The protection myth: sufficient surrender


One of the fundamental promises of patriarchy is that if women will just surrender themselves to men, men will protect them. There are two problems with this promise. The first is that it rarely gets kept because what men are protecting women from is generally other men, and there’s no screening process to “other” men who harm women (we instead other men who don’t look like us, talk like us, or come from where we do, on the willfully ignorant assumption Men Like Us don’t hurt women). The second is that protection is not particularly a male instinct (as the patriarchy acknowledges, in a mind-boggling display of doublethink, every time it waxes on about the mother who protects her child at all costs, up to and including her own life), so if you want to have a society in which some people protect others, you need to find a way to screen protective individuals from those who aren’t particularly protective (or are even predators) that’s more sophisticated and effective than “has a penis + uses it on women = good guy.”

The incredibly stupid presumptions here are all born of animal laziness: critical thought takes time and effort. Looking at someone’s skin color or gender and making a snap judgment is easy. Societies expend a lot more effort trying to convince themselves and each other that screening criteria like race and gender work as they would expend at learning what constitutes a decent human being and what doesn’t, but the ability to think in the long term and work out real versus apparent benefits is another form of critical thinking.

Some of the hard work societies do to keep alive the myth that men almost always protect women, except for rare anomalies which aren’t society’s fault, include:

Casting any woman harmed by a man as “not sufficiently surrendered” to male protection. Think about the script we go through when a woman claims she was raped by a man, or a woman asks how to prevent herself being raped by a man. We say stay home, don’t go out, don’t drink, don’t dress sexy, be careful who you flirt with, learn karate - we ask the alleged victim if she did these things, and withhold our sympathy until we learn that she was at home, in a locked house, tending her wedlock-born children, when some horrid non-white, non-English speaking man flew through a plateglass window and brutally raped her.

And yet, as Rana on Shakesville points out:

What always gets me about the rape prevention attitude is that, well, if you follow the statistics on rape, the best situation for a woman to be in, in terms of the likelihood of a rape occurring, is to be in a public place by herself. The most dangerous place is to be at home with a man that she knows, and, often, trusts.

That’s the problem with the “rape prevention” argument: it purports to offer a solution to the problem of rape by telling women to do things that do not reduce their statistical risk, to do things that are statistically risky, and then goes on to act as if prevention is entirely in the hands of the victim.

Here’s the grim truth, for all you prevention advocates out there: the only way for a woman to protect herself from rape is to become a paranoid obsessive with lethal skills in hand-to-hand combat, who fears and is suspicious of all men, including those she ought to be able to love and trust, and who never, ever lets down her guard.

Is this really what we want for our daughters, mothers, sisters, et al.? Wouldn’t it be easier to teach our sons, fathers, brothers, et al. to be decent human beings?”

Mm, yes, but not so patriarchal. For the patriarchy to make sense, we must enlist everyone in maintaining the delusion that men protect women - or rather, that Men Like Us protect women who are sufficiently surrendered. When Men Like Us hurt women, we must prove the women weren’t surrendered enough. This is what we’re really accusing mistreated women of when we blame them for their own mistreatment. Their crime is pointing out that patriarchy doesn’t work as advertised. And that’s scary, because admitting it doesn’t work would mean change, and if there’s anything that scares us more than critical thought, it’s change.

Another way society works hard to keep up the myth is its attempt to convince us that men who hurt sufficiently surrendered women are Not Like Us. It’s easy in criminal cases, like rape: you just over-report cases where the suspects are men of color, foreign origin, etc., and under-report the ones where it’s a nice white man who worked at the local bank. Actually, it’s just as easy in non-criminal cases, like accusations of domestic abuse that don’t make it to criminal court: over-report the stats on, say, African-American men mistreating and abandoning their wives and children, and under-report it when white local boys do precisely the same thing. And as always, make a false distinction based on the tools various groups use: Men Like Us, who enjoy the privileged of being considered above suspicion, can harm women (or one woman) on the sly while being amazingly Nice Guys to everyone else. Men who are automatically suspect because of race, class, etc., are less able to be sneaky. By forcing accusations to meet a standard of “can’t possibly be explained as anything but a man purposely hurting a woman”, you eliminate a lot of valid complaints against Men Like Us.

