Wednesday, May 13, 2009

self defense

In high school I took an elective called “Self Defense”. I have no memory of what other things were on offer for an hour a week for one term, other than driving lessons that I had taken earlier in the year (we could get our drivers licence at 15 in NZ at that time, fuck legally at 16, vote at 18 and drink in a pub at 20 – I did things in my own order, but that is another story). I

I went to a girls state school. There were surprisingly few of us who took up the self defense option, this may have had something to do with the cute driving instructors. The woman who took the class was in her late 20’s/early 30’s, very attractive and a black belt in some form of martial art. She was tall, strident and confident. Over the weeks she taught us what she called “party tricks”, the nuts and bolts of what a wee thing weighing under the norm (oh those were the days) could physically do to fend off a bloke twice her weight and a foot or so taller.

The tricks stay with me to this day. You aren’t going to knock them over, so go with their forward momentum and try to throw them off centre. Jab your fingers in their eyes and gouge them for all your life. How we groaned at that one, “Miss we don’t want to hurt him!” “You’d prefer to be raped?” she would answer back.

The problem is that most of us 16 year olds would have been more likely to submit, than fight. We were deeply programmed to not harm others. When she gave us instructions on how to do damage to the testes, a number of young women blanched. “They feel like a ripe plum, girls”, she’d urge us, “Only without the stone in the middle”.

But her story left a stronger impression than the tricks themself. She’d learnt a martial art because she’d been sexually assaulted. I guess it was a situation known diminutively as “date rape” these days. She knew her attacker. She did not consent. She felt powerless.

Become a practitioner of a deadly art made her feel strong. But her plot to bring down her predator was far more vicious. For years she tracked what he was doing in his life, found out where he was working and then some how (the details are sketchy, it was a very long time ago) she’d have a word in the boss’s ear and get him fired.

Time and time again. She got her revenge. For years.

And yes, she wanted him to realise that it was her, that he’d done wrong, that rape has repercussions. She was happily married by the time I met her. She was the first woman I’d ever met who talked about the sexiness of bald men. She seemed balanced and content in her life but she was still not ready to let her rapist off the hook. She was going to give him another year before her next intervention.

Hearing that Matthew Johns has lost his gig on the Footy Show following the Four Corners story "Code of Silence" this week, I feel one small victory for the woman he assaulted all those years ago in Christchurch. Of course, he’s only been “stood down” for an indefinite period. A bit like Sam Newman getting a slap on the wrists for his mistreatment of women. It will take a persistent smear campaign against Johns for him to loose his lucrative gig permanently.

The tradition of gang rape (or “group sex” as it is called to avoid defamation in the media) across all the football codes in this country is a rite of passage. Certainly these young, buff, testosterone driven blokes get a mixed message from women. They have their fans, their groupies and even those women who think it is an honour to give any number of them a blowjob in a pub’s toilet. That exists too. But what has happened to the way we educate men, sportsmen or otherwise, that they believe if one woman has ever emphatically said “yes” to having sex with them, then she has consented for every other woman on earth?

There are many pieces to this equation. Yes alcohol and drugs play a role in violence and abuse. This is not an issue quarantined to footballers; it is a major part of the sexual abuse picture as a whole. But rape is about power. And the media does not seem to be commenting on this. And power is at the centre of this, why so many women have not gone forward to make official complaints. These men, with their team supporting their ‘stories’ and a legion of supporters out number a lone, vulnerable woman, who feels shamed and embarrassed by the encounter.

The lack of genuine remorse, of real understanding of the perpetrators is another issue. Acknowledgement of the offence and a genuine apology can be part of the healing journey for the men, women and children who have been abused. Many victims of sexual abuse within the catholic church have sought an apology from the Pope as part of their recovery; it is an important part of the process. Though the pontiff fails to recognise this. In fact the abuse by the clergy and the footballers have a lot in common. Though your local priest has god on his side too. That is almost like being a sporting hero.

To have John’s, in his “pre-emptive strike” on the Footy Show last week, apologise to his family for the pain and to leave the woman involved out of his contrition is unforgivable. Loosing his spot on television is a small victory for now. Perhaps that is what drove him to say sorry today, uttering in the same breath that he still believes she consented and offering another mea culpa to his wife in the same sentence. He is sorry, in his own way, that the woman involved was traumatised but you get the strong feeling that he still doesn’t get how she could have been.

"Any trauma, embarrassment that she's gone through as a result of this incident I'm extremely sorry for," he said.

"I'm extremely sorry to my wife and family as well."(ABC news)

You do however suspect that John’s wife watched Four Corners this week and took on board the young woman’s plea directed at her, the wife of the man that (allegedly – oh how we must use that word) raped her.

And as for sex, I don’t think John’s will be getting much of that at the moment.

Well, at home that is.

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Anonymous Lucy said...

Young, dumb and good only at sport. Not a healthy mixture. A culture entrenched with blokiness of the most revolting, nasty kind.

Not sure why any woman would want to offfer them blow jobs at all. Ever. Urgh.

I did self-defense at school, too. Loved it. Haven't had to use it yet, but you never know.

May John's wife see Sense, see her husband for exactly what he is and leave him. Sigh.

8:22 am  
Blogger Mindy said...

Or how consenting to be with one, or two or however many suddenly means that it's a free for all for the whole team, managers, hangers on etc.

10:32 am  
Anonymous Dahlia said...

Eveyone gets so hung up on the issue of consent and I was fuming when Johns said that the victim was a 'willing participant' in everything that happended. How dare he make that allegation against her! There's no one to verify what he says because, of course, the code of silence means he won't be naming the other players.

There's been no acknowledgement of the predatory behaviour of the men involved. Nor the fact that any response from the victim at the time may have been tainted by the dynamics in the room.

A naked woman who is lying on a bed with men streaming into the room (some via the bathroom window!) may well be feeling vulnerable and may even get caught up in a scenario she hadn't envisaged, hadn't asked for and was powerless to stop.

Johns is only looking out for himself and he's sorry that he is now being held to account. He offered an apology to the victim (for how she feels now - not what he did), agreed the situation that developed was wrong, but in the end he still gave the impression that she asked for it.

11:17 am  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

The saga continues in my next post....

Lucy, I have to say I have had to use the self defense tricks. A bizarre situation where I actually apologised before booting a bloke as hard as possible in the knees as he attempted to throw me in a car.

It worked.

I wouldn't apologise if it happened again though.

1:53 pm  

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