Self Defensive

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Last Fall, Emily and I took a self defense class.

The origins of how we came to be in a room with a handful of other women, learning to punch, kick, shout and fight our way out of a physical attack seems ludicrous in hindsight ( she promised her father that he could pick some exercise activity if she could adopt a cat and he chose THAT), yet there we were.

As an adult woman, I am no stranger to threats or instances of gendered violence. I've had boyfriends push me  and hold me down while angry. I've experienced the not quite consensual but acquiesced to sex because it was just easier than the fight that would follow if you said no. The father and cousins who sexually assaulted me...all men.

I know what it is to walk on a college campus at night with mace in my hand, listening for abrupt movement. I know what it is to wrestle out of the grips of fraternity brothers who followed you to the bathroom and stood, blocking your exit, so they could try to get you back in to their rooms alone. I've made packs with girlfriends in college that we would stick together. No splitting up..because our reasoning was that it was more difficult to rape us if we were in a group.

I've given fake phone numbers to men in bars to get them to leave me alone. I've used the "I have a boyfriend/husband" line when the simple "No, thank you" wasn't enough. I've experienced the aggressive side of rejection, when the man begins calling you a fat dyke who he wouldn't fuck anyway..while you stare dumbly at this burst of hostility and glance around for allies.

And even now, at 44, I know what it is to walk on a college campus again while doing a visual scan of my surroundings while I walk to my car at night.

I know that my experiences are so typical that we rarely mention them, because that is just how it is.

Now I have a 16 year old daughter and my worries for her are changing. As a younger child, I made sure to know the adults surrounding her. I kept my predator antennae well tuned and alert for those who were looking for an unguarded child. I insisted that she wear bike shorts under all her dresses so she didn't need to worry about showing her underwear and I didn't need to worry about individuals who could become aroused by the sight of her underwear.

Yet, at 16, she is moving further out beyond me. This is good and right but...Oh. The things that wait out there, just off the path, where the light is dim?  Fucking terrifies me.

After the first night of class, when we were both hoarse from screaming and our arms were burning with exhaustion she became angry: Why did she need to do this? This was ridiculous and her father was just being overprotective and this was all STUPID!!! Then she said, "Nothing is ever going to happen to me!"

Oh, my sweet protected girl child.

By age 16, I was already sexually active. I had already been sexually assaulted by my father and cousins. I knew far more about life than I should have.

In reaction against my own experiences, I have sheltered her. I have tended and guarded and watched on her behalf. My vigilance has never ceased. Within her declaration that nothing would ever happen to her,  I worried that my vigilance had been unwise. She could not see the wolf in the woods.

Not that evening, but later, I explained that we hoped that nothing would happen to her....but it could. It could because she is female and women (and children) are the prey of the human world. I explained that she believed that she knew her friends and that she would never be in a situation where she would need to defend herself....but she might. I tried to explain that the line between being safe and not safe is gossamer thin.

I tried to explain that the world in which she is entering is one in which she has to be watchful because of her sex and on behalf of her sex.  I do this while trying to not color her world view with apocryphal tales, but rather with caution and realism.

I do this and feel the inner anger of a mother of a young woman who has to poison this well in order to save her from pain.

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