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regarding self defense and heroism

In my post on Self defense from pervos, simargl_wings makes a point so important that I think it's well worth posting about separately.

You know I write girl heroes. Some of them are pretty jocky, too, if you think about it. And because we often don't have the height, weight, and upper body strength to match guys, my girl warriors work out a lot to have that chance to beat the odds. Their confidence in their training, their stronger bodies, and their causes, gives them the courage to speak out.

Not all of us are like that. Some of us have slower reflexes. We don't do well at athletics. I was always the girl who was a tenth of a second behind the ball coming at me, and years of phys ed didn't make me any faster. In self defense I learned ways to deal with my slowness that would save me a trashing under ideal circumstances, but in a stand-up fight against an experienced martial artist I would lose, because slow is built right into me. When something comes at me, whatever the circumstances, I freeze. When two men broke into my first NYC apartment and robbed my friend and me, we both froze. We couldn't see what was happening to each other, so not only were we scared for our own lives; our captors were using our fear for our friend to control us.

You know what happened after? Two of our fellow students in our martial arts class were strutting around, telling us what they would have done, how they would have beaten those robbers to a pulp, asking us why we didn't do this or that. We felt like shit. It was our teacher who told them to shut up. He told them they couldn't know until it happened to them.

Some of us, for whatever reason, can't respond to a harasser. (I couldn't for years.) We can't get back in their faces; we can't fight back; we fear that this man may do something worse if we try. I think, if we'd fought those guys, at the very least we would have racked up some punches.

There is nothing wrong with being this way. You can only do as your instincts bid you. If you fear that if you do something, things will get worse, go with your gut. The important thing is that you survive. Not all of us are warriors. The person facing you may be crazy. You have to do with what you have to do, to come back to us in one piece. And there's no shame in that.

A friend of mine had an abusive boyfriend, one with combat experience. He was crazy and she was terrified. I did all the research needed so she could get a license and get a shotgun to keep within reach at home. We talked about it, and I was sure she understood why I was so frightened for her--but she didn't get the gun. I was completely baffled. I would have had that weapon in a NY second. One of the other women I worked with, hearing me, said, "But you would have pulled the trigger, Tammy. She wouldn't--and he'd have taken it and used it on her."

I had never heard of that before, and I was horrified. Now I've heard it a lot, and I understand, or at least, I know I wouldn't condemn a woman for not being able to use a weapon. Don't carry a weapon unless you're convinced you'll really, really use it. You don't want to give a bad guy something to use against you.

Nobody knows how she'll react in an emergency, and our reactions to different kinds of emergencies are different. And if you do nothing? Sometimes nothing is all you can do. Sometimes nothing is the right thing to do. You do what you have to. And we'll be here, happy to see you. We won't condemn. None of us knows how we'd react, until we're in that position. And no one has ANY right to point a finger at someone else.

Thanks, simargl_wings. You reminded me to say something I don't say nearly enough.


( 61 comments — Leave a comment )
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Dec. 18th, 2010 11:03 pm (UTC)
You've been my hero since I first found your Alanna series in the corner of my school's library when I was 11. Thank you for continuing to do and say things that make me admire you so much. I recently turned 20 and still try my damnedest to be like you and the characters you've created for me to admire.
Dec. 18th, 2010 11:38 pm (UTC)
Standing ovation!

Thank you.
Dec. 18th, 2010 11:52 pm (UTC)
I love this post so very VERY much! Brilliant. And something we all need to be more aware of. Thank you!
Dec. 19th, 2010 12:02 am (UTC)
Nobody knows how she'll react in an emergency, and our reactions to different kinds of emergencies are different. And if you do nothing? Sometimes nothing is all you can do. Sometimes nothing is the right thing to do. You do what you have to. And we'll be here, happy to see you. We won't condemn. None of us knows how we'd react, until we're in that position. And no one has ANY right to point a finger at someone else.

This was said so eloquently and simply. It needs to be said over and over again.
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 31st, 2010 04:50 pm (UTC)
I shouldn't need reminding of this

I needed reminding, too, so it's all good. And thanks for the good words about my books!
Dec. 19th, 2010 12:34 am (UTC)
When I was a uni student, in the holiday, a large group of my hometown friends and I met up in a park. Some people had to leave, most people went onto a pub, and it turned into me, a male friend, his little sister (I think she'd have been 17), and two of her friends. A group of three guys came over looking for trouble. They got verbally abusive and then suddenly - the three of them and about 10 of their friends were all surrounding the guy in our group, about 20 feet away, just silently kicking and kicking at him. It's definitely up there in the top 2 scariest things I've seen in my life.

