Way back, years ago, I heard a theory:
'in a moment of danger, human reaction is one of three – fleeing, fighting, or freezing'.
I both agreed and didn't agree. Seeing as in my own opinion both fleeing and fighting are actions. Therefore to my own mind there really are two possible reactions – action or freezing.
But of this one can conclude that there is a choice… and that's not exactly the case.
I think I read something somewhere about this freezing, but so long ago that I don't recall the exact phrasing. It was something along the lines of –
what is happening is beyond the coping ability, therefore the psyche seals off, in protection of itself.
Lately, with the multiplication of reports about sexual harassment and rapes (both abroad and locally), I read in one of the newspapers (also) a female call to the rest of the women – to fight back. To not freeze.
It has to be said that according to what that writer wrote, it seems she knew what she was writing about from her own experience.
But my own experience? The first time a thoroughly unwanted guy tried to shove his tongue in my mouth – I managed to flee. The second time I couldn't escape so I resisted. Luckily the guy came to his senses and stopped.
(Which doesn't mean I am unfamiliar with the freezing option… I will get to it, sort of, later. In the mean time…)
Both these first experiences, in hind sight, showed me that my action was totally instinctive (!). Without any thought at all.
Very much like the eye that closes with anything approaching it, whether benign or with the intent to hurt.
And I'm not at all convinced this instinctive action has anything to do with character, and/or education, and/or anything at all that has to do with thinking/deciphering/concluding.
I will state clearly that I don't judge, nor do I have any tools with which to presume to judge other women, which may have encountered situations either similar or different than those I did myself. I also don't judge the one calling to fight back. However…
That above mentioned freezing, one cannot deny it – had existed, still does and can go on existing. I can even imagine certain situations in which freezing can save from death. (Although I must also add that actual rape can be the murder of the soul. And I have no idea how much is that better than final death, if at all).
But here another memory comes to my mind:
I once wrote, long ago and elsewhere, about a segment of a TV show I watched. The woman there clarified (to the guy) that while she lives her life doing her own thing, she doesn't forget that danger could cross her way. And since she doesn't want to find herself a victim of any sort, a part of her awareness includes not only where she is at any given moment but also what can be used in her self-defense (such as a bunch of sharp keys in a dark car park).
To me, that is woman empowerment. The total refusal to be a victim.
Or, in other words – the awareness that something bad may happen at the least expected moment and the total refusal to accept it without action.
Meaning – the knowledge that a woman can freeze and the intent and readiness, in advance, to help herself avoid it, with increased awareness.
Here I can add another snippet of my own experience: one night (driving home at around 2-3 am), after my refusal to play along with him at a red light – by not telling him my name, the stranger who asked it started following me. How harassing… (it has to be said that he may have driven along on his own way, with no connection to me. But…).
On the one hand – I went on driving. On the other – my mind froze (thus I reach the above mentioned sort of freezing).
The idea that reigned all others was that I didn't want to lead him to where I lived, to which I was driving. And my thoughts got stuck on this notion…
I will admit – I was stressed and didn't know what to do. Suddenly I realized the guy… whether turning left (into a buildings' car park) or U-turning back where he came from (tired of the chase), I couldn't see.
All I knew was that the guy cleared himself from my rear view mirror.
The next moment, with the calming down, countless ideas came to my mind: like stealing an orange light and turning immediately, for instance. If the guy got stuck at the red light and lost me after my turn, it would have cleared him sooner from my mirror…
Or driving straight to a police station. An hysterical woman being followed in the dead of night? No one would turn me away (at least not immediately), and the mere entrance to the station may have stopped the follower…
(Meaning, and to emphasize – freezing is possible. However, unfreezing one may come up with possible actions. And this experience armed me with these possibilities, if ever something of this sort happens again. Though I digressed. I started explaining about something I wrote long ago inspired by a TV show…).
To my amazement, a younger woman, who read what I wrote, understood me exactly the opposite to what I meant. To her understanding – I was walking this world waiting to be raped at any moment (and/or maybe seeking the next rape… ?).
And I don't judge her either. On the one hand – I may not have been clear. On the other – I haven't , nor can I have, any idea what in her personal experience biased her thought so that she understood so differently to my meaning (had I been clear). Therefore I will try to clarify now:
Firstly, that younger woman's approach may be interpreted as some kind of complacence, as in – this won't happen to me. However, the confessions of other women lately prove that even successful, intelligent women, sure of themselves, have frozen.
Therefore and in my own opinion the female awareness that something bad might happen (as opposed to the expectation for it to happen!), and advising the woman, in advance, to self-defense, fighting back, while enumerating tools and ways that can be employed in her aid, constitutes the refusal to ever be in a place where any man decides to test our boundaries (not to mention – gets carried away).
Because to me the boundary is clear: No, means – No!
The 'No' is not 'maybe' and definitely not a challenge. But simply 'No!'.
(even if the question isn't asked at all, as in the case of the guy that followed my in the night, if that's what he did).
It is obviously clear that a woman can live out her entire life without being harassed or raped (which is what I wish to all of us). But the awareness that it can happen must include the knowledge that it is possible to freeze also. That a situation 'beyond the coping ability' may exist. And expanding the awareness to include any and all available tools and options, in any moment, can minimize this freeze, if (perish the thought) anything will happen.
The 'Me too' campaign is positive (mostly). But it isn't enough. Alongside it (also – to my own opinion), us women need to enlist to enhancing all kind of awarenesses too.
Because violence against a woman also includes the sexual harassment and the rape.
Brought to you on November 25 – the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, 2017