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EDITORIAL: Women face unfair pressure to be 'girlbosses' when facing sexual violence

While women prove to be brave in a threatening world, we cannot let them carry this burden alone

Mila Kunis' character in Netflix film Luckiest Girl Alive and disturbing current events demonstrate how society should not place unrealistic expectations on survivors to be strong. – Photo by @netflix / Twitter

Content warning: sexual assault 

The phenomenon of the "girlboss" has been advertised in many different forms, from "woman CEO" to working moms. Girlboss rhetoric has already been criticized as ironically sexist, and it has not only affected the workplace but also extended to conversations about sexual violence targeting women. 

Just last week, a video of 24-year-old Nashali Alma fending off an attacker in her apartment gym went viral. NBC News had Patrick Lockton, a Krav Maga instructor specializing in self-defense, weigh in on the physical assault. He says, "she fought back, and most importantly, she didn't freeze. She didn't fall into that trap."

Alma's bravery, both during the attack and in coming forward, is undeniable. But it is extremely upsetting that she had to defend herself in the first place. It is also disturbing that we have to praise women for fighting for their lives when they should never be put in that position to begin with.

It is important that people view these terrifying moments as they are: traumatic experiences of survival. Society needs to be wary of labeling these attacks as light-hearted, "you go girl" moments because it diminishes their seriousness.

Women's safety has already become a market of its own as companies design self-defense products in an excessively feminine way. For example, a pink bedazzled stun gun is available to purchase from the online shop "Defense Divas," which is a glaring example of how women's trauma is turned into a "#girlboss" moment.

While these products are undoubtedly important to provide for women, somehow adding hot pink gems and associating self-defense with being a "diva" seems to ironically make light of a dark reality.

It can be argued that companies are trying to make the most out of an inevitable threat, but it is important to critically reflect on why people think it is okay to attack women in the first place instead of putting unfair pressure on women to act strong during these incidents. For example, last week Sen. John Kennedy (R-L.A.) said women in Generation Z are "very fragile" and live within a "culture of victimhood."

The issue is not women being "fragile."

The issue is the world around them fails to protect them and makes them feel unsafe. But people do not want to change the world, so the burden is put on women to fend for themselves. One could go further to argue that this issue will always exist, but it is important to be aware of one's rhetoric when talking about it.

It is troubling how we have become desensitized to a scary-yet-normalized reality of countless crime alerts reporting cases of sexual violence and reminding students to avoid traveling alone and always stay alert to their surroundings.

In light of a troubling study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, The Daily Targum ran an editorial on the importance of improving safety measures on college campuses for women. It is vital that we try to change the environment that endangers women through education and literature that address misogyny and the importance of consent.

Additionally, education needs to focus on the language people use and the beliefs they have in order to avoid perpetuating the already prominent issue of victim blaming.

People forget that "freezing" is not just an instinctual reaction to sexual violence but the more common one as opposed to fighting the attacker or running away. Victims should not be blamed nor criticized for freezing, and society should not have unrealistic expectations of them to be able to defend themselves in the face of grave danger.

People need to stop asking women why they did not fight back or why they did not yell for help. Regarding Alma's attack, an Instagram post from Impact highlighted comments on social media that questioned why she opened the door in the first place and demanded that women "stop being nice."

On the same post, one comment with 24,565 likes says, "'An inspiration to women' — I don't want another inspiration, I want men to stop attacking us for no reason. I really hope she's okay."

Another one read, "It's incredible she managed to fight him off, but let's never put the expectation on someone who is attacked to rescue themselves or face blame. Direct it at the attacker."

These sentiments emphasize that there should not be this expectation for women to girlboss their way out of trauma and that it is entirely valid to acknowledge how threatening and terrifying the world can be.

For example, in the Netflix film, "Luckiest Girl Alive," protagonist Ani Fanelli expresses how she felt pressure to build up a persona of a successful person before feeling comfortable enough to tell the public about her disturbing story of being raped as a teenager. 

At one point in the film, she says, "I am this close to becoming Ani Harrison, senior editor at the New York Times Magazine, to becoming someone people can respect." This shows how women are pressured to construct an image of themselves as a girlboss in fear of being seen as a helpless victim who society will blame for their assault.

It is also important to note that it is difficult for the entertainment industry to accurately and properly discuss topics like sexual violence. For example, "Luckiest Girl Alive" received significant backlash for its lack of appropriate content warnings as it portrays violent scenes of sexual assault and rape.

While the intention behind these kinds of films can be to uplift and empower women, graphic scenes can not only be triggering but can also be invalidating for survivors when they are unable to capture the full nuance of the issue.

The media and broader societal culture need to do more for women instead of just expecting them to defend themselves. We need to make a commitment to education that will unpack the problematic psychological behavior behind attacks that must be held accountable.

By unfairly expecting women to girlboss their way out of trauma again and again, it puts an undue burden on them when they should not carry this pain alone. And this does not make them fragile. We should not make light of the violence they endure.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 155th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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