One of his sister's friends was begging passers by to help - but they were largely grandparents out with young children, and quietly ignored her. His sister called the police. Her other friend and I both froze for a moment, then I told her I couldn't just watch, passed her my stuff, and ran at the group of guys, screaming at them to get off of him.

I pulled one of them back off him, my friend got up and I moved into the circle of aggressive guys towards him - and they dispersed. One of them tried coming back to try to punch my friend, but I grabbed his arm and he pulled free and went away.

Thankfully, these guys evidently didn't feel comfortable hitting girls. Beating somebody with those odds, yes. Insulting girls, yes. But actually hitting one??

I made the call that, personally, I'd rather get hurt myself then let a friend stay in that situation alone. I found not knowing if he was OK or not worse than the idea of being in physical danger myself. Honestly, though - if one of the other girls had tried to do the same, I'd probably have tried to stop them, because taking people displaying that degree of viciousness on, with those odds, single-handed, IS nuts. (I mean, I knew my friend would help if he had the chance - and he actually did karate and knows how to protect himself - but he'd made the call that, with those odds, he was best off curling up in a ball and protecting his head and internal organs, and hoping they'd give up soon... Which meant that all I knew was that he was in the centre of a bunch of flying feet, not moving.)

I think our reactions ran the full gammot - and really, while mine was the most effective, it was also the stupidest. I'd do it again in a heartbeat under the same circumstances, but I know I'm incredibly lucky it turned out the way it did. But at the same time - two people instead of one doubles the odds!
Dec. 19th, 2010 12:42 am (UTC)
When I was 17, working my first job as a cashier at a fast food restaurant, a man came in with a gun and robbed us. I was closest to him when he came in, so he grabbed me around the shoulders, pulled me against him with his arm around my neck, and held the gun to my head so I would do what he wanted. To this day, I couldn't describe his face; I can barely remember his voice. But I remember my racing heartbeat, the certainty of my being hurt or killed if I struggled, the strength of his arm and the breadth of his chest. When I told friends about it, some were shocked that I hadn't fought back; one friend's boyfriend, in particular, said to me, "But you seem like you would always fight back; you aren't afraid of anything."
I was still too shaky and afraid (and ashamed of still being afraid of this) to get into why I did nothing but whatever the robber wanted me to do, but his girlfriend turned to him, smacked him on the arm, and said, "He had a gun. He had a gun to her head. What was she going to do? He. Had. A. Gun. To. Her. Head. That means he wins. That means whatever she did to get out of there alive and without a bullet wound was the right thing to do."
She and I fought about several things that year (my propensity to always carry a knife on my person even to school after the robbery among them), but it was her voice saying that whatever I did to survive the nightmarish situation I was in was the right thing to do that got me through the nightmares and the shakes and the panic attacks.
Dec. 19th, 2010 01:22 am (UTC)
I used to be a pizza delivery driver. I got robbed once. The guys that robbed me got 4 pizzas, a 6 pack of Pepsi and $15. I walked away, only a little shaken.

A week later, a driver at another location in our city got robbed by a gang using the same set-up - break in to a house, order pizza, rob the delivery person. He resisted. He got stabbed 8 times and died. When they caught them and it went to trial, it came out that he had $34 in his pocket. $34 and a pizza. I told my drivers (I was an assistant manager) that if they were ever robbed, I would cover their cash losses out of my own pocket. Because no one's life is worth $34.
(no subject) - druidspell - Dec. 19th, 2010 01:28 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - anjak_j - Dec. 19th, 2010 01:56 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - touchstone - Dec. 21st, 2010 01:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - druidspell - Dec. 21st, 2010 09:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - tammy212 - Dec. 21st, 2010 09:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - tammy212 - Dec. 20th, 2010 02:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - druidspell - Dec. 21st, 2010 12:24 am (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 19th, 2010 01:01 am (UTC)
Did you see the post Why Don't You Just Hit Him? from last week?

Slightly different contexts, but overall, a similar theme.
Dec. 19th, 2010 05:51 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this article, it makes all the points I want say but usually just end up getting angry and looking irrational.
(no subject) - tammy212 - Dec. 21st, 2010 09:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 19th, 2010 02:00 am (UTC)
Thank you for saying this. In a culture of victim-blaming, I think it is important for people to hear that it really is okay that they did nothing, and that they don't have to justify that course of action.
Dec. 19th, 2010 02:47 am (UTC)
*nods* Yes, this.
Dec. 19th, 2010 01:11 pm (UTC)
I just want to say thank you for this. I really needed to hear it.
Dec. 20th, 2010 06:36 pm (UTC)
I don't know why you really needed it, but I'm sorry that you did, and I hope that time brings healing. And it's true. Only you can know or understand or be in that time and place, and only you can do and understand what you had to do. No one else has any right to dispute you, judge you, belittle you, criticize you. You did what was right for you in that moment, and you're with us now. That's the only thing that counts.
Dec. 19th, 2010 04:18 pm (UTC)
Last year, at college, I took a course specifically for women's self-defense. The class was closed to men; to take it, we had to swear we would never practice it with men, or teach it to any men, because it was a rape self-defense course and they couldn't defend against what they didn't know about.

