I’ve been avoiding social media recently. As Utah Phillips said, “I’m on a low cholesterol diet – no more fat heads.”
Even so, when I popped on yesterday, it was hard to ignore the billion “Me too,” posts that appeared on nearly every one of my friends’ Facebook feeds.
I’m not big on jumping on bandwagons. I never bite on chain mail. I don’t “Post this as your status to support…”
I’m not above it – it’s just if I reposted every “post this” status I agreed with… well, my wall would be nothing but, “Please copy and paste.”
But yesterday, I broke my own rule.
I posted a big ole black “Me too,” as my status.
I’m not sure.
Maybe it was because I’d spent nearly two hours of the morning talking to a podcaster about my daughter’s band and what it’s like to watch a young teenager discover feminism as if they’d invented it. Maybe it was because I’m so sick of hearing all of these “allegations” of “misconduct” in the news. Maybe I just woke up pissed off. Whatever the reason, I was DONE.
Fast forward several hours, and I overhear my husband talking to my eldest about self-defense classes. He thinks self-defense would be a good idea. He’s been reading Facebook. He says he’s always known about sexual assault (who hasn’t?) but he never really KNEW until today’s #metoo campaign.
(I guess it’s working.)
My daughter said she was very relieved to discover that a particular friend of hers (a friend I consider a bit, well, hyper-sexualized) holds a black belt. She was comforted to know this friend could defend herself against unwanted attention.
But I’m not.
Because here’s the truth:
The real threat doesn’t come from some scary asshole who sneaks up behind you and drags you into an alley at knife-point.
It doesn’t come from some stranger who’s snuck into your apartment to lie in wait for you to come home from work.
It doesn’t even come from some drunk frat boy in a bar who gets a little too “enthusiastic” as you are trying to make your way to the ladies’ room, or god-forbid, out to your car.
It’s not that those things don’t happen. They do. Every.Damn.Day. And a black belt in Jujitsu would definitely be an asset in those situations.
But most of the time, sexual assault looks more like this:
A young girl, let’s say she’s fourteen, invites an older boy she’s met recently over to hang out when her parents are away. Now, she probably knows this will likely go somewhere. They’ll probably kiss – which will be A-MAZ-ING, since he’s a bit older and knows what he’s doing. Maybe he’ll put his hand under her shirt. Maybe even under her bra.
So he comes over.
She’s super excited.
She showered and made herself smell lovely, but then she screwed up her hair with her mom’s curling iron, so she had to shower again to start all over.
When he arrives, she’s ready. Hair, just right; lipstick, perfect; bra, lacy – just in case.
And everything is great.
He comes in, they chat, talk about his work – he works at Benetton and wants to break into modeling. They brush over her life – there’s not much to say about 9th grade. He sits on her bed and starts confiding his problems: He recently ended a relationship. “I’m so sorry.” She didn’t understand him. “That sucks.” They probably weren’t right for each other, she wasn’t the one. [Insert a little necking here] They were never really on the same page sexually. [Red flag, overcome by OH.MY.GOD.] He and his girlfriend haven’t had sex for over three weeks running – ridiculous for grownups, after all, he’s 23.
This is where she could walk out. Where she SHOULD walk out. Or, usher HIM out, since it’s her damn house.
But she can’t. Because in one, swift, made-for-TV moment, he’s pulled her pants down around her ankles, shucked her like an ear of corn – exposing her panties -brand new, straight from the Kmart children’s department.
What happens next is too mortifying to describe.
She thinks she’s supposed to like it, even though she spends the whole five minutes saying “I’m uncomfortable with this, let’s stop,” (a perfectly polite response) and praying that someone bursts in her bedroom door to bust them.
But no one comes.
Then it’s time for quid pro quo.
She doesn’t want to.
The very idea makes her sick. But she OWES him. He told her so. And she knows, knows in her very bones, from YEARS of training, that it is impolite to refuse to return a favor.
She says, “I don’t think so. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’d rather not.” She says everything she can think of that isn’t too rude. She says everything she’d been taught to say. None of it works.
She finds herself with her hair being ripped out by the root, choking and gagging.
There is a puddle of vomit on the carpet as the blond boy-man buttons his shirt and walks out to his car.
There is no black belt that will save you from that.
That’s what I want to tell my daughter.
Self-defense is so, so much more than learning to put your fingers in some attacker’s eyes.
True self-defense is about learning to put your fingers in your own ears – learning to block out the voices that capitulate, that excuse, that say it’s probably best to just go along because you brought this on yourself and you shouldn’t be a tease and it’s not that big of a deal anyway, right? The voices that deny what you know to be right and real – no matter how loud they are or how long you’ve heard them.
True self-defense is calling up that belly-voice, the shouty screamy bitchy rude as hell one that says, “This will NOT stand because this is not what I choose, regardless of what I’ve been taught to accept.”
And dear God, I wish there was a class at the Y that taught that.