Men Like Us who hurt sufficiently surrendered women are extremely rare anomalies. When there’s no question that a Man Like Us has harmed a surrendered woman - say, a nice white Christian man is caught beating his stay-at-home-mom wife who was a virgin until they married and never drinks - immediately “other” the hell out of him. Take this opportunity to show your solidarity with surrendered women by turning on this single oppressor. Also, this is a great chance to point out how “stunned” and “horrified” you are to think that this could possibly happen to imply how incredibly rare it is - like getting three Royal Flushes in a row, or being in two plane crashes in the same year.

And finally, silence or cast doubt upon studies and personal stories that suggest Men Like Us harm women routinely and not infrequently. There are a ton of estimates as to how many women have been raped, abused, battered and sexually harassed, but precious few estimates of how many men do these things to women. Because as long as we’re talking about the shocking numbers of victims, we can maintain the delusion that it’s just a few very busy men committing all these crimes. But as the above-linked classic post from Alas, A Blog puts it into perspective:

Mary Koss’ much-discussed 1987 study of rape prevalence is famous mostly for its fidning that 1 in 8 college women have been victims of rape at some point in their lives. What’s not as well known is that the same study also surveyed thousands of college men, asking them about if they had ever forced a woman to have sex against her will. About 4.5% reported that they had.

4.5% of the men in the United States is an incredibly high number - that translates into over six million men.

If you take every doctor and nurse in the United States; and you added them to every librarian, every cashier, every cop, every postal clerk, and every bank teller in the whole country; you still wouldn’t have as many people as the number of rapists in the United States.

(Think of that a second - think of how often, in your daily life, you’ve seen cops and cashiers and all those other folks. Odds are, you’ve run into rapists more often than that).

And that 4.5% is only including the guys who admitted they’d forced sex on a woman, or who were aware they forced it.

The reality is: patriarchy might theoretically prevent some abuses against women, but it certainly promotes a lot of others. First of all, there are lots of ways for a woman to get disqualified from patriarchal protection (not all of them through her own actions), and the patriarchy has the privilege of re-drawing the lines between Good Girls and Bad Girls on a case by case basis. Secondly, power corrupts: you can see this in an example as common as when one sibling is put in charge of the others for too long. If you put someone in power over someone else, then unless you make that power contingent upon certain responsibilities and back it up by removing the power every time it’s abused - if you even know of every time, you run a significant risk of creating a situation of abuse. And thirdly, “surrender” requires women to participate in furthering the protection myth, which makes it impossible for anyone to prove to the patriarchy’s satisfaction that men do not protect women.

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February 9, 2008   4 Comments




“decolonizing creativity: FIERY WOMYN, FIERCE EXPRESSIONS”

Greetings! On March 8, 2008, the University of California at Berkeley’s Women of Color Initiative and Graduate Women’s Project will be hosting its 23RD Annual Empowering Women of Color Conference (EWOCC). This year’s theme, “decolonizing creativity: FIERY WOMYN, FIERCE EXPRESSIONS,” explores the theme of creativity by focusing on art as an expression of a woman’s life and identity. We hope to inspire and highlight the work of women of color who share their personal, political and professional voices through the arts. These women continuously put their effort towards building a world in which their work is foregrounded and esteemed.

EWOCC strives to build networks across generations, ethnic and racial groups, sexualities, and socioeconomic levels by providing a forum to explore the past, present, and future of women’s movements, enabling us to collectively recognize generations of conscious, empowered women. The individual and collective capacities of women are often underestimated, but with a space for dialogue, we know that women of color can work together to enrich lives in our community, home, academic, and professional worlds.

