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Bitch: A Feminist Response to Pop Culture - - THE FACTS ISSUE - Re­view by Britni de la Cre­taz illustration by Loveis Wise { NYU Press }

Her Own Hero, Vi­bra­tor Nation, Ink in Water, Mean, and more.

In Her Own Hero: The Ori­gins of the Women’s Self-de­fense Move­ment, Wendy L. Rouse ex­am­ines the self-de­fense move­ment through an in­ter­sec­tional fem­i­nist lens. “Women’s self-de­fense fig­u­ra­tively and lit­er­ally dis­rupted the ex­ist­ing power struc­ture,” she writes, but white mid­dle­and up­per-class women of­ten used self-de­fense train­ing to re­in­force ex­ist­ing hi­er­ar­chies. Learn­ing self-de­fense en­abled white women to work out­side the home be­cause it “shat­ter[ed] pre­con­cep­tions about fem­i­nine fragility,” but it also al­lowed those same women to teach work­ing-class and im­mi­grant women the tac­tics in a white sav­ior–es­que fash­ion. Rouse’s class anal­y­sis of women’s self-de­fense is one of the book’s strong­est as­pects for this rea­son.

Rouse ex­plores box­ing, ju­jitsu, street ha­rass­ment, the suf­frage move­ment, and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence to pro­vide his­tor­i­cal con­text to the 20th-cen­tury women’s move­ment. She ar­gues that the women’s self-de­fense move­ment largely rose out of “racial­ized and gen­dered con­cerns about the fu­ture of the An­glo race and in­deed the fu­ture of the nation.” For in­stance, Amer­i­cans showed an in­creas­ing in­ter­est in learn­ing ju­jitsu around the time of World War II, when hys­te­ria about Ja­pan as a world power and fear of “yel­low peril” was ris­ing. Ju­jitsu chal­lenged pre­con­ceived ideas about the dom­i­nance of Western mar­tial arts, such as box­ing and wrestling, so it was ex­oti­cized and ap­pro­pri­ated to re­assert Amer­i­can im­pe­ri­al­ism.

In the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal mo­ment, sim­i­lar con­cerns are man­i­fest­ing with the rise of the alt-right and white na­tion­al­ist move­ments. Her Own Hero comes out as Amer­i­cans are show­ing re­newed in­ter­est in learn­ing the art of self-de­fense. Marginal­ized folks have signed up for classes in droves fol­low­ing the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump, mir­ror­ing the his­tor­i­cal pur­pose of self-de­fense as a means of em­pow­er­ment and pro­tec­tion for op­pressed peo­ple. The par­al­lels to the cur­rent day may be more

co­in­ci­den­tal than pur­pose­ful, but it makes for a com­pelling read.

Rouse also of­fers an in-depth anal­y­sis of street ha­rass­ment and the news cov­er­age it re­ceived in the early 20th cen­tury. The au­thor of­ten uses the term “cul­tural anx­i­ety” to de­scribe how white peo­ple deal with iden­ti­tyre­lated shifts, and that was very present in the con­ver­sa­tions around street ha­rass­ment. Vic­tims of street ha­rass­ment, Rouse writes, were al­most al­ways de­picted as in­no­cent white women who “risked sexual vi­o­la­tion and moral ruin by an im­mi­grant threat.” Sim­i­larly, in 2014, anti–street ha­rass­ment or­ga­ni­za­tion Hol­laback! re­leased a video that was widely crit­i­cized for de­pict­ing white women as vic­tims of street ha­rass­ment from pri­mar­ily Black and Latino men.

Dur­ing the 20th cen­tury, na­tivists used street ha­rass­ment to paint im­mi­grants as in­her­ently crim­i­nal and dan­ger­ous to white Amer­i­cans. Th­ese days, Trump call­ing Mex­i­cans rapists and ad­vo­cat­ing for the cre­ation of an of­fice to in­ves­ti­gate crimes com­mit­ted by un­doc­u­mented peo­ple demon­strates that we have not made much progress as a so­ci­ety. When­ever white peo­ple feel their power is threat­ened, we see that “cul­tural anx­i­ety” re­flected in a resur­gence of white su­prem­a­cist ideals.

Rouse also an­a­lyzes the dif­fer­ences in the ways the press re­ports on street ha­rass­ment against white women ver­sus Black women. Black women were rarely men­tioned in news­pa­pers as vic­tims of ha­rass­ment, though they were sub­jected to it. This is a trend that con­tin­ues with Black women, par­tic­u­larly Black trans women, who are of­ten left out of main­stream re­port­ing on street ha­rass­ment even though they are most likely to be vic­tims of vi­o­lence. When Mary Spears and Is­lan Net­tles were killed by their ha­rassers, main­stream me­dia re­mained silent.

Anal­y­sis of the in­ter­sec­tion of queer­ness and self-de­fense is largely missing from the book. A men­tion of the ne­ces­sity for self-de­fense for lgbtq and gen­der­non­con­form­ing peo­ple would have pro­vided an­other lens, given that “cor­rec­tive rape” and other mea­sures have forced lgbtq peo­ple to de­velop tac­tics to pro­tect them­selves.

As Rouse pro­claims, “[W]omen’s self­de­fense train­ing dis­rupted ex­ist­ing gen­der stereo­types and coun­tered the myth that men were women’s nat­u­ral pro­tec­tors.” Ul­ti­mately, this move­ment equipped women with the tools to de­fend them­selves and set the stage for free­dom in the pub­lic sphere, in the po­lit­i­cal realm, and in their pri­vate lives.

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