The day feminists have long dreamt of is here, rapidly gathering steam, and powerful men (who’ve abused women and expected grateful or grudging silence in return for the women holding onto their jobs) are falling like dominoes.
Now that the #metoo movement is established, having made it possible for victimized women to have their say, let’s start a parallel track, and tell our stories of how we, or a woman we know, defeated an attack of any kind. Here I expound on some things that can help.
Get physical if you receive an unwanted touch.
I’ve written before of my young adult anger at a man I didn’t know draping his arm around my shoulders. I hope the others with him in those 1978 South Side park sidelines got more than a laugh at their buddy’s expense, that they learned something from watching me stagger him with a backfist across his chest. But the resistance began long before that.
Use your voice.
My mother told us for as long as I can remember that when she was a young MD leaving Cook County Psychopathic Hospital by herself in the wee hours one morning, a man announced a robbery. She started yelling that she was going to meet her friends at the deli, and no she would not give him anything! Stunned, he stopped in his tracks and said, Well, how about two dollars? This served only to set her off on a fresh tirade as she stormed away. Her friends said she should’ve thought how she might’ve been killed! This she shrugged off and laughed at her win.
Outwit verbal harassment.
The Academy behind me, I had been on the streets of Chicago as a recruit for all of about 2 weeks in late 1982 when, after roll call one afternoon, the slightly older female who worked the desk called me over. Since I’d already learned she was catty at best with almost everyone, I approached warily. “Maja, we’ve decided you need a nickname.” I said, “Oh?” Basing her next remark on how she thought my maiden name sounded, she said, “Yeah, I like – weasel.” I said “I won’t answer to that,” turned on my heel and walked away. Nobody ever called me Weasel to my face. That was 36 years ago. Now everyone who might’ve remembered it is retired or dead; I outlived many of my tormentors or am still on the force where they are long gone, so I’m a survivor, of sorts.
Recruit an ally.
Maybe the memory of my fearless mom was in the back of my mind when I was a freshman at Lane Technical High School, which until the year before I got there had been boys only; their self-appointed quota said a mere 200 girls per class were to be admitted each year — and 1400 boys. I was in the second class with girls. In English that fall, the regular teacher was absent, and with the substitute occupied, the boy behind me saw fit to yank my bra strap through my shirt and snap it. The banshee rose howling in me as I wheeled, cursing and lashing out as he cowered.
The sub went to the powers that were. I was ordered to do five periods of the in-school suspension I can now laugh off as “discipline,” for “swearing, inciting a fight, and fighting.” The boy got nothing. I went to the first under duress and protests which went nowhere.
The next day our teacher, an African-American woman, was back. I told her the situation exactly as it happened. She nodded and told me she was going to fix this! She got me excused from the remainder of my punishment — and the boy who touched me ten periods of discipline. I suppose word got around, because none of them yanked my strap after that.
Take a martial art.
One of our Chicago Transit Authority assignments was to stand with a partner in a subway station for the two hours that comprised morning rush hour, then go on patrol in a squad car. At the Congress Blue Line stop one day, a raving man approached me, at which I set my stance: feet apart, slightly toed-in, arms up in a loose circle, fingertips barely touching. I looked in the middle distance. He went raving around me from side to side, partway and back, never entering the circle. To an untrained eye like his, I was paying him scant heed. Eventually he tired, perhaps off to try for an audience elsewhere, and left.
As a child I’d had judo, and perhaps that helped with the guy who made my walk in the park no walk in the park. It was certainly years’ worth of tai chi chu’an, shaolin, and wing ch’un training that taught me to stand ready. En guarde!