The main conference event will take place on Saturday March 8th, beginning at 9:30 AM and running through 5:30 PM, and will include a panel of acclaimed Bay Area activists and leaders in community art and women’s issues, vendors, cultural performances, workshops on a variety of creativity and art-related topics. The keynote speaker will be Climbing PoeTree <>, the tag-team, two-spirited, boundary-breaking artistic duo, Alixa and Naima. Delivering explosive lyrics that leave listeners outraged and inspired, Climbing PoeTree tracks footprints across the country and globe on a mission to overcome destruction with creativity.

In Solidarity,
The 23rd Annual EWOCC Committee

Diana Salas
Assistant Research Scientist
Women of Color Policy Network
Wagner School of Public Service, New York University
295 Lafayette Street, 3rd Floor
New York, New York 10012

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January 30, 2008   No Comments

Tenth Annual Women’s History Month Conference


Tenth Annual Women’s History Month Conference

Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, NY (20 minutes from midtown Manhattan)

Black Power, Black Feminism: Black Women’s Activism and Development of Womanist/Feminist Consciousness in the Era Black Power.

This Conference is FREE and open to the public.

Register at:

Traditionally scholarship on the Black Power era has characterized this time of renewed cultural and political nationalism and activism as an almost exclusively male domain.

This has begun to change. Not only have scholars uncovered a long tradition of black women’s activism before and during the Black Power era, but they have begun reevaluating the entire era as a result. Part and parcel with this period of activism has been the development of a Black feminist consciousness. If scholars have seen the seeds of this consciousness far earlier, the sixties and seventies were notable for organizing that recognized inextricable and complicated ties between categories of race, class, and gender.

This conference seeks to sustain and enhance new scholarship that redefines the era, bringing the work and effort of women to the center.
Friday-Saturday March 7-8, 2008


Preliminary Schedule (subject to change)
Friday March 7, 2008
4:30-8:00pm: Registration in Heimbold Lobby
6:00-8:00pm - Heimbold 202

Opening Plenary
Welcome - Tara James, Associate Director, Graduate Program in Women’s History, Sarah Lawrence College

Keynote Address - Chana Kai Lee, Associate Professor of History and Women’s Studies at the University of Georgia, and author of For Freedom’s Sake: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer
8:00pm-9:00pm: Slonim House Living Room

Opening Reception, sponsored by the Graduate Student Senate
9:00pm-10:30pm: Slonim House Living Room
Poetry Readings, hosted by Maria James, Central Pennsylvania College
Saturday March 8, 2008
8:00-3:00pm: Registration in Heimbold Lobby
8:00-9:00am: Breakfast Reception in Heimbold Lobby
9:00-10:15am: Plenary Session in Heimbold 202

Opening Remarks: Lyde Sizer, Co-Director, Graduate Program in Women’s History, Sarah Lawrence College

Plenary Panel:

Warrior Womyn: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on black Power and Grassroots Feminism
Safiya Bandele - Medgar Evers College CUNY

Sisterhood is Local: Feminist Organizing in Brooklyn, NY from the 1970’s - Present
Mae Jackson - Caring for Change

Aging Political Activists: Where are Our Sisters?
Robyn Spencer - The Pennsylvania State University

In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens: Black Feminist Community Organizing in New York
10:30am-12:30pm: Breakout Session I

Panel: Movement Mamas “Transgressive and Transnational Traditions of Black Female Activism
Brittney Cooper - Emory University

Pauli Murray’s Black Female Braintrust: Towards a Hermeneutic of Elasticity in Black Power/Black Feminism Scholarship
Elizabeth Jones - Georgetown University Law Center

Activist Mothers: Diasporic Models of Female Leadership in the Black Power Movement
Brenda Tindal - Emory University

Beyond “Revolutionary Glamour”: A Critical Essay on Angela Davis as Cause Cèlébre of American Radicalism


Precursors and Legacies
Natanya K. Duncan -University of Florida

Women of the Universal Negro Improvement Association: A Way toward Understanding Black Nationalism in the 1920’s
Juandalynn Jones-Hunt and April Ruffin - University of NC-Greensboro

The ‘F’ Word of Feminist Scholarship: FACADE, What Feminist Theory Taught Us About the Harlem Renaissance
Ageenah A. Saleem -University of Cincinnati

