Self-Defense For Women In 2017
Part one of our interview with the wonderful feminist self-defense activist, Meg Stone.
Meg Stone via Literary Firsts
After the 2016 U.S. election, every long-lived lesbian I knew (along with a lot of other people of all ages, nationalities, and orientations) was expressing despair, anger, and outrage. Among the many anguished and angry cries, Meg Stone's response seemed to me especially helpful and constructive. It made me feel empowered, not embittered. Here, Meg talks with LOTL about self-defense on a personal and political level.
LLL: Tell us about your work in general, and about teaching self-defense in particular.
Stone: I'm the Executive Director of IMPACT Boston, a division of Triangle. I'm also president of IMPACT International and a member of the Empowerment Self-Defense Alliance, two national groups working to proliferate feminist, social justice-oriented self-defense.
IMPACT works to prevent violence and abuse by teaching practical, useable, self-defense skills to people of many walks of life. People learn by doing—we don’t lecture people about how to protect themselves, everyone who takes our classes gets up and practices the skills. IMPACT also works with schools and disability-serving organizations to help them proactively prevent abuse.
We believe everyone deserves to be safe and everyone has the ability to protect and advocate for themselves, so we focus on teaching verbal and physical self-protection skills that are accessible to people with a wide range of body types and fitness levels. We also have programs designed specifically for communities that face higher rates of violence and abuse, such as people with disabilities, teen girls, LGBQ people, and Muslim women.
LLL: How did the recent US presidential election affect you, or people you know?
Stone: Immediately after the election, we saw interest in our programs increase and shift. We had scheduled a women’s class for mid-November, and we were expecting about 15 people to show up. We got almost 60!
The people who came out were concerned not only for their own safety, but also for the safety of others in their communities—Muslims, immigrants, transgender people, people with disabilities. Some people in my community had personal experiences of hate speech. A colleague of mine who is Latina had a stranger follow her in a car and yell at her to get out of Trump’s America. The week of the election a gay male friend of mine was walking around a gay-friendly part of Boston and someone in a car yelled “fag” at him.
For many people, the election increased both our fear and our sense of responsibility. People want to know what to do to protect themselves, and they’re just as concerned about making sure they have the skills to safely intervene if they see someone else being harassed or threatened.
This interview will continue in subsequent columns.
LLL: After the 2016 U.S. election, how did people want to support their community members?
Stone: I’ve seen a lot of generosity on the part of people who support our work. Since the election, we’ve offered free self-defense courses to Muslim women in two different mosques, and several non-Muslims have made generous donations to make these classes possible. Several church groups have scheduled bystander workshops as well.
LLL: What has been your reaction to the Trump candidacy and administration?
Stone: I have thought a lot about the way Donald Trump’s campaign spoke to people who are experiencing economic hardship at the same time they are also feeling threatened by the gains made by women, people of color, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and others. There’s nothing right or good about blaming Muslims or immigrants for these problems, but for me it’s important to listen to people who voted for Trump and try to understand the personal and often complicated reasons behind that decision.
I’ve begun interviewing mostly white women who have personal experiences of sexual and domestic violence about why they chose Trump. I plan to write about it once I’ve done more research. The experience of learning and listening and challenging myself has been humbling and surprising.
I also feel more urgency about IMPACT's work to prevent violence. In this campaign season we heard a lot of non-factual claims about violence —any number of reliable data sources show us that violent crime is not at a high level, yet Trump and others claimed that it was. I feel urgency about making sure the public conversation about violence is factual instead of fearmongering.
We need to be talking about the epidemic levels of child sexual abuse and sexual assault of young women and LGBTQ people in this country. We need to be talking about the fact that children with disabilities are three times as likely as those without disabilities to experience sexual abuse, and adults with disabilities are twice as likely to experience violent crime. We need to talk about the fact that hate crimes against Muslims and transgender people increased in 2016 while violence against all other groups remained constant. And that since the election the group reporting the highest rates of hate violence is immigrants.
LLL: You've said that after the election, "The work is completely different and the work is completely the same." What did you mean?
Stone: Our work has always been about giving people the tools to be their strongest, safest selves. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is the fear people have, and how immediately and viscerally people are experiencing threats to their safety in response to the policies and culture that the current administration is advancing.
It’s an honor to be a resource both to those that are personally targeted and to those who want to be more conscious and intentional about offering their help.
LLL: What keeps you energized? How do you keep from falling into despair? How to keep from burning out?
Stone: What keeps me energized is the literal physical nature of my work. I get to use my body powerfully and resist violence on a daily, weekly basis and that keeps me in touch with my strength. I also get to witness other people’s strength and determination.
I keep from burning out by re-charging with sappy, formulaic Hallmark movies and through my love of musical theater. There’s nothing like a soaring, smart, intricate show tune to restore your faith in humanity — or at least mine.
LLL: What words of hope or encouragement would you offer to long-lived lesbians?
Stone: Too many people see self-defense as kickboxing or cage fighting. Way too many long-lived people assume they could never take a self-defense class because of a physical condition or self-perceived lack of strength. In fact, good self-defense is about using the strengths in your body against the inherent vulnerability of an attacker’s—nobody is invulnerable just because they are young, or big, or muscular. You shouldn’t have to be young or strong or athletic to be safe. A good self-defense instructor will show you the ways that every body can be powerful.
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