However, they said, repeatedly, that the escalation of what you do should be variants on what was actually happening. There were positions to assume if you feel somewhat threatened, if you're actually threatened, and if you're being attacked. But the most important things- and this was repeated, and we were made to practice it whatever else we did- was to make a lot of noise, and that sometimes compliance is the only option.

Noise, because drawing attention to something means you're more likely to get help or make the aggressor nervous; in harassment at conferences and such, just shouting 'WHAT did you say?' or 'Would you like to repeat that?' would get dozens of people looking at you, and either an apology or them going away. Compliance, because there are times when you will legitimately be killed if you fight back, and it's up to any individual to decide based on the current situation what should be done.
Dec. 19th, 2010 06:25 pm (UTC)
I've done kung fu for three years. I also was in one fight in high school, long before I did the martial arts. A guy slapped me across the face three times and I just stood there, in absolute confusion because I couldn't mentally process the fact that hey, someone is hitting me. I don't know how I would have handled that if I knew then what I know now.

It's funny, but just last week, Shifu was talking about this same thing. There is a major difference between training a martial art and actually being able to apply it in the messiness of real life. There's an entire second kind of training that goes in to being able to simply react when something happens. The automatic reaction of anyone that doesn't deal with violence on a daily basis is to freeze up. Most people who are in martial arts in the US today aren't learning to react, aren't applying learned skills on a daily basis. I think most people that do martial arts have an overinflated sense of what they'd do in a fight.

Real fights are messy. They aren't like forms. They aren't like paired exercises, where your partner is actually trying to not hurt you. To a certain extent, I think some schools aren't doing their students any favors, by giving them an overinflated sense of machismo.

Of course, I also think women in general have a second layer of mental blockage that we have to get through. We've been taught all our lives that nice girls don't hit. I see that mental block every time a new female student joins my school. I went through it myself. The first time you get paired with someone, just for an exercise where you're not trying to hurt anyone, you have a hard time trying to hit them. You laugh. You feel weird an awkward. If you accidentally do hit someone, you have to stop and apologize and make sure they're okay. Guys don't normally have this problem - unless they get paired with women. (This is a whole other story.) It's hard to get past that societal training, and some people simply can't do it. I think this generally makes it even harder for women to find a mental place where we can react and defend ourselves, because there's always a little voice in our head screaming at us that women aren't allowed to hit things.

Our school has historically been used in self defense... by the founders of it, who lived in a very nasty area of Singapore at the time. It's an entirely different situation in the US. I don't think I'd survive there. I don't know what I'd do here, if I were attacked. I'd like to think that I could react now, but I don't know if I've really trained myself mentally enough to get over the shock. I also sincerely hope that I never find out.
Dec. 19th, 2010 07:31 pm (UTC)
Well said.
Dec. 19th, 2010 09:26 pm (UTC)
I appreciate the sentiment of this post. Another good thing to mention is that there is an emotional cost to be paid, even for us tough people who react in situations like this. When I was 18 years old I worked graveyard at a convenience store... by my self. I was a jock, and practiced a little bit of Kungfu. One night, two guys came in after last call and tryed to run off with four cases of bad beer. And I don't know why, but I got in their way. We struggled around for a bit, with me holding the doors closed so they couldn't take the product. Finally, they escaped under my arms and ran off with the brewski. I was stunned stupid. I went to the back room and sat and cried my eyes out until the next customer showed up. What scared me wasn't that I got in the way, but the idea that they could have knifed or gunned me down over about $40 worth of coors that wasn't even mine! Since this I have had way more training, including a lot of Taichi. I know that if I ever need to save someone, I will. But it will be for something important, and it will still scare the crap out of me once the adrenaline runs out.
Dec. 21st, 2010 09:41 pm (UTC)
it will still scare the crap out of me once the adrenaline runs out.

That shows you have a brain and your body knows how to react to danger. It's the ones who don't crumble a bit after danger who are in trouble. It's the roots of PTSD, or it's the reaction of a psychopath. Better you should be a civilian, and crumble, and for something really important.
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