Unsung Woes: A Brief Analysis of Contemporary Feminist Involvement in the Prison Industrial Complex

Black Women’s Body Politics: Health and Sexuality
Evan Hart -University of Cincinnati

“Guerrillas in the Midst”: The National Black Women’s Health Project
Yvonne, V. Wells -Suffolk University

How the Feminism of Michele Wallace Speaks to the Current Disintegration of Sexual Health in African American Women
White, John Gavin -New Jersey City University “What’s Weighing Our Our Black Superwomen Down?”: Exploring the Correspondence Between Deviant Womanhood and Weight


“Separate Yourself and Deal With One Issue At A Time”: The Intersection of Race and Class in Black Women’s Activism
Christy Garrison Harrison - Georgia State University.

“They Were Black Nationalists and They Didn’t Even Know It”: Ella Mae Brayboy; The First Black Deputy Voter Registrar in Atlanta, Georgia and Dorothy Bolden, founder of the National Domestic Worker’s Union
Premilla Nadasen -Queens College

Johnnie Tillmon: Black Visionary for Welfare
Rickie Solinger - Independent Scholar

The First Welfare Case: Challenging the Meaning of Marriage, the Meaning of Money and the Meanings of History after the Voting Rights Movement in Selma, Alabama

Love Sex and Power: The Impact of Religion and the Bible on Black Women’s Sexuality
Presenters: Lakeisha R. Harrison and Rev. Penny Willis - Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
12:30-1:15pm: Lunch Break

1:30-3:00pm: Breakout Session II
Film and Discussion:

“Hey. Shorty!” Film produced by Girls for Gender Equity’s Sisters in Strength program and Malcolm X Grassroots Movement

Mandy Van Deven -Community Organizing Coordinator Girls for Gender Equity, Inc.

Ashley Lewis -Director of film

Joanne Smith -GGE Executive Director

Emily May -Co-founder Hollaback NYC

“Our Prison Is This Whole Society”: The Power of Rhetoric in Black Power Activism
Angela D. Coleman - Sisterhood Agenda

The Black is Beautiful Movement
Christina Greene -University of Wisconsin “Power to the Ice Pick!”: Gender and Black Power Rhetoric in the Joan Little Sexual Assault-Murder Case
Heather Ostman - Westchester Community College

The Rhetoric of Womanhood in Angela Davis: An Autobiography

Roundtable Discussion:

For Assata: The Power of Intergenerational Black Feminist Practice
Ebony Golden -New York University

Nia (Nancy)Wilson -Spirit House

Alexis Pauline Gumbs - Duke University

“Why Can’t We Rightfully Claim Our Place in the World?”: Exploring Black Feminist Activism and Womanism
Rose Afriyie -National Organization for Women

Black Feminist Movement Building
Carol Giardina -Queens College Revolutionary Black Feminism
Sherie Randolph -University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Florynce Kennedy and the Creation of a Black Nationalist Multiracial Feminist Alliance
Jonathon Stone -Northern Kentucky University

The Women of the Black Panther Party
Panel: “I Am So Hip Even My Errors Are Correct!”: Women and the Black Arts Movement
Takiyah Nur Amin - Temple University

A Change is Gonna Come: First Steps in Examining the Contributions of African-American Female Choreographers to the Black Power/Black Arts Movement, 1960-1970
LaShonda Barnett - Sarah Lawrence College

“You Took My Teeth!”: Black Women & Black Power Musical Discourse
Nikki Skies -Performance Artist

Women in BlackArts Movement, Hip Hop & Slam: The Legacy, The Demise, The Repetition
3:15-5:00pm: Breakout Session III


The Few and The Furious: Black Panther Women and the Revolution

Mary Frances Phillips - Michigan State University Black Women’s Language Patterns in the Protest Writings of PantherWomen

Kenya C. Ramey - Temple University” Revolution Has No Gender”: The Women of the Black Panther Party
Brittney Yancy -University of Connecticut

