Saturday, July 21, 2012

Nice Girls Don't Fight

Long post alert. Don’t let that discourage you though!

I read this post a couple of years ago that there are women who can’t, who want to but literally are unable, to scream when raped. They want to, need to, and their survival may depend on it, but conscious mind and rational calculus be damned, rote learning of social rules takes over. These mental blocks can’t just be discarded. They can sometimes be unlearned, overcome, broken: but they cannot be ignored. Just because they are in women’s heads does not make them any less real.
I’ve heard/read that one of the toughest things for many women in self-defense training to overcome is the inability to make noise. The socialization of the good-girl role, the selfless role, the not-making-trouble, not-taking-up-space role, starts early and never stops and that conditioning runs deep. Those blocks are real.
The conditioning referred to scenes like this:  
  • Women naturally backing down in arguments,
  • Women being interrupted by male speaking when speaking in public places, (you are a girl, keep quiet!)
  • Women learning to purposefully lower and modulate their voices to express less emotion (yes sir, yes my lord)
  • Women making obvious signals that they are uninterested in conversation or
  • being in closer physical proximity and are ignored.
  • Women being leered at or having rude suggestive comments said to them at work/on the street etc
  • A woman getting grabbed because of what she was wearing or not wearing (typical market scenes)
We accept as normal these daily social interactions in which women are quieter, ignored, or invisible. Then suddenly, when a woman is raped, all these natural and invisible social interactions become evidence that the woman wasn’t truly raped. Because she didn’t fight back, or yell loudly, or run, or kick, or punch. She let him into her room when it was obvious what he wanted. She flirted with him, she kissed him. She stopped saying no, after a while.
Well, she was just following the rules she has been taught her whole life. The rules that were supposed to keep the rape from happening. The rules that would keep her from being fair game for verbal and physical abuse. Breaking the rules is supposed to result in punishment, not following them right?

I think I am one of those socialized women who can’t fight back.
I had a near-rape incident in my 3rd year in the University where the appearance of a persistent security guard(an angel!!) at the nick of time saved my hymen from being penetrated by a man of whom today I can’t recall the details of his face and name no more; not that I didn’t know who he was before that date but after incident I asked God to help me delete him from my memory.
But I haven’t deleted/erased as easily the feelings of panic I experience in close encounters with the male folk till today.
If I have to be alone with a guy that is not my brother or boyfriend, I’m all about exit strategy. I am checking doors, windows, I am watching his every move suspiciously. If there was a red alert button my thumb will be caressing it.

2. Male associated hysteria MAH(my name for it). Hmm, let me attempt to explain it: You know all those play fights with a stronger male friend where to subdue your playful punches etc, he holds your hands captive…..hmmm, before year 2000, I would be laughing, biting, kicking and trying to free my hands if that happened; but post attempted rape when I am held captive, I freeze and hyperventilate. A scream builds up but it doesn’t get out. My rational self is telling me that XYZ is my friend, we are playing, my unrationale self is screaming ‘He is about to rape harm you’. The only sign of my inner turmoil are tears.
Suffice to say I have had a few embarrassing encounters.

The one thought that bothered me for a long time after was, ‘Couldn't I have done more to escape my assaulter?’, cause at a point during the event I had blanked out and just accepted that I was going to be raped. I never screamed, scratched or bit. I only kept saying ‘No, please don’t’ till I realised my mild struggling movements were exciting him the more. Then I stopped and just lay there like a sacrificial lamb.

Even in ordinary circumstances, I can’t throw an object directly at another human. I intentionally curve my hand or aim at some innocuous place. I dream of defending myself from a would be attacker(Boko Haram members included) by throwing a knife, shooting a gun, kicking hard, scratching their eyes out, but deep inside I wonder if i can overcome this ‘mental block’ the writer has mentioned.

I guess I now have two issues to deal with – socialization that made me not fight in the first instance. Then the post rape phobia. I need self defence classes and a Soldier-husband!!!

I think of the Guinea hotel staff who fought off Strauss Khan the IMF President. To have the instinct/boldness to fight off a man as powerful as he without thinking of ‘consequences’ and ‘reprisals’ leaves me in awe of that lady.….I also think of the lady in the ABSU rape and remember that some people (including the police) judged her rape to be consensual cause ‘she didn’t put up a fight’.

Here are gems I picked to share about different reactions to sexual assault/harassment from this post.

