Times are changing. The sheer number of women who have come forward with tales of being sexually harassed or assaulted by Harvey Weinstein has opened up a national conversation that is long overdue.`
The many #MeToo tales of sexual harassment, abuse, assault, and rape shared on Facebook and Twitter have made it clear: this situation is not just happening in Hollywood. It’s common. It is rare that a woman has never experienced such inappropriate sexual behavior. Millions of women — and teen girls, and girl children — have been touched in a sexual way that they did not want. And we’ve pretty much normalized it, except in especially heinous cases such as Bill Cosby and the occasional gang rape or murder or famous person.
“Oh, well, that’s Hollywood for you. Oh, well, she was asking for it. Oh, well, she was drunk. Oh, did you see what she was wearing? Oh, that’s just how it is.”
Some men and non-binary people have experienced it too, and there are female perpetrators out there as well. But by and large, it’s men who are predatory, unwilling to ask beforehand for clear verbal consent, willing to proceed even if the victim does not cooperate or is not enthusiastic (or is frozen with fear), and uncaring about the effect on the victim, which can be emotionally crippling and last a lifetime.
I’ve been reading The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk, a psychiatrist specializing in trauma recovery, and he points out that when something traumatic occurs, the brain focuses on survival at the expense of the speech center in the brain (pp. 42-43). Think about this. Many trauma victims can’t tell a coherent story about what happened, sometimes not for years. Much traumatic experience has gone unreported, and yet it remains in the body and mind of the victim until addressed, usually with professional help, and meanwhile the brain stored fragmented images of the event that can reappear as terrifying flashbacks.
How many women have been triggered by the Weinstein stories? How many women are still recovering memories of abuse and harassment?
I believe this predatory behavior is part of the patriarchy that we are moving away from in our culture. You see its resistance and dying gasps and desperation in the headlines every day. But it’s on its way out: There will never be another Harvey Weinstein in Hollywood again, and there will never be another American president who has engaged in predatory sexual behavior again either.
Meanwhile, women are sharing how much we live in fear, listing the habits we have developed from fear that simply do not enter the minds of men. Going running alone at night. Leaving our drinks unattended at a bar. Staying late at the office. Entering parking garages at night without an escort. Riding the bus or walking on a trail alone without a cellphone. Holding our keys like a weapon when walking alone to our car. Carrying mace. Fearing to smile, make eye contact, or make small talk with a strange man, because we don’t know if he will take it as a sexual invitation.
Men are listening and learning and many of them, I hope, are developing more empathy and compassion and wanting to change this dynamic for the better.
Anyway, I want to share something I do that helps me feel good about myself. I took up Aikido.
In just three classes, I’ve learned to take a bigger man down to the floor. It’s fun, it makes my brain work differently, and it could be useful. And it’s exercise, and it is a philosophy: ai = harmony, ki = spirit, do = the way — the way of the harmonious spirit.
I’ve been told that women learn faster than men (because men usually have to unlearn some things), and that it gives an advantage to smaller people because it’s not about overpowering someone. You learn to disable aggression calmly.
If you’re in Austin, I invite you to join me. The class I’m in meets Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 12 – 1 pm. (It’s not on the schedule yet because it’s a new class.) My sensei is Rodrigo Martins. There are usually one or two more advanced students there to help with newbies like me.
You can wear anything to move in. You can visit a few times before deciding to commit, and if you do, it costs $85 per month. For that price, you can take all three classes each week, so that’s a bargain right there!
South Austin Aikido is located in Southwood Mall on Ben White, in the building behind Blazer Tag.