See Jane Fights Back gives a shout out to Ellen Snortland for her release of the documentary Beauty Bites Beast, which shares the title with her book from 2001. The documentary has been screened across the globe – from California to Pakistan, and so many places in between! It showcases interviews with self-defense instructors, advocates, and students, and is a great opportunity to hear first person accounts of the transformation that empowerment self-defense can produce. We are excited that more information is coming out to larger audiences about the importance of empowerment self-defense, and the effectiveness of its use by women and girls in keeping themselves safe. Thanks, Ellen!
Mark Halperin is sorry. George H. W. Bush is sort of sorry – sorry that women were offended by his humorous groping of their bodies without their consent, anyway. (No sense of humor, those feminists. Q: “How many feminists does it take to change a light bulb?” A: “That’s not funny!”) Harvey Weinstein was sorry, for a minute – sorry that he “came of age” in a time where sexual harassment and assault were just a perk of the Hollywood culture, but then, apparently, not sorry, because after remembering what he did as all part of the times, he then chose to have a “different recollection” of the (multiple) accusations that are coming forward. Donald Trump is NOT sorry. (But why would he apologize for fake news anyway? Sheesh.)
The hashtag #metoo has taken off, inspiring women to come forward with stories, and inspiring many people to believe, to empathize, to sympathize, and to demand action, in a way that is clearly more effective when it’s prompted by white actress Alyssa Milano than it was when it was started over ten years ago by activist Tarana Burke as part of her work to empower girls and young women of color. Giving voice to one’s victimization is absolutely a method of resistance; we support those coming forward with their stories, and we support those who who do not.
However, we notice something in many of these stories that has failed to attract media attention – women’s successful use of resistance strategies. #metoo shows us the many times where women’s use of verbal or physical strategies – or both – either changed the outcome for the women, or stopped a perpetrator from perpetrating or continuing the assault. These are not stories where “nothing happened” – these are stories where women were able to keep themselves safe, or get to safety. They do not mitigate the stories where women did not or could not resist; all “#metoo” stories are important, underscore the epidemic of violence against women, and make it crystal clear that the perpetrators are responsible, and at fault, for the harassment and assaults.
More stories will come to light – and they will – and more people are accused – and they will be. Sorry is better than not sorry, to be sure, but criminal behavior demands appropriate legal response. And as of now, at least, sexual assault is still a crime. We applaud and honor the women who have survived, who have spoken out, who have resisted and are resisting. An apology, sincere or half-assed or otherwise, doesn’t quite cut it.
If bystander intervention is an acceptable way to thwart an assault, then I’m pretty sure I can also be my own fucking bystander, CAROL. #seejanefightback
When someone says, “Women shouldn’t have to be able to defend themselves,” and we’re like, “Oh, so you think that the ability to defend themselves is solely the prerogative of men, CAROL?” #seejanefightback
We are delighted to highlight guest blogger Hannah Kohn’s reflection on her experience with empowerment self-defense training.
I am in bed, under the sheets. The lights are dim. As I sleep, the man I am in bed with climbs on top of me. I wake up in the midst of his assault. But there’s a twist: this isn’t a bedroom, it’s a large room with a pile of exercise mats stacked up to look like a bed. Likewise, the man on top of me is not a rapist, but a padded, fiercely feminist instructor. The staff from PREPARE, a feminist self-defense program, have agreed to recreate the space in which I was raped so I can reclaim a moment I have long felt was stolen from me. Mind racing, flashback roaring, I toss the padded instructor to the side with my hips, strike him in the eye, knee him in the groin, and land a devastating punch on his helmet. I hear the whistle of the instructor. My classmates shout the familiar mantra: “look!” (around my surroundings, to identify my path to safety) “assess!” (is the aggressor still a threat?) “go get help!” (whatever that means to me). The scenario is over. I have successfully stopped the aggressor from completing their assault.
I was first raped when I was sixteen years old, but as is the case with so many women who experience sexual violence, my truth was systematically rejected. Adding the scars of gaslighting and victim blaming to the experience of rape, I became increasingly confused as to what constituted a violation of my body. Convinced by the people around me that what I had experienced was not, in fact, rape, I was subjected to sexual violence many more times without ever putting a name to it. I arrived at university, and was assaulted yet again in my freshman year.
