Op-Ed: Martial arts training? What I really needed was a self defense communication course
My first priority after the 2016 election was to find the next available hand-to-hand combat prep course, because I wouldn’t be caught walking the Upside Down of Pantsuit Nation without training for it.
Before, I could think I was safe from sexual assault. I didn’t know politicians, news anchors, executives, gym coaches, photographers, record producers, athletes, or Oscar winners. I was no longer on a college campus and living in the United States, in a sanctuary city. I was indoors and had not been on spring break. I was white. Such privilege provided me with both security and a false sense of it, which pushed self-defense to the back of my mind, until this November.
A few weeks after the election, I was in a classroom in the basement of a Manhattan shooting range. A former policeman who now works as a stuntman explained how to use our body parts as weapons, how to grab a man’s package and twist it, and how to take video of a potential attacker, because after an attack your brain can protect itself by erasing the memory.
Amid the practice shots fired outside the room, I took notes. But one point wasn’t covered, one point he didn’t have to consider: how to say no to a man on a date without being rude? And without driving him crazy?
The ex-officer searched his notes.
“Men react like dogs,” he finally said. “A great ‘no’ sounds a lot like ‘yes’. A ‘nice no’ has several translations, like ‘convince me’, ‘try harder’ and ‘you don’t mean what you say’. You have to say ‘NO “firmly, abruptly and vehemently.”
Ah, before martial arts training, I needed to take its prerequisite, a self-defense communication course to address the legacy of silence that society had shoved down my throat since birth.
In 2015, Emmy Award-winning screenwriter and director Joey Soloway declared a “state of emergency” for women’s voices, in creative fields and everywhere else. For me, it was an emergency that I said “yes” when I thought “no”, that I believed that this was the basic etiquette to accompany a romantic opening, that I had been taught that the satisfaction of ‘a man overshadowed my comfort and also learned to say yes in every octave – never “no”.
It is urgent that active consent remains strained. It is urgent that language itself makes sex crimes difficult to prosecute (“he said; she said/moaned/lied”). Like Rebecca Solnit emphasizes in his book “Men Explain Things to Me”, published before Depp vs. Heard, “it is particularly when women talk about sex crimes that their right and ability to speak is under attack”.
Ever since I started dating, the “no” was beyond my abilities, just as it was beyond the frequencies of many listeners. Like, I would say no, but not in those words (“ow” didn’t count). Or “no” seemed out of the question because “no” is insulting, hostile, harsh, bitchy, stubborn, picky, unattractive, not fun, unreasonable, clumsy, crazy. And you can’t say no when someone has already initiated something; “no” was the anti-security word, the one word that could instantly make someone angry and aggressive. Or I would have said “no” perfectly, if I could have said anything, if my mouth had caught up with the moment. Or did the modest clothes I wore really communicate.
Because “those who can’t, teach,” I’ve written a starter syllabus of what we should all have learned in health classes and in magazines and all the media. In self-defense communication, we would first get crystal clarity on what constitutes a violation. Because if we can’t name the violation, then how can we deny it?
Then we would study the fear system and normalize our extremely bizarre reactions when we are afraid.
Then we chanted “NO” over and over again, with more and more exclamation marks, to get used to it, to get our minds and bodies on the same page. As television’s highest-paid showrunner, Shonda Rhimes, told Oprah, “”No” is a complete sentence.” What we recognize is easier said than done. Then we would expand our range: Please don’t talk to me like that. I’m not comfortable with that. It doesn’t work for me. I do not want. No. Certainly not. Absolutely not. Never. Never.
We would rehearse to slow down, set limits, and show confidence; we would risk being perceived as “not nice” for having limits. We played a role in being assertive and unapologetic, taking turns accusing ourselves of being “rude”, “humorless”, “unsympathetic”, “unfriendly” and “hypersensitive”, then deflecting and dropping caution that looks like agreement. We were going against lives of socializing and working on getting attention, making noise, making a scene. And for those of us who let ourselves be interrupted—
We would work on that.
We would practice such puny acts as sending several text messages in a row, if only to practice doing what we want and stop basing our actions on anticipating how they will be received.
Yet when victims cry no – in the right words, in the right tone – when survivors are unable or too stunned to run or too loving in spirit, the effectiveness of self-defense communication can be up for debate. open. But its necessity is not. Not when women hurt themselves on a smaller scale, persistently, in broad daylight, sober. Not when women like me have been assaulted more times than we’ve been in love. There is already Impacta paid program to protect you that includes full-strength physical techniques and “communication strategies” to hone “verbal skills and the use of the voice”.
Inherent in “self-defense”, it is incumbent on us to change our behavior. Everything that happens to us depends on us; it is our mistake, our millstone. Self-defense communication is therefore a solution. Or, people could just really listen to women so we don’t have to fight to be heard.
Elissa Bassist teaches writing and edits the “Funny Women” column on The Rumpus. Her memoir, “Hysterical,” will be released on Tuesday.