This began life as a rant, but I realized that rants, while emotionally gratifying, are rarely productive. This is my attempt to create something more productive. Hopefully, it works.
An uncontrolled fire is one of the most dangerous things on the planet. For a large chunk of human history, uncontrolled fire equaled disaster. An entire city could be wiped out because someone misplaced a torch or dropped a lantern. It's therefore not surprising that many cultures devote a great deal of time and effort to stopping uncontrolled fires from happening.
In modern America, we've done a pretty good job of this. Certainly, uncontrolled fires still happen, but we have a lot of systems in place to deal with them. Gavin DeBecker noted that school children still do lots of fire drills, despite the fact that very few people are actually harmed in school fires (it's buried in this article).
I'm doing some hypothesizing here, so if there are individuals who know more about fire safety than I do, feel free to correct me.
The way I see it, there are three ways a fire can start: an "act of G-d", human error, or human malice.
Act of G-d
Sometimes, fires start because physics is not on your side that day. An errant lightening strike, a faulty wiring system (that might be human error, but it's so distant from the event that it's functionally out of the control of someone directly affected by it), or some other event that happens from circumstances totally outside of anyone's control.
Sometimes, fires start because people do things they shouldn't. Children play with matches. A stove gets left on, or a towel is placed to close to a burner. A campfire isn't properly placed.
Sometimes, people deliberately start fires, because they are not nice people.
Now, as a society, we've gotten pretty good about dealing with fire. Not perfect (fires still happen), but good. Mostly because we approach the problem on two fronts: education and fire extinguishers.
From a young age, we teach our children about the dangers of fire. My two-year old son has at least one book that explicitly warns him that the flames on the stove will burn, and we make a point of telling that trying to play with the Shabbat candles is not okay. We'll teach him more as he gets older, and he will learn more in school. Honestly, this stuff gets taught so early that I'm not sure I remember learning it...it feels like embedded knowledge. Smokey the bear is still out there giving warnings about forest fires, and every camp counselor I had made a point of making sure that we understood how fires were (and were not) to be placed.
I don't honestly know (or remember) if during this process, children are explicitly told that deliberately starting a fire to try and hurt people is called Arson, and that's bad, but it's a lesson we all clearly learn at some point. Certainly, by the time most children reach middle school, they'll understand that deliberately lighting fires that might hurt or kill people is morally wrong.
Fire Extinguishers and Other Tools
Of course, as a society, we also recognize that sometimes, despite our best efforts, fires happen. Maybe it's an "Act of G-d" that causes our stove to go up in flames. Maybe we have the misfortune of being in a building when someone with evil intentions decides to light it on fire. Whatever the cause, we recognize that sometimes the only thing we can do is either try to get away from the fire, or stop it.
So we do fire drills. We teach people how to get out of burning buildings (relatively) safely, and we make sure that they practice it. We install smoke detectors to give us early warning of a fire, and we keep fire extinguishers in our kitchens, because sometimes, you need to try to fight the fire right away.
And we have highly specialized professionals whose job it is to go tackle the big fires that most of us can't handle.
What the Hell Does This Have To Do With My Blog?
You may be asking "Jake, this is all fascinating, but you are a martial arts coach, not a fire-fighter. What the hell are you rambling on about?"
I started thinking about this (possibly tortured, possibly accurate) analogy after the recent Internet kerfuffle over the recently crowned Miss USA's comments about rape on college campuses. The short version is that she suggested (among other things) that women should be taught how to defend themselves. A number of her critics suggested that her thinking was wrong or backwards, and that instead, efforts should be focused on "teaching men not to rape". Of course, a number of people in the self-defense community were variously appalled and perplexed at the idea that teaching women to defend themselves was a bad thing.
Here's the thing. A lot of people in this conversation seem to be coming at this as though the solution to the problem of rape is entirely binary. Either we educate men better, or we teach women to defend themselves.
Why not both?
Coach Blauer often draws a comparison between learning self-defense and learning to use a fire extinguisher. No one buys a fire extinguisher hoping to use it, nor do we give people fire extinguishers and then tell them that they are all set. But we teach people to use fire extinguishers because we, as a society, understand that sometimes all of our precautions don't work, and fires start anyway.
Why are we approaching rape (or any other act of interpersonal violence) differently? Why do we assume that the solution must either be a)educate men better or b) teach self-defense. Why don't we approach the problem the way we approach the problem of fire?
Should we do a better job of educating our young men about how to conduct themselves? Yes.
Should we take a serious look at the messages our culture gives to young men about women? Yes.
But we should also recognize that sometimes, despite our best efforts, the message isn't going to go through. That sometimes, despite our best efforts, there will be men who still decide to rape. And we should be giving women the tools to deal with that.
It doesn't have to be an either/or equation.