Simultaneously, I was exposed to much more information regarding sexual violence. President Obama was in the White House, and at long last a President was calling out the national crisis of rape on campuses across the United States. Mandated by law, colleges had no choice but to educate students on consent, rape, and sexual assault. I was lucky to be on a campus that actively supported these mandates, and I found myself heavily involved in sexual assault prevention on campus, throwing myself into every opportunity for activism that came my way. However, despite the barrage of bystander intervention training, consent workshops, and awareness raising campaigns I went to and organized, I continued to be raped and assaulted repeatedly. I could easily understand how other were assaulted and raped, but remained oblivious to attacks on my own body. How could that be?
When I was in high school, I would have sworn on my life that I really just wanted to be “nice.” I was the most agreeable, generous, patient doormat of a girl there ever was. Nonviolence was a way of life, an unmoving principle, applying to every measure, action and thought. I went through the world timid to move too quickly, should I unwillingly send a reverberation through the air. However – and I would never have admitted as much at the time – behind my unshakeable kindness, there was a motive. I longed to be accepted and liked and adored by everyone, because…well, because of course I had been conditioned to please. I had been conditioned as a woman. And what a good woman I was turning out to be!
This all changed, of course, when I enrolled in a self-defense class with PREPARE.
Junior year: now a fully-fledged Women’s and Gender Studies student at Drew University in Madison, NJ, complete with Audre Lorde quotes on my wall and critical discourse analysis on my mind, I enrolled in a class called “Gender, Violence, and Women’s Resistance.” I had been told repeatedly that I should knock someone over to get into the course, as it was life-changing and chronically had a waitlist of disappointed students. As it turns out, the class is currently the only one of its kind in the nation: the first twenty hours, or five weeks, are spent completing a beginners’ empowerment self-defense class. The rest of the course focuses on the theory around self-defense and gender-based violence. Excited but completely unsure of what to expect, I went to the black box theatre where we would be learning to defend ourselves.
The first day, as we sat quietly in the black box, our Lead Instructor (a certified IMPACT instructor) bustled in. She is the embodiment of the phrase “I don’t give a c**p what you think,” if these words were uttered in the most feminist and compassionate of voices. She is comfortable being her authentic, loud, powerful self. She lives her work, and it’s impossible not to want to be exactly like her.
Within a few minutes, our instructors had transformed the room of well-behaved students into a united group of ambivalent fighters, yelling the word “no” at the top of our lungs. Confused theatre students wandered in and out of their space as we powerfully used our voices and bodies and practiced moves in the air as if there were invisible attackers in front of us. They weren’t invisible for long, though: padded instructors soon came in for us to practice our moves on. Working through adrenalized responses, each member of the class faced the padded perpetrators, yelling “no!” with each strike. I had thought of myself as non-violent my entire life. This perception changed over the course of that one class.
Reader, I dearly miss kneeing a padded man in the groin every Friday morning. I would be lying to myself if I pretended for a moment that I didn’t relish each and every strike I landed on the padded instructors. I would never want to be faced with a situation outside the classroom where I would have to use these strikes; indeed, I hope and pray never to confront such a situation again. But allowing myself to be unkind to someone who was acting as an aggressor, to say no, to shake the deeply entrenched norms of femininity I had embodied for so many years, was endlessly liberating. So liberating, in fact, that I organized an advanced PREPARE workshop a year after the beginners’ class had ended. The final advanced class brings us back to the bedroom scene I described earlier.
I had the unique experience of taking part in the PREPARE workshops as I worked through Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), in part related to my history of rape, sexual assault, and other forms of intimate partner violence. Reclaiming my right to make decisions over my own body, my right to space, my right to confidence, and my right to my own reality impacted my recovery in a truly transformative way.
Although I appreciate the use of bystander intervention and consent education alongside empowerment self-defense classes, I speak from a very personal place when I say that alone, those forms of sexual assault prevention are not at all transformative. Why should I rely on a bystander to rescue me, or a potential perpetrator to miraculously change his mind due to consent education and not attempt to rape me? Data doesn’t back up these techniques long-term, and quite frankly, I’m not particularly comforted by the idea that a knight in shining armor will a) save me from a villain or b) not be a villain. If anything, I would prefer that the knight in shining armor reevaluate his benevolent sexism before talking to me. No, I would really like to stand on my own two feet and learn to protect myself, challenging the normative gender script of female damsel/male savior as I go.