“Sisters! Revolution Is Here!”: Women’s Leadership and The Black Power Movement

“If Justice is to Prevail, There Must be a Struggle”: Black Women’s Resistance and Self Defense
Phyllis Lynne Burns - Otterbein College

“Let’s Worry the Line”: Ending the Service of Black Women
Jacqueline Lynch -Benedict College

Ramona Africa: A Defiant Warrior
Shannen Dee Williams - Rutgers University

“Liberation is Our First Priority”: Black Nuns, Soul Politics, and the Modern African-American Freedom Struggle

“I Cannot Be Comprehended Except By My Permission”: African American Women’s Identitiesin the Era of Black Power
Maria D. Davidson -University of Oklahoma

Black Feminist Subjectivity: A Deleuzian Approach

Nzadi M. Keita -Poet-in-Residence/Visiting Assistant Professor, Ursinus College Ursinus College “Lucille Clifton and Sonia Sanchez: Naming and Renaming the Self
Nicole A. Watson -NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study

Black Art? Black Power?: Adrienne Kennedy’s theater and (re)presentations of African-American Identity
Panel: “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants”: Black Women Activist as Icons
Joseph R. Fitzgerald - Gloucester County College

“Gloria Richardson: Midwife of Black Power”
Evelyn Simien -University of Connecticut Intersections of Race, Class, and Gender in the Life of Fannie Lou Hamer
Claudia Fatimah Smith - Cincinnati Union Bethel Early Childhood Education Department The Life and Times of Queen Mother Moore (1898-1996): Encounters with a Female Icon of the Black Power Movement
Linda Tomlinson -Clark Atlanta University

“The Fight is On”: Juanita Jewel Craft and the Dallas NAACP Youth Council
5:00-5:30pm: Reception, Heimbold Lobby
5:30 - 6:30pm: Closing Plenary
Play Reading:
“Living Sacrifice” Written by Rhone Fraser, WBAI, Co-producer of Tuesday Arts Magazine

Featuring Rhone Fraser and Tonya Edmonds
This documentary play is based on the collected speeches, writings, and interviews of Fannie Lou Hamer, and her autobiography, To Praise Our Bridges, as well as the two biographies, For Freedom’s Sake by Chana Kai Lee and This Little Light of Mine by Kay Mills. It traces in chronological order the scenes that most completely characterize her experience of struggle first as a Mississippi sharecropper and later as civil rights activist.

Brooklyn College is co-sponsoring the women’s history conference this year with Sarah Lawrence College. On March 5 and 6th, Brooklyn College will hold a pre-conference symposium on women in the Black Freedom Struggle. For more information about the symposium, contact Jean Theoharis at JTheoharis. Below is the schedule:

Women in the Black Freedom Struggle Spring Symposium Series

The Brooklyn College Women in the Black Revolt mini-conference-
March 5-6, 2008
(co-sponsored with Sarah Lawrence College’s Black Power/Black Feminism women’s history conference on March 7-8)

Wednesday March 5: 4:30-6:00 Black Power/Black Feminism

Joy James (Williams College)

Sherie Randolph (Hofstra) James Smethhurst (U-Mass,Amherst)

Thursday March 6: 12:15-1:30 Women in the Black Panther Party

Angela LeBlanc-Ernest (independent scholar)

Ericka Huggins (former BPP member)

Robyn Spencer (Lehman)

Thursday March 6: 3:30-4:45 Women and Black Radicalism

Eric McDuffie (University of Illinois-Champagne)

Dayo Gore (U-Mass, Amherst)

Komozi Woodard (Sarah Lawrence College)

Premilla Nadasen (Queens College)
The Graduate Program in Women History thanks the following co-sponsors:

Susan Guma and the Office of Graduate Studies

Mary Spellman and the Office of Student Affairs
The Graduate Student Senate

Tara Elise James
Associate Director
Women’s History Program


Join us for our 10th Annual Women’s History Conference on Friday and Saturday March 7&8,

The theme this year is: Black Power, Black Feminism: Black Women’s Activism and Development of Womanist/Feminist Consciousness in the Eraof Black Power. This conference is free and open to the public.

