To fight or not to fight

There is a very interesting post at Mark Galli’s blog this week discussing a NY Times piece on violence against women and the need for men to reclaim their role as protectors. I have enjoyed the thoughtful comments along with his original thoughts, and the most recent comment posted was from a young woman (college student) who had recently enrolled in a self-defense course. She says:

“The majority of women do not even try to fight back when they are being assaulted. One of the reasons for this is that they don’t think they are able to, or they do not value their life enough. Assault perpetrators expect a woman to comply with all of their demands. By empowering women with the will (and knowledge) to fight back, much violence against women could be prevented. Too often we see ourselves as victims before we have even become them!”

I have never received any formal self-defense instruction (except for the twenty-minute safety talk we got my freshman year at North Park–go for the eyeballs and the genitals, we were told) so I was intrigued by her suggestion. When I was attacked here in L.A., I remember in that split second deciding whether I would simply surrender to my attacker, or whether I would fight back. There was no weapon visible, and I was in the middle of a street with my best friend (who was attacked simultaneously), and in that moment I felt like I had a reasonable chance of defending myself. I honestly could not have predicted how I would have responded prior to that exact moment: they say that, that you don’t know what you are capable of or inclined to do in that kind of situation until you are confronted by it.

I remember taking the first punch to my jaw. I had never been punched before. I had no idea what being punched would even feel like. It hurt, a lot, but I remember thinking: okay, if that is as bad as it will feel, I think I can take it. A couple of punches, a lot of wrestling, and finally a stopped car and people coming in response to my screams and the ordeal was over. (The neighbors told me that my scream was the single most blood-curdling thing they had ever heard and that I should be in movies–only in L.A….)

It cost me some bruising and sore muscles that lasted a week or so (and emotional scars that linger), but I was thankful that, though my attacker clearly expected me to comply, I did not. Reading the young woman’s comments, and considering the terrifying statistics reported by the Times, made me really consider her suggestion that how women perceive themselves contributes to the mindset of those who would do violence against them. I remember our North Park security officer telling us to walk briskly, make eye contact, and in general carry ourselves with purpose and confidence. Self-confidence and security do much to deter an attacker, he said.

I know that it is always Doug who gets out of our bed in the night when we hear disturbing noises. He is the one to open our bedroom door and go out to face what could be a danger to our family. I see him, at all times, as our protector. Yet there are enough times where I am alone with the kids that I sadly do rehearse the options of violence that we could encounter here and how I would respond. The unfortunate events of a few years ago remind me that I am not, at my core, a victim.


  1. So glad you posted this here and on the Galli blog. I agree that the victim complex makes women more vulnerable (for that matter, men who take this path are also more vulnerable). I think the complexity comes with context… when do we fight and when do we turn the other cheek?

  2. I am so glad you brought up the tension between fighting and turning the other cheek–certainly no black and white issue to be sure. Our God is both a warrior and a lamb. Thanks for your comments!

  3. I believe that if every woman had the confidence and skills she needed to defend herself, violence against women as we know it would end.

    Blessings to you and prayers for your friend who was attacked.

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