By Charing Ball
The now-infamous video of Yasmine James, a 20-year old McDonald’s crew worker who rightfully gave a violent customer a McBeatdown after he assaulted her, reminds me of all the times I too had to defend myself from the opposite sex.
The first time it happened was when I was seven years old.
I was outside of my Northwest Philadelphia apartment complex, playing with a couple of girlfriends, when a teenage boy, maybe 16 or 17 years old, approached us and began spewing accusations at us. He said he caught us spying on him through his first floor apartment window. It was true that we had been looking through his opened apartment window, but we were not spying on him. Instead, we were pretending to be ghosts. I’m aware that it sounds pretty childish, but that’s the thing: We were children. I tried to explain to him that we meant no harm, but that didn’t stop him from balling up his fist and knocking each of us little girls square in our mouths.
The second time a boy assaulted me was in middle school.
He was a classmates of mine who loved making fun of me for my pre-braces buck teeth. His teasing was relentless. He didn’t stop until he had the entire class pointing and laughing at me. One day I got tired of being the butt of his jokes and decided to turn the tables. I started talking about his drug-addicted mother. Apparently, he didn’t appreciate being humiliated in much of the same way he had embarrassed me, so he swung on me. I swung back. We fought, and then we both got suspended from school.
The last time a guy punched me in the face was just a couple of years ago.
He was the ex-boyfriend of my then-best friend whose house I was staying at for the weekend. He was upset that she was not home and accused me of being the reason behind their breakup. He kicked in her front door and attacked me as I laid in bed. We wrestled and fought each other for what felt like forever. I thought for sure he was going to kill me. But a change of heart came over him. He let me go and ran away.
I would like to say that these were isolated incidences, but the truth is, I have lost count of how many times in my life I have been threatened with violence or even assaulted by a member of the opposite sex. I even had a couple of guns drawn on me (once by a “brother” who apologized for robbing me before taking my leather jacket and once by two male police officers representing Philadelphia’s “finest”).
I am not alone.
Among my friends, relatives, co-workers and even faint acquaintances, we have swapped countless stories like old war-weary veterans of being dragged, punched, slapped, knocked out and damn near killed. In each one of those situations, we have also recalled the ways in which our pleas for help – from fathers, from brothers, from law enforcement and from bystanders – were completely ignored. It was the Honorable Minister Malcolm X who sermonized how unprotected Black women are in the world. And from my experience, this is nothing but fact.
Still, as an unprotected Black woman, I have to say I’ve grown okay with this reality. It’s not because I like living up to the “strong black woman” trope or even because I enjoy fist-fighting dudes in the street. But rather, I choose to let go of the false sense of security brought on by an idea that my safety and well-being rest in the hands of another person.
You see, protectionism of women is largely a myth. It was conceived by a patriarchal social structure meant to dupe women into seeing themselves as weak and incapable of self-defense. Since birth, we have been spoon-fed ideas of a Prince Charming and white knights on horses, slaying dragons and rescuing us from evil villains who wish to do us harm. And because of this conditioning, we not only accepted the idea that the only way to feel safe and protected is through men, but we have also subjugated ourselves to rules, behaviors and even laws, largely by set by men, under the guise of protectionism. As as a result, what is said to be for our safety, has in essence, left us more vulnerable, unsafe and unprotected than if we were allowed to take matters into our own hands.
Don’t believe me?
Well, let’s consider the women of Cameroon who have taken to breast ironing in the hopes of keeping their daughters, and themselves, “safe” from sexual harassment and assault. Or the women of Saudi Arabia who were prohibited from operating vehicles over fears that driving would harm their ovaries. Even closer to home, we victim-blame and slut shame women for not covering up, being “fast,” and having “smart mouths,” instead of policing men and holding them accountable for their behaviors. Even our current president is a reflection of the false sense of protection women are given. As noted by writer Soraya L. Chemaly in a piece titled “Women Don’t Need More Protection, We Need Less” for Role Reboot, it was the belief that women are weak and unable to protect a nation from “them” that largely compelled white women to cast their votes for Donald Trump:
Trump ran on a Powerful Man Who Will Protect You strong man platform, right? “Women vote for me because they know I will protect them,” he continues to say. The nation needs a “broad-shouldered” president, in possession of a large penis, according to the man himself.
Protect women from what exactly? Terrorists? Poverty? Ill-health? No, what Trump promised was to protect mainly white women from mythologized violence and a loss of status, and he did it by aggressively touting racialized fears.
As sad as it is, we are asking men, particularly Black men who often negotiate their own safety and can barely protect themselves, to do what we are fully capable of doing ourselves.
And to that, I say no thanks. I am done trading my own autonomy for the false promise of male security.
Now, does this mean we should stop working to make this world safer for women? Of course not. And it does not mean that we should not hold men accountable for their violence against women. But the world has been a sh-tty place for women for centuries, and while there is change, it is slow. So in the meantime, while we wait for society to finally decide we are fully realized human beings, we should put our efforts into other forms of protection. Like one that requires us to fight our own battles, speak up for ourselves and physically protect ourselves as well as our sisters, our mothers and our daughters if we have to.
As Yasmine James put it in a recent interview with The Grio, “To me it’s like if I didn’t call the police, if I didn’t do anything, who would have?”