#1 - There was a man who was probably around my father’s age – I’m a 19 year old college student btw - who usually sits outside his apartment as I walked home from class. I always smiled and said hi as I walked by because I wanted to be friendly to my neighbors. But then I started noticing that he was out there more and more, like he knew my schedule – and one day, he motioned to me to come over. So I did. And then he asked me out. I told him I had a boyfriend. I was really disturbed and scared, because when he hit on me, he was really drunk and I wasn’t sure what he would do when I said no. It ended up okay, I went back to my apartment and started avoiding him from then on. But when I told my dad about the incident, because I was frightened and disturbed to be asked out like that by a much older man, my dad said “why did you go over to talk to him?” That made me so mad, because he said it in a way that sounded like he was blaming me, saying I was stupid for going over there. But when you’ve been raised to do what older people say and in a culture that makes it seem like men are the ones who get to do all the ordering around, is it really that surprising that I just dutifully walked over to talk to him?

Ha! This is an almost weekly occurrence for most women isn’t it? An old-enough-to-be-your-father-man abusing his position by chatting you up and cause of his age you are torn about how to react??

#2 - I’m a very straightforward person, and maybe come off as a bitch sometimes. When men hit on me directly in a way that makes me feel uncomfortable, I’ve taken to saying flat out “You need to stop talking to me. Now.” No-one deserves to be made to feel uncomfortable or violated because some guy thinks he has the right to.

Bravo. I have never been this forthright in an encounter. Need to learn.

#3 - In my very first week of college, I went to a dance and had loads of fun. The next day, a good looking guy at the school approached me, said that he had noticed me at the dance and would I like to go out with him some time? I was beyond flattered. Now I know better, because I spent the date we went on dreaming up every possible way to not be raped and yet still be nice. Thank God he let me out of his car, because I would not stop saying that I did not want to go to his room. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that if I went to his room that I would be raped from the way he had been behaving all evening. That was my introduction to college life.
When I told one of my male “friends” about what happened, especially during the ride home, when he started tickling me, which caused me to fall down, then he “accidentally” fell on top of me and for a few terrifying seconds I thought he wasn’t going to get off, even though I was telling him to…my male friend simply asked me why I hadn’t slapped the guy. Because despite everything that the guy did, it was still all my fault for not being violent enough? Besides that, I was scared-I was afraid if I did speak out more violently, then he would punish me much more violently too. My friend just has no clue what he was asking me to do.

I agree too. Like someone succinctly put it, “The real pisser is trying to figure out what level of ‘no’ will get someone to stop, and what level of ‘no’ will cause someone to beat the crap out of me”.

#4 - When I feel threatened by somebody, particularly if it’s a matter of feeling like I’m being followed on the street or in a store, or if I’m in a waiting room and some guy is leering at me, I respond by being friendly. Not at all in a flirty way, but in what I hope is a “Let’s deal with each other as two human beings” way. I’ll just ask, in as straightforward and friendly a way as I can, if they need help finding something, or if they are looking for a particular street, or just how their day is going. And, at least for me, I’ve found this usually works, both to dispel my fear and to get the other person to start dealing with me as a person. I do think it sometimes disarms a person who is trying to elicit a response that’s either sexual or fearful from you if you just refuse to do either and respond in a way that they aren’t prepared for. Certainly being curt (the “you need to stop talking to me” thing) would work, too, but I’m not a curt person, with anybody. I’m a friendly person, even with strangers, and I guess I just figure that I’ll try, if possible, to set the tone for how the person will interact with me. It usually seems to work out very well.
This is me!!! and now I can see how this kinda attitude can get one into trouble with a determined psycho/rapist!!!

#5 - This discussion made me think of my 4 year old daughter, who is small and, like her dad, slender and muscular. She can be a total pain in the butt, and shouts loudly “no” when there’s something she doesn’t want to do. Sometimes she sulks when she doesn’t get her way, but she doesn’t take any sh*t when someone tries to force her to do something she doesn’t want to do. I feel pressured to make her more polite, and to “respect authority,” but she doesn’t get into trouble at preschool/daycare and generally plays well with others, boys and girls, and she’s not afraid of playing with the rougher boys, she just keeps her distance if things get rougher than she likes.
The next time she is being tough and strong and defiant with me, I’m going to try to remember that I want to preserve that in her, that it’s far better than the alternative, especially since she’s probably going to be smaller than most of the other kids her age for the rest of her life. Yes, it is a pain in the ass, but I want her to practice standing up for herself, and it doesn’t mean she always gets what she wants, but that she’s allowed to fight.

And I think this is where it all starts. Childhood. All children go through this phase but while girls are taught to 'act nice'(say yes mostly), boys are encouraged to not take no for an answer.

What do you think? Are women’s reactions to sexual assault/harassment due to socialization? How do you deal with it?


  1. Couldn't read d whole post but I just want to point out that in rape or life threatening situations, ur body pretty much goes into shock, and u r frozen first, before the flight or fight kicks in. In most cases when u cannot fight, flight could take the form of doing whatever it takes to survive that incident, and in some cases people dissociate from their bodies. I don't think it has anything to do with social conditioning.

    1. Hey Sting thanks for weighing in. You are quite right about my physical reaction not being linked to socialisation. I am quite relieved in fact!

