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Real Knockouts: The Physical Feminism of Women's Self-Defense

Martha McCaughey
Copyright Date: 1997
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Real Knockouts
    Book Description:

    An examination of women's self-defense culture and its relationship to feminism. I was once a frightened feminist. So begins Martha McCaughey's odyssey into the dynamic world of women's self- defense, a culture which transforms women involved with it and which has equally profound implications for feminist theory and activism. Unprecedented numbers of American women are learning how to knock out, maim, even kill men who assault them. Sales of mace and pepper spray have skyrocketed. Some 14 million women own handguns. From behind the scenes at gun ranges, martial arts dojos, fitness centers offering Cardio Combat, and in padded attacker courses like Model Mugging, Real Knockouts demonstrates how self-defense trains women out of the femininity that makes them easy targets for men's abuse. And yet much feminist thought, like the broader American culture, seems deeply ambivalent about women's embrace of violence, even in self-defense. Investigating the connection between feminist theory and women physically fighting back, McCaughey found self-defense culture to embody, literally, a new brand of feminism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6318-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  5. Introduction: The Challenge of the Self-Defense Movement
    (pp. 1-18)

    I was once a frightened feminist. I knew much about male violence and little about stopping it. When my odyssey into self-defense culture began, I was neither fan nor critic, but simply a feminist with strong opinions and a lack of confidence in speaking out. When I lectured on sexual violence at the university where I worked, I found myself intimidated by the hostile men who would inevitably approach me afterward. Furthermore, I had recently begun living alone in a first-floor apartment, and had been reading and lecturing on interviews with convicted rapists (see Scully 1990). The stories these men...

  6. 1 Balls versus Ovaries: Women’s “Virtue” in Historical Perspective
    (pp. 19-58)

    “Sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what girls are made of. Frogs and snails and puppy dog tails, that’s what boys are made of.” Institutionalized versions of this nursery rhyme abound. And while such ideas declare males and females to be innately different, a rigid enforcement of these supposedly natural differences takes place at all levels of society. In his hugely popularBaby and Child Care, Dr. Spock, along with many other post-World War II parenting specialists, explicitly instructed parents to encourage boys to be aggressive, cautioning against turning them into “sissies” (Spock 1945). The same expert told parents...

  7. 2 Getting Mean: On the Scene in Self-Defense Classes
    (pp. 59-88)

    Self-defense courses make visible women’s embodiment of feminine helplessness and its undoing; thus, they are important sites for studying the renegotiation of femininity and aggression. This chapter describes the self-defense courses that I experienced as a student and observer. Self-defense courses range from brief, inexpensive (sometimes free) classes offered through martial arts dojos or rape crisis centers to expensive twenty-five hour courses and martial arts rank or degree programs. Self-defense classes fall within four broad categories: padded attacker courses; firearms courses; martial arts or martial-arts oriented self-defense courses; and fitness-oriented courses. Most of the self-defense courses are for women only,...

  8. 3 The Fighting Spirit: Self-Defense As Counterdiscourse
    (pp. 89-136)

    As the last chapter showed, women learn to shoot and fight in a highly charged sensorial atmosphere of supportive women, sweat, bullets, swear words, and fantasized and enacted fighting success. This often pleasurable process engages women mentally, emotionally, and physically. That’s how it effectively encourages a new bodily comportment. By requiring women to act in unfeminine ways, self-defense instruction makes possible the identification of not only some of the mechanisms that create and sustain gender inequality but also a means to subvert them. Self-defense is a counterdiscourse: It represents woman, man, and aggression in new ways that oppose those we...

  9. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  10. 4 Changing Our Minds about Our Bodies: What Can Feminism Learn from Self-Defense?
    (pp. 137-176)

    Women’s experiences in self-defense courses show that bodies are inscribed in particular ways that perpetuate gender inequality. The new “mean” bodies that self-defensers develop reveal that reinscription is possible. Grosz (1994, xiii) insists that bodies can be “lived and represented in quite different terms, terms that may grant women the capacity for independence and autonomy, which thus far have been attributed only to men.” Changing the body incorporates and projects new knowledge about women and a new sense of self. Social identity cannot be distinguished from the lived body; the lived body is how self-identity is actualized.

    If one’s self-image...

  11. 5 Physical Feminism: Implications for Feminist Activism
    (pp. 177-211)

    Chapter 3 showed how the combative bodily practices of self-defense disrupt the embodied ethos of rape culture. Chapter 4 suggested that self-defense prompts feminists to reconceptualize women’s violent resistance to rape and battery, and the place of the body in feminist theory. This chapter considers in turn how women’s self-defense impacts rape culture, rape education and prevention, self-defense law, and feminist politics and theory more generally.

    Because the accomplishment and normalization of rape depend on a fantasy of both male invulnerability and female helplessness, embracing women’s capacity for violent resistance might have a deterrent effect on male violence. Because rape...

  12. Appendix: Conceiving the Kick of Self-Defense: Methods of Investigation
    (pp. 212-232)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 233-240)
  14. References
    (pp. 241-256)
  15. Index
    (pp. 257-269)
  16. About the Author
    (pp. 270-270)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 271-271)