Through taking part in self-defense training, I have come to understand why my involvement in bystander intervention wasn’t enough to allow me to recognize assaults upon my own body: its sole focus is on rescuing others, and so my perspective never faced inwards. Only through learning to protect myself did I come to recognize what it meant to be personally harmed. Bystander intervention didn’t stop me from being raped; it didn’t even help me to understand that I had been raped. On the other hand, self-defense restored my sense of self-worth, helped me to preserve and protect my boundaries, and made me realize that I am a goddamn warrior who will leave anyone who tries to hurt me in a state of deep, painful regret.
Since taking my first PREPARE class, no one has attempted to assault me. Not once. I guess I scream out “I will maul your groin if you get anywhere close to me” nowadays. I like that.
I have recovered from the worst of my PTSD. Where I was once convinced by a terrible ex-boyfriend that I was too stupid to go to college, I have now graduated Summa Cum Laude. I am in a relationship with a feminist who loves and respects me deeply. Most of all, I feel safe as I walk through this world, armed with the knowledge that I am, against all the perceptions my younger self held dear, a fighter.
Hannah Kohn is a graduate of Drew University in Madison, NJ. Having grown up in London and Hong Kong, she now lives in New York City. She is a fierce feminist with no patience for masculinity complexes. When she’s not geeking out over feminist theory, she can be found working on subversive cross-stitch projects, marveling over Central Park, and nagging her members of congress to vote against the latest attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. She is one of those untrustworthy people who likes both cats and dogs equally.
- “Where there is power, there is resistance.” Michael Foucault
- “If someone puts their hands on you make sure they never put their hands on anyone else again.” Malcom X
- “The likelihood that your acts of resistance cannot stop the injustice does not exempt you from acting in what you sincerely and reflectively hold to be the best interests of your community.” Susan Sontag
- “I believe in the resistance as I believe there can be no light without shadow, or rather, no shadow unless there is also light.” Margaret Atwood
- “It is necessary to remember, as we think critically about domination, that we all have the capacity to act in ways that oppress, dominate, wound (whether or not that power is institutionalized). It is necessary to remember that it is first the potential oppressor within that we must resist – the potential victim within that we must rescue – otherwise we cannot hope for an end to domination, for liberation.” bell hooks
- “Take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.” Elie Wiesel
- “Sometimes it’s appropriate to scream at them.” Helen Caldicott
- “I say to people today, ‘You must be prepared if you believe in something. If you believe in something, you have to go for it. As individuals, we may not live to see the end.'” John Lewis
- “It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.” Madeleine Albright.
- “We must learn that passively to accept an unjust system is to cooperate with that system, and thereby to become a participant in its evil.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Resistance Is Not Futile.
Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States.
We put up a good fight. It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, needed it to. We lost. Did the fight matter?
Resistance, in any form, to any kind of assault or violation, does not guarantee a particular outcome. And when the outcome is unwanted and scary and painful and wrong, and violates our individual and collective rights to freedom and empowerment and self-determination and safety, it can feel like the resistance was futile.
It was not futile. As Hillary Clinton reminded us in her moving concession speech this morning, it is not futile.
As scholars who advocate self-defense, we want to remind you of an important lesson from the data on self-defense: that the process of resistance is critical and empowering and positive, even when the outcome is negative. In the face of assault, women who knew resistance was an option and who made the best choice for themselves in that moment – whether that was verbal resistance or physical resistance or simply the determination to survive – had better physical and psychological outcomes following an assault than women who believed they had no choices.
We do not fight solely because we want a particular outcome. We fight because we are worth fighting for. And the fight is important on all levels – for individual people, for what it communicates to our families and friends and communities, for how it changes rules and norms and structures and policies and laws. We fight for what the fight says about and means to us.
What is the next step? There is no “right” answer to that, because resistance is multi-faceted, broadly defined, and individually determined. Yes, we will have successes and setbacks. But we know we will, as Hillary implores us to, go on fighting. Because, as Hillary said, “fighting for what’s right is worth it.”
An Open Letter from a Jane, to the Assholes She’s Dated Who Say Stupid Things When They Find Out She Knows Self-Defense
Most women who have taken a self-defense course, and then had the audacity to talk about it, have probably had the experience of being subjected another person’s perspective on why women’s self-defense is problematic/stupid/pointless/cute/sexy/offensive/etc. Those comments are offered in a variety of contexts: family dinners, office events, on-line chats, happy hour, gym workouts, dates.