Register at:

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January 22, 2008   No Comments

Why I banned gender essentialism


A while ago, I wrote that this site would no longer allow gender essentialism and evolutionary biology arguments in comments. People who’d seen these arguments (ab)used again and again to silence people understood why I was doing that. But other people since have had questions, and I want to address that.

First, here’s the thread that caused me to make that rule. In fact, there was so much wrong with the approach used by “no-thing-there” that I also wrote this post about his strategy of attempting to extort personal information in order to put me on an emotional, defensive footing. But I digress. In the original thread, no-thing-there extrapolates from evolutionary biology and his personal experience that women are too nurturing to make kids behave, which is one of the most asinine things I’ve ever heard:

I guess my point is that there is something in my demeanor (i am not a violent or even angry person) that motivates him to respect my wishes and the homework gets done.
Bottom line the (generic) mother says, “no matter what you have done, or not done in this case, i still love you.” I say “get in there and do it or i’ll kick your butt (implied, of course). I love my children and would never and have never resorted to any physical discipline.

This is not a rational discussion of evolutionary biology. This is idiotic. This is someone twisting a science to say what he wants it to say, the same way people interpret the Bible to say “I rock, you suck, you die now”. He could get the same affirmation of his “Man strong, woman weak” philosophy from a phone book.

I don’t know which talk radio jackass these guys are listening to, but there are a lot of them. They go around the net, condescending and bullying and (ab)using evolutionary biology to support their own prejudices. They patiently explain to us how people of certain races or genders are predisposed to criminality or weakness and so on. Well, good lord, almost every hideous act of mass brutality in history was committed by a white Gentile man, so I guess all white men who aren’t Jewish are hard-wired for teh evil and what we ought to do is put them all in detention centers at birth before they start with all the killing and the raping and the brutality, right? Seriously, by their logic, this makes sense. So what good can come of these arguments?

I’m sure on a site about science and evolutionary biology you can have some great discussions. But then I doubt anyone will be arguing that a study of 161 English people proved that women love the color pink. /eyeroll

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January 10, 2008   No Comments

split this rock


Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness

Washington, DC

March 20-23, 2008


Split This Rock Poetry Festival calls poets to a greater role in public life and fosters a national network of activist poets. Building the audience for poetry of provocation and witness from our home in the nation’s capital, we celebrate poetic diversity and the transformative power of the imagination. Featuring readings, workshops, panels, contests, walking tours, film, parties, and activism! See the website for the incredible line-up of poets, including Lucille Clifton, Mark Doty, Martín Espada, Sam Hamill, Galway Kinnell, Naomi Shihab Nye, Sonia Sanchez, and many more. Split This Rock is cosponsored by DC Poets Against the War, Sol & Soul, Busboys and Poets, and the Institute for Policy Studies.

Poetry Contest – January 15 Deadline: The contest benefits Split This Rock Poetry Festival. $1,000 awarded for poems of provocation & witness; Kyle G. Dargan will judge. $500 for 1st, $300 for 2 nd, and $200 for 3rd place. 1st place winner will read the winning poem at the festival. The poem will also be published on the festival website at All winners receive free festival admission. $20 entry fee benefits the festival. Postmark Deadline: January 15, 2008. Guidelines for entry: 

Call for Poetry Films – January 30 Deadline: Seeking artistic, experimental, and challenging interpretations of poetry that explore critical social issues. Films up to 15 minutes. Entry fee: $15. Selected films and videos will be screened during the festival’s film program. For full guidelines and required entry form:

Support Split This Rock, the historic gathering of activist poets: Every dollar you give is tax-deductible through our fiscal sponsor, the Institute for Policy Studies. Just click here: and be sure to designate “Split This Rock” as the project you’d like to support. Or send a check payable to “IPS/Split This Rock” to: IPS, 1112 16 th Street, NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC  20036. Many thanks! Your contribution will make a tremendous difference.

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January 6, 2008   No Comments