state of Connecticut cannot find a home for her. Jane Doe has a history of being sexually abused by people who were supposed to care for her. She was removed from a state institution after striking a guard who grabbed her from behind. The guard claims to have only wanted a bear hug, but the girl said she had no way of knowing it was not a sexual assault.

That’s some training to give to girls, indeed.

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