The other night I saw a group of young women and men being interviewed about violence against women and girls in India. One of the women said women and girls are always being told they need to learn to defend themselves. She said why should we? Men have to be taught to control themselves, or when they abuse they need to be caught and dealt with by the law. That’s what the government is for, she said. The rest of the group seemed to think she was making a good point.
I felt sad watching her. You can’t insist on rules that could only be part of an ideal world when you’re living in a brutal one where nobody plays by any rules. Her ideals wouldn’t help her if she was attacked by a group of thugs.
Better to learn to defend yourself – and be outraged that you have to – than to get raped and die or be so traumatized that you’re a vegetable for the rest of your life. We have to deal with the world we find ourselves in. I wondered what it was in her that made her not want to learn to defend herself.
I’ve seen it often in women, and not just in Third World countries, a core disempowerment that masquerades as strength and drawing a line in the sand, but is often really about you have to change but I don’t have to. It’s not only about sexual abuse, either, it’s about relationships. The dangerous part of it is that women who are trapped in this mentality of not wanting to fight at any level don’t realize their disempowerment so they can’t do anything about it.
That mentality also completely ignores another reality, namely that abusive situations and relationships we get into reflect the state of our inner world, our entitlement and self esteem as much as they reflect the abuser’s. Part of that is the society we find ourselves in.
It isn’t right that so many men have unfettered entitlement and a lust for power that betrays their core weakness. It’s beyond outrageous that they rape and abuse and use and exploit women and children of both sexes. Societies do need to become better informed and better at catching them and making them accountable with real punishment.
But women will never ever be truly in control of their lives and free to move in their world safely until they acknowledge that they have work to do too. If women don’t want to defend themselves it’s because at the core they don’t know they have the right to their power. Until that changes abuses won’t stop. Why should they? The abusers have got the power. It’s not fair, it’s not right. But it just is
I think about a lioness with her cubs. If they get threatened she fights to kill. Women need to awaken that part and equip it so that if they have to use it they can. For some women learning to fight and stand up for themselves in any way feels like such a travesty and a negation of everything that’s good about being feminine. But it doesn’t have to be. And if what we see as our femininity weds us to subservience and disempowerment, what use is it anyway?
I can wish with all my heart, and with the best intention, that my world would change but it won’t unless I do. I can work towards changing how abusers are held accountable, but I can’t change them. The only person I can change is myself. Not by saying it’s my fault, because it isn’t, but by saying I’ll make sure it never happens again.