Saturday, November 11, 2006

Defense of Self, Part One

I consider myself a fairly bad-ass chick. Six feet tall and a life-long athlete filled with a hearty streak of warrior woman and Leo, I can be physically intimidating when I want to be. I’ve always felt relatively safe.

“I traveled alone in Croatia during the war,” I say cavalierly. One of many self-sufficient accomplishments in a litany of “look how bad-ass I am” facts. But the truth is I’ve never been in a fight. In fact, until recently the only physical scuffle I’d ever been in left me feeling quite ineffectual. About fifteen years ago, feeling faint in the hot crush of a concert in a small club, I tried to push my way out of the front row and was groped by a guy I passed. I turned and hit at his back as best I could. He and his girlfriend laughed at me.

On some level, I long for the opportunity to crush them. Not that I wish for bloodshed. I suppose I just want to feel like the victor for once. But am I so victimized in our society? It’s a hard question to answer. The social norms of being a Western woman are so quiet we don’t even notice most of the time. But ask any woman what it’s like to feel like prey and chances are she’ll be able to tell you a story of being followed down a dark street or stared at on the subway. Sadly, she may tell you a story of an actual assault. One in three women will be assaulted in their lives. We don’t defend our selves because we’re taught that would invite violence and after all the offending male is stronger … because he’s male, right?

My problem isn’t so much with these physiological facts. It’s that everyone’s response is to make it OK.

Longing for a toehold of personal power I enrolled in a self defense course. Impact Personal Safety trains women to repel an attacker who is fully padded so you can and must use your full power. You learn to work past the natural fear/freeze response and function in a fully adrenalized state. I took it because I wanted to actually be as bad-ass as I feel. I wanted to know I could beat the shit out of some guy if I had to. I took it because they claim a woman’s chances of being assaulted drop to one in twenty after the class.

During the class fueled by nerves, fear, and years of rage I craved my turn in the fight line. The sensation of physical power. The knowledge that it was, in here at least, OK to unleash anger, to even feel hate for these men. And after one session I felt exhilarated. Focusing all those past frustrations on our mock muggers, I thrilled to the adrenaline sensation of finally fighting back; pounding a guy into submission, mock though it may be.

And even as I did, I was surprised to note how much apologizing we all did for a mislanded or over-hard blow. So ingrained in us is the submissive woman. So hard is it to grapple with the idea of ourselves as women asserting ourselves and maybe even hurting someone. We are trained to accommodate and care-take. Not injure and stand our ground. It is totally normal for women to apologize for hurting someone who is hurting them. Are you not wigged out yet?

As I drove home from class that first day, I felt like a noodle. But a powerful noodle. I understood the basic 1 in 20 statistic now: a woman who carries herself with confidence makes a much less appealing target. I know how much force I can pack in a punch or kick now. I know that the boundaries I choose to set for myself are valid because I choose them. And then a surprising thing happened. Instead of behaving like a puffed-up bad-ass, I found myself full of peace as I drove. I let other drivers in, I smiled at people. I felt relaxed and powerful. And instead of craving some kind of test that could serve as retribution for all those past starers and gropers. I found myself hoping I would never have to prove myself.

Now, having completed the Basics course, I feel more peaceful and powerful than ever. That rage I used to feel has ebbed into determination. My producing partner took the course with me and we’ve incorporated a significant amount of the IMPACT training in the girl power film we’re producing. Anything to get the message out there to the young women of the world: your lives are worth fighting for. Ladies, if that statement strikes a doubtful note in you, get your ass in this class.



Blogger Brett said...

"Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will."
--M. Gandhi

A lot of what you are discussing here seems less gender specific than what you intend. Women get attacked by bastards trying to assert physical dominance over their perceived inferiors, but then, so do men.

Strength is good, and strength does mean the same thing as "arrogance" or "aggressiveness." One can be—should be—strong without feeling the constant need to demonstrate and prove this strength at every possible opportunity. The greatest strength never requires demonstration.

And, BTW, I don't think there's anything wrong with feeling a need to apologize when you kick a peer in the 'nads. Sure he's padded and he's there *to* be groinpunched, but a teaspoon of civility and compassion doesn't seem such a bad thing.

PS-- ever read Linda Obst's book, Hello, He Lied? She has some very cool and interesting thoughts in there about the difference between male social interaction versus female interaction, including an amazingly even-handed and thought-provoking discussion for why the male patttern might actually be more useful for succeeding in pseudo-competitive arenas such as Hollywood.

9:00 AM  

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