  2. It wasn't that long lol. Anywho, i think that socialization plays a part in why we find it difficult to speak up sometimes. I know there have been times when i've wanted to say something about something but couldn't find my voice because i subconsciously didn't think it would be ladylike (or at least thats the conclusion i've come to). But in terms of a sexual assault i think its a mix of paralysis from fear and feeling like screaming or drawing attention to yourself will only escalate things and make things worse.

    I too suffer (though not as much anymore as time has gone by) from that male associated hysteria. I would imagine that most women who've been assaulted (sexually or otherwise) by a man probably experience the same thing.

    1. Hey Lady Ngo :),
      As i wrote 'lady' the thought crossed my mind that the word is a social term for 'woman, keep quiet/behaveaw3' lol.
      Yeah, you made a good distinction of what parts of behaviour socialisation affects. The reaction during assault is more physiological than social it seems.

  3. This is thought provoking. I honestly have never thought about it this way before but I'm definitely feeling you. I'd like to think that I'd be screaming the whole world down if I find myself in a threatening situation. I'm fighting till I die

    P.S: What part of No means No don't these sickos get anyway?

    1. My love, may our eyes never see evil come to talk of fighting till I die.

      What part of No means No don't these sickos get anyway? I don't know oo. Why don't they get their highs from food or chocolates like everyone else instead of ruining people's lives?

  4. I agree that socialization has a big role to play in addition of course to how our bodies react in the face of terror. I was naturally tomboyish as a child but because I was also smallish, I was bullied, sometimes by boys. I had to learn to deal with those bullies and as my personality doesn't do too well with conforming - my mum stopped pushing after a while - I identify with the child in the last scenario and the straightforward curt adult in the second..

    1. I can totally imagine you being curt Myne. Good4u!! I am usually the 'nice lady' who tries to disarm through conversation. Like the lady commenter, it has worked mostly but yeah, it does mean some guys get away with almost murder before i am pushed to react.

  5. I think you should break this up.I keep passing it but no one wants to read o! It's LOOOOOOONG!!!

  6. Interesting read... Every experience in life counts towards our response to subsequent events. However, while we learn from the difficult ones, I think its wise not to he terrified by them. Learning to deal with those events without the fear of past events is better than dealing with them out of fear of the past. The latter does nothing other than put us in bondage. That's what me thinks...

    - LDP

    1. "Every experience in life counts towards our response to subsequent events" True talk LDP.
      But learning to deal with those events without the fear of past events is easier said than done. If it was that easy, psychological problems wouldnt exist!

  7. I agree that socialization has something to do with how women react to male assault. If a woman feels she is a second class citizen, she is likely to accept abuse.
    The home is so important

    1. I am with you NIL about the importance of the home. The dynamics between mothers and fathers, their ideas about male/female behaviour ultimately shape our reaction to issues.

  8. I agree with Madame sting. It's difficult to scream. It takes a bit of courage and self prodding to open your mouth and scream when in danger. I remember being robbed right in front of my house early one Saturday morning (very early from a vigil) and these 2 guys on an okada parked beside me. I didn't freeze freeze but I was in shock. My knees were SHAKING! I was shaking but I didn't scream. All I felt was raw fear...

    1. Sorry MsTizzle. That must have been frightening!
      I agree that it takes courage to scream. I have come to admire those who can..

  9. In my own opinion I think it has something to do with social conditioning and psyche...and the relationship between the two cannot be explained as easily as we might would need days of teaching by a qualified pro..
    I remember hiring a personal music instructor cos I felt I needed someone to keep me in touch with my guitar playing and on the first day he was supposed to visit..I placed my guitar in a very strategic place just in case he tried anything was going to go "whack" on his skull...but thank God nothing of the sort happened.

  10. It all starts with childhood and what society expects from the girl child is different from what society expects the boy child. In as much as we try to raise polite children, we should also not forget that they need to be able to stand up for themselves.

  11. I'm definitely the curt and evil binsh! My mum and friends have told me several times that I have 'THE look'. The medusa head kind. I'm really small, and I was bullied in Junior school. I learnt to stand up for myself and now, I won't take much crap from anyone and I give off that vibe.I'm really a sweetie and the evils are a defence mechanism which works most times. I'm also conscious of the fact that it may pose a 'challenge' to a sicko looking to conquer what he perceives as a 'strong woman'. I agree about social conditioning but as you grow older, you have to become aware of the society around you and take whatever minute steps you possibly can to protect yourself from predators.

  12. It's a long post but I had no problem reading all of it.

    Really thought provoking stuff. I'm the type of person who would freeze, most likely, when there's danger. I remember an uncomfortable situation with a guy in secondary school, and it's the kind of thing where if I'd slapped him and walked away I could have gotten cheers and an applause. But I did nothing. I just stood there. So I can definitely relate.



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