I’m watching Nashville–please don’t judge–and there is a scene where a woman who has been assaulted takes a self-defense course. She keeps shying away from the instructor. She is unwilling to tap into her own aggression. As happens in convenient television show narratives, she comes back to the workshop the next week. The guy taunts her a bit. She gets aggressive and attacks him. As he struts away unharmed, he says something along the lines of, “That’s what I was looking for. Nobody mess with this woman.”
As though she was empowered? By beating on a man who clearly wasn’t injured and didn’t feel harmed?
The mythology of the perfect victim is pervasive, and maybe those victims exist, but just to be clear, I tried to fight back.
Most of us fight back.
For a long time, I didn’t try to fight back, and then, I did. When I tried to fight back, he held me down. He spit in my face.
He spit in my face–not once, but three times. He wanted to make sure that I knew I was powerless.
After that, I continued to fight back, but in different ways. I threw things at him that I knew wouldn’t hit him. I shouted insults.
I fucking broke his guitar
That’s right. I broke his guitar. And it was a nice guitar. A really nice guitar.
He was screaming at me, looming so close. I was holding the guitar poised, begging him to stop.
It was at the beginning of when he was regularly abusing me physically. I held that guitar and begged him to stop. I was standing next to the frame of a bed that he had built with his father. Together, they had harvested wood from their property, sanded it, then formed it into a bed frame.
Then, I fucking did it.
I smashed that guitar on to the wood he had once harvested himself.
He had thought that he was calling my bluff.
He calmed immediately.
He gathered up the guitar pieces and piled them into the corner of our bedroom. He embraced me. He told me that he forgave me, that he understood.
And what was I to do? What was I to think? I was, after all, the asshole that had broken my husband’s expensive guitar, though we were living in near-poverty.
He never got angry at me for breaking his guitar. He never guilted me, and I now know why, which is that he had always known that he was in the wrong.
I had assumed that he was out of control, and that my response was worse because I was not. I had assumed that I was the person who should feel guilty, but the truth was that I was just trying to protect myself because he had created sheer terror in me.
What I have learned from years of physical abuse is that men are physically stronger than me, though I am not a weak woman.
And this is why I struggle with portrayals of women taking self-defense classes and suddenly conquering the world.
I am not against self-defense classes. I support those fully. But all women who have been held down by a man know that there is no defense.
We need men to change. That’s truly the only salvation we can have.