Self defense expert Melissa Soalt talks down and dirty — and makes no apology. (What would be more offensive, she asks, than being attacked?)
I’m talking about the low down, dirty means to counterattack when faced with physical or sexual violence. The what it takes to deliver bang-up skills with focused ferocity and no-holds-barred intent to escape an attacker- typically male.
Take IS the operative term: in self defense you take control. TAKE is a commanding “do it” word. It leaves no trace of “May I” in the mouth. I speak of this in my Dharma of Defense, a womanly paradigm I evolved from decades of immersion in the study of self-defense and the female warrior mindset and this– which is central to my teaching: the ability to pull ferocious from fear. Make no mistake: for females, typically lacking the luxury of greater size and strength, FIERCE is an imperative, not an optional au courant term. Nor is Take.
Effectively resisting attack hinges on women giving themselves permission, without apology, to not only be aggressive… but to take control. Gloria Steinem once remarked that taking is, in itself, empowerment for women. Nowhere is this more true than in fight-back self-defense when NOW may be the only time that matters and you literally have to take charge.
Here’s the deal: The essence of fight back self defense IS raw. Dirty. Elemental. Beyond strategies and techniques, it entails leveraging the killer instinct and tapping female ferocities often buried beneath fear or socialization. It means renegotiating with heart-pounding fear -which we all know can take our breath away.
It’s called down and dirty because learning to fight back takes us into the basement of our being, into a subterranean strata far below the topsoil of the nice lady cammo, the cover girl veneer. And may I be candid? The descent just plain feels good. Here lies a respite from the ubiquitous hum of civility: the meaty thuds, the heated rushes, the bellowing sounds all part of its primitive appeal. It’s a place where female hands whip, fists hammer, forearms smash and legs become battering rams.
Frankly there’s little to compare this to. Learning to physically defend ourselves, to dial up Beast Girl and go primal in defense of our lives returns us to the stuff we’re made of at the core. Feminist anthropologist Michele Rosaldo called this “the image of ourselves undressed”- who we are in prehistory before the artificial constructs of femininity would hem women in; before plastic bosoms and vaginal deodorants; before women’s madness and appetites were pruned back by fear and an encumbering litany of “don’ts.” And fear’s ill effect? A Diminished Self. When you multiply that by the masses of women kept in check by the predominance of fear that’s a lot of shrinkage. So for a female, fighting back is the ultimate reversal. You become the huntress not the hunted, the predator not the prey.
It’s an acquired taste alright but once sampled never forgotten. On the contrary, once you deliver your first crackling blow – you’ll know it when you feel it- or you slam a big guy to the ground it whets the appetite for more. It arouses a hunger for power and to be self-possessed. It whisks us into forbidden zones; unblushing potencies sear into flesh. If this sounds even vaguely akin to another formerly taboo appetite (e.g., illicit sex) … well, that’s true. Or it can be. I admit: slamming as it were, leaves a whole body after-sizzle that often calls me back again and again, cajoling me into instant blow-by-blow as it were replays. So I view this as part of the Life Force, as part of the fighting Eros of life.
There’s no pretty way to say it – nor should there be. Tapping animal instincts and becoming literate in the skills of combat, and the will to judiciously wield force is necessary. And for the record, I’m the girl who escorts spiders out of the house prayerfully cupped in hands, okay? But we need a spirituality that is large enough to house and revere this fearsome potential.
These are all the more reasons I choose not to make my words more palatable or love and lighty.
It isn’t just the owning of female force that is liberating and potentially lifesaving, but the language of combat is also freeing. Language is powerful. I want its unmodified phrases –explode into a target; close on an enemy; attack the head– to burn into consciousness. I want these skills to not only be second nature– at home in the female psyche, soma, and soul–but also second language. Because one day this unvarnished talk, its foul-mouthed imperatives could save your life.
Yet we still see it today. We all know women if not ourselves who at one time or another have been overly, unduly concerned with not wanting to hurt or offend another’s feelings. In the context of sexual violence and female vulnerability, this nice lady mannerism, its pleasing parlance has potentially dangerous consequences. It might manifest as–I didn’t want to hurt his feelings or appear like a bitch so I said, okay one more (drink / date/ fill in the blank) when perhaps that woman might have been better off being impolite, disobedient or forcefully conveying: NO. FUCKING. WAY.
Self defense means giving yourself permission to do what might otherwise be unthinkable. This also means giving yourself permission to say it straight, to speak your mind. And when it comes to fighting back, to proclaim language that might otherwise be repugnant.
Which spirals me back to the point of this blog: Ladies, it’s time to get F’d!
F as in Fierce. As in freeing your fear. As in Fighting Heart. And in the most dire of straits, say, mortal danger or if you’re about to be raped, you might just need to – are you ready? you coming with me? — fuck someone up.
There. We said it. Now that’s powerful.