I took a self defense class for women last night. While it was therapeutic to punch some pads to practice the moves we were being taught to get away from a hypothetical attacker, we were practicing moves to get away from a hypothetical attacker. I found myself holding back tears for most of the class. Afterwards, I debriefed at a friend’s house (who was also in the class). A bunch of anger came up that was “unrelated” – about classes, lack of feedback before being handed a midterm, lack of or changes in structure, etc.
Really, though, the anger about “everything” is really (mostly) about the society we’ve set up and labeled “the American Dream.” As I mentioned, women live in a much more dangerous world than men. I’m angry about that. What I’m also angry about is, while the class was being offered in service of the goal of changing this culture of gender-based violence (statistically, that means men=perpetrators / women=victims plus a prevalent mentality of victim blaming, minimizing and judging), the class is being offered to women. That is, the onus is still on us, women, to defend ourselves. Do they even offer classes for men on how to not attack women? Maybe somewhere. My point is that the fact that it’s dangerous for a woman to walk through a dark parking lot alone precisely because she is female is not really women’s fault (and yes, I know, men get attacked, men can be sexually assaulted. I know. And I don’t want to hear it. The numbers reveal that women are at a MUCH greater risk of being harmed by a man – this includes leering, catcalling, elevator-eyed, etc. But, to be fair, this is what it might look like if the genders were reversed when it comes to sexism and walking through this world as a woman.) Women alone are not going to solve this problem, not matter how good we can get at kicking a guy’s ass.
The profile of perpetrator reveals a need for control. These are premeditated acts borne of complete disregard for the humanity of the other in favor of assuaging the insecurity of the self. The need for control is about power. Power, at least in my opinion, is a massive theological problem. I haven’t totally detangled this yet; here are my *initial* thoughts:
Power isn’t necessarily the problem: we all want God to be powerful. Powerful enough to save, powerful enough to heal, powerful enough to overcome this destroyed world hell bent on death. It seems, then, that it is the *desire* for power that is the problem. God does not desire to be omnipotence, God is omnipotent. And no human being is. Therefore, we can only want power and get it by derivation. In this way, the core of power, the essence of its nature, is hunger. The course of power, its inevitable rut, is bondage. The cure of power, its unending end, is conquest. And the power of power, its lifeblood, is in remaining secret.
So what does this mean for self defense? I’ll admit, I have only a Cliff-Notes understanding of Jesus’ word on self defense: in terms of religious persecution, you are to willingly give up your life; in terms of violence, the only way to end the cycle is to take it into Himself (notice I said “is” not “was” – this thang ain’t over yet). In terms of power, Jesus emptied Himself volitionally (i.e, became hunger). Jesus bound Himself to us and to God freely (i.e, lived as human-and-divine union as a completely free act). Jesus today remains largely hidden, thus preserving our freedom (i.e., He compels no one to Himself except those that are compelled by love, which is by definition free). And yet, Jesus also left footprints in the sand, no body in a tomb, and blood on a tree (i.e., Jesus is the revelation of the otherwise unseen God). Is the way we “be like Jesus” to mimic these behaviors, follow-the-leader-style? Or is there something far deeper, much more far-reaching than monkey-see, monkey-do?
I think we are worth being protected. I don’t think taking up our cross means forfeiting our safety as women walking through this world. For now, said safety requires that we learn how to be powerful enough to make ourselves undesirable as targets. But, even as we are made in the image of God, we still, I think, must ultimately look to God for the kind of power that truly protects. This is the only pure power, “pure” here meaning not unadulterated or concentrated but natural and free of motivation tainted by sin, which, of course, can only be found in God. It is in that power that Christ was crucified, it is with that power that Christ was raised and it is that power that Christ remains.
At least, that’s what I think. For now.