So has Jane. Who is Jane? Jane is the middle student down the street who’s taking martial arts. She is your great-aunt who went to the self-defense program at the local community center. She is the young girl who stands her ground in the playground, the college student who takes a self-defense class on campus, the women who organize against harassment on the street or in the workplace, the woman who had yet another date with someone who said, with a smile on his face, “Oh, you know self-defense? I’d better watch myself…I guess you can kick my ass”, and then waited for you to laugh.
And so below, is one Jane’s response, after a date:
If we’ve gotten this far and are on a date, then you have had at least a few conversations with me and therefore allegedly have been listening when we’ve exchanged the usual pleasantries, including, but not limited to, “So…what do you do?”
And if you were listening, you would know I do a lot of things – I’m a feminist, I write fiction and snarky non-fiction commentary, and yes, I teach self-defense. Now that combination should tell you a number of things, including:
- I teach self-defense (I know I’ve already said that, but you clearly are not listening, so I feel the need to say it AGAIN);
- As a feminist, I’m not likely to find your stupid, misogynistic comments about self-defense remotely witty, smart, sexy, or compelling;
- As a writer, anything stupid you say is likely to end up in a blog post or open letter somewhere.
And yet, you persist – why? Did you think that I would find your belittling of my chosen profession charming? It was, admittedly, more charming, relatively speaking, than your complimenting my ass, but again I’m speaking here in relative terms only. And sure, I can appreciate that you took the high road by not calling me a feminazi, a sinner doomed to spend the afterlife in Hell, or such a strange contradiction because, despite my physical power, you also find me physically attractive. Did you expect me to simper, to blush, to bat my eyelashes, when you chuckle condescendingly as you say something like, “Oh…I guess I better watch myself, or you’re going to kick my ass, right?”
Yes, Assholes. Spot-on. Okay, not literally spot-on, because I would not actually kick your ass just for saying something stupid; furthermore, as any self-defense instructor would tell you, it is best to go for the areas where you can achieve the most pain, such as the testicles. But you get the idea.
In my other profession as a college professor, however, I do get to deconstruct your ass (-inine statement), and here’s my analysis: your tone is mocking as you indicate you’d better watch yourself, which suggests to me that you actually do not think you need to watch yourself, because if you wanted to step over some line and try to rape or assault me, you believe, in fact, that there is nothing I could do to stop you. That’s what you mean, yes? Yes. That’s what I thought.
So two points on that, Assholes. First, there are decades of data suggesting that women are extremely capable of fighting back against sexual assault, and capable of doing so successfully; if this were going beyond a first date, I could bring you a reading list, but since it’s not, I won’t bother. In fact, you might be the final-straw Asshole who made that comment and drove me dashing to the bathroom to compose this letter on my smart phone, and if that’s the case, I’m not even coming back to finish the first date.
Second, in some totally fucked-up way, I am guessing you’re attempting to be charming and trying to get into bed with me, which I assume is all you want, since you are saying stupid offensive things about me and my line of work on a first date, and therefore this can only mean that a) you have no fucking idea who I am, and b) you actually don’t care who I am, because all you want is to do is get laid, and I happen to be the unfortunate woman closest in physical proximity. And so your strategy to get laid is to say, “Hey, you know I could rape you if I wanted to”, all the while expecting me to giggle like a school girl, relieved that I have found a real man who could withstand my attempts to fight back?
No. Not happening. So here’s what you need to know in parting, Assholes, and yes, I mean parting literally. Because I’m never going to see you again. Why you would want to see me again is beyond me, given that I neither simpered nor blushed nor batted my eyelashes in response to your stupid comment, and yet you do, which only provides additional data for both points a) and b) above. It’s bad enough that I just spent an hour/a meal/an evening with you that I can never reclaim, and no, I will not go out with you again, ever.
So know this instead: it is neither charming, nor witty, nor appealing, to suggest to a woman that you can overpower her, to imply that if you want to have sex with her there is nothing she can do to stop it. Nor is it accurate. And she doesn’t even have to have taken a self-defense course to prove that to you. And so, to address the literal content of your comment: Yes, you better watch yourself, or I am – or some other woman is – going to kick your ass.
In closing, then, the answer to your question is “Yes.” Yes, I can, and yes, she can, and she can, and she can. And we will, if you put your money where your mouth is. So shut the fuck up already, go take a women’s and gender studies course, and stop being such Assholes.