Nattering Social Justice Cook: Defending Yourself

kickboxing-152817_1280Monday, in the wee and terrible hours of the morning, I’m dragging myself off to the first of twelve women’s self-defense classes, which meet three times a week for the next month.

While I’m not fond of the circumstances pushing the need for something like this, it’s something I’d thought about for decades, so probably it’s good to be going ahead and doing it before I get so creaky that I worry about breaking a hip. As it is I know I’ll be collecting some bruises.

It coincides with a gun class halfway through, since I figured as long as I’m living in a house with guns, I might as well know how to pick one up and shoot it in the case of a zombie apocalypse. (This is an interesting year! So far I’ve added the following skills, all at 1st level, to my character sheet: scuba, lockpicking, coffee roasting. Basic CPR is another I want to append before year’s end.)

Mainly this will be interesting because it’s a big change in mindset. The last time I hit a human being with my fist was, I think, second or third grade. While I’ve played sports, they’ve never been rough and tumble ones; softball, golf, or tennis are more my style. Maybe bowling. I did fence briefly in high school and have always regretted not sticking with it.

But, plain and simple, I’m going to be grappling with my own fight or flight instinct and learning how to look at the landscape a bit differently. I plan to journal throughout because I think I’m going to run up against my own internal anger and deal with it in a way I’ve never had to before. I know it’s there because I glimpse it every once in a while.

While I was at Snake River Comic Con, I was talking with some other women about self defense classes, since a couple of them had taught them (in fact, SRCC’s kids track included a Hogwarts Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher showing them how to use a quarterstaff). They all agreed that they’d hit a particular phenomenon (“It happens all the time,” one said.) A man shows up to a women’s self defense class in order to demonstrate to the women that the class is pointless and in each case getting taken down by the instructor. And that night, when I was thinking about the mindset required to appoint oneself the policer of women, showing up to give the message that men can hurt them no matter what skills they acquire, I could feel that anger creeping along my body, extending outwards along my limbs, tensing them in a way I had to consciously concentrate on in order to stop.

I am aware of my surroundings at most times that, when on the street, does factor getting grabbed, because I have been groped, grabbed, squeezed, and otherwise forced into physical contact that I didn’t want multiple times. That sounds paranoid, but I think many women know what I mean. For me it’s a result of this encounter when I was a young adult, maybe 19 or 20. I was walking to work around 9 in the morning, downtown, when I passed an elderly man. There was nothing about his appearance or demeanor to distinguish him from a normal human being. But unlike one, he grabbed my ass as he passed, not a tentative little pat but a full-out invasive, startling, unexpected move that stopped me dead, spun me around, while he walked on, smiling broadly.

Where was the pleasure in that act sited for him? Was it the feel of my flesh? Or in the fact that he’d violated my boundaries, there in daylight? I’m pretty sure it was the latter.

How shitty does your soul have to be to get enjoyment out of hurting another person, either physically or verbally? Seriously. Trying to rebuild the crumbling brickwork of internal sense of worth while not realizing this is the very thing that’s destroyed it. Taking pleasure from hurting a fellow human being is vile. It corrodes your humanity in a way Uncle Screwtape would have heartily approved of.

Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 10.19.06 AMNowadays, I’d react differently. I’d take a picture, call the cops, and follow him till they arrived. Because that sort of shit needs to stop.

Beyond two actual attacks, since then plenty of subway gropes, elevator boob brushes, lingering hugs. Laughing invitations to sit in men’s laps. Sometimes meant to intimidate, but often unthinking, like the fourth grade teacher known for snapping girls bra straps but who also gave me my first Heinlein novels to read. And you know, I don’t really care about a lot of that myself because I’m older now and know how to roll my eyes while at the same time keeping an elbow ready for that man standing waiting for the airplane bathroom and rubbing his crotch on my shoulder. (Yes, taken from life.) But that’s armor I’ve acquired. Many of my fellows, particularly the younger or particularly different ones, don’t have the same toughness.

Maybe we can try to create a world where they don’t need to. In some ways I’m encouraged by the way 45 has actually forced some formerly more wishy-washy allies into solidarity, made them go, well, okay, maybe the mentality informing “you can grab ’em by the pussy” isn’t really so much humorous as it is toxic.

I ramble. That’s okay. We are all made up of impressions, encounters. Moments frozen in our memories and shaping our thoughts for decades to come. What does it mean that there’s people out there who want others — particularly women — to have moments of fear, powerlessness, humiliation, pain? How do you heal those broken souls so they stop spreading their poison? Is that the right strategy? It seems the best longtime one, the one with the most result for the human race.

Call-out culture is something I was thinking about this morning. It seems to me the teaching there is aimed outward, not at the person being called out so much as the people witnessing. Perhaps more effective but also one that takes the center target and leaves them humiliated, angry, hurt. Yet that’s not the intent so much as collateral damage from pot shots at the system. I find talking privately usually more effective, but there are times when that’s not appropriate. Thinking about the guy who grabbed me, it would have seemed pretty appropriate to call him out because it would have made him realize sometimes there are consequences to oneself from committing and taking pleasure in assault.

Maybe this rumination is all particularly appropriate for a Sunday morning. Figuring out this shit is hard and looking at the Unitarian church’s sermon today to see if it’s applicable, I see they’re going to be discussing arguments for and against changing the wording of the First Principle from “person” to ‘being”. Probably a lengthy walk in order to think would be more useful, and luckily it’s a nice day for it, blue skies and leaves still on the trees being all beautiful and autumn-y.

Still waiting on that Adulting for Dummies book I was metaphorically promised as a child. Maybe they’ll hand them out in the first session of that defense class.

We shall see.

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About Cat

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She is currently working on Exiles of Tabat, the third book of the Tabat Quartet. A new story collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears from Hydra House this fall.
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