Putting the “grr!” into grrl power: At the Ladyfest Bay Area press conference several weeks back, Loolwa Khazzoom explained the driving force behind her new book, Consequence: Beyond Resisting Rape, this way: “I go up to men who harass me – and hit them!” The crowd, composed mainly of women save for me and a couple of other guys, let out a huge cheer. I sank lower in my chair, hoping no one noticed me. “Harassment isn’t about fighting,” she continued. “If men wanted to fight, they’d hit other men. I’m not afraid when I hit them.” Another cheer. Khazzoom went on to say that physical and verbal abuse contribute to a bland wardrobe, a lack of public singing, and horrible back problems from constant slouching. By this point, I was trying to slouch my way under my chair.
Despite my reaction, Khazzoom’s attitude at the podium – confident, righteous, even a tad amused – was invigorating, and I found myself dying to know what happens when you go up to an Israeli soldier who’s staring at your chest and sock him in the balls. It was then I realized Khazzoom’s book is what Ladyfest is all about: education meets entertainment, with a visceral smack.”
Dan Strachota for San Francisco Weekly
I’m a pacifist but I can’t stop feeling that men who sexually harass women deserve to get the shit kicked out of them. Harassment is horrible enough by itself but we have to take into account the fine line between verbal and physical abuse of women. It is hard to deny that we need to give men consequences for their actions. Everything conspires against our acknowledging our instincts but deep down we know when something is wrong and in particular we know when a situation with a man is getting dangerous. Unfortunately women are taught to never stand up for themselves and to never deny a man’s wishes.
Loolwa does women’s self defense classes and an important part of self defence is unlearning this stereotypical feminine passivity. However, Loolwa wants to take self defense further. This book puts across a new radical feminist thesis including: Men need to be less violent but women need to become more violent. All non-violent responses to sexual harassment only reinforce the harasser’s position of power. In sexual harassment situations women should be aggressive and should be the first to act with physical violence
Consequence is Loolwa’s account to a trip to Israel where she decided to test out her theory. She attacks Israeli soldiers, calls the police after boys in her hostel and pursues a rapist ex-lover. Loolwa is creative and fabulously powerful at dealing with the many men who try to give her trouble, and she is a terrific storyteller.
I have not made up my mind how I feel about this particular aggressive approach but this book has certainly influenced me. Quite soon after I finished reading Consequence I got a man verbally harassing me on the street. This never happens to me so I was not particularly seasoned at dealing with such things but nevertheless I stopped immediately, turned to face this guy and gave him a barrage of verbal back for about 3 minutes finishing with the words “and you should have respect for women”. He was too shocked to speak after that and I felt pretty good. I think most women would feel pretty energized after reading this book. Have a look at Loolwa’s website as well for more examples of her excellent writing.
Laura Wirtz for Synthesis
About two months ago a group of girlfriends and I went to a bar for some drinks. This bar is conveniently located directly above the off our backs office and we are familiar with the owner, so it is a place we are comfortable to hang out at. This one particular night, however, our comfort at a familiar place was compromised due to a group of men who insisted on forcing themselves into our space.
At began when one of the guys, the drunkest, would attempt to sit in one of the stools at our table every time one of us got up to use the restroom. Each time we asked him to leave. After about the fourth incident we began to get aggravated and told him that we did not appreciate the rude intrusion.
Apparently this defense of our space was as seen cute by the men and it encouraged his other friends to join in. With his friends behind him, the drunk asshole began to get bolder and started talking at us‹at our backs actually. His first comment was to my friend‹he said he liked her tattoo. The next comment was to me: “Those are really nice jeans‹and you have a nice tattoo too.” We ignored him, hoping he would go away but ignoring him only seemed to engage him more. He proceeded to ask my friend what her tattoo meant as he touched her arm. This infuriated me, so I told him it meant, “Don’t touch me” in Japanese. His reaction was to say, “What is your problem?” He had asked, so I told him‹I simply said, “my friends and I are attempting to have a conversation that is continually being interrupted by your rude behavior.” He had no comeback so he went to whine to his friends.
The result was that another drunk guy in the group began to harass me for being “hostile.” I couldn¹t believe I was the one accused of being hostile to a drunken asshole when he was the one who insisted on rudely interrupting our conversation and placing his hands on my friend. If anything, I was being extremely polite given the harassment my friends and I were undergoing.
I followed this attack by asking the asshole to define “hostile” for me. He seemed perplexed (no surprise there). I then asked if he had a mother or sisters -and he confessed that he had a mother and three sisters. I then asked what he would do if he witnessed the same situation happening to one of his sisters and his response was-“I would probably hit the guy.” My point exactly.
Perhaps it was the strength of off our backs beneath me, but this was the first situation of harassment that I decided to handle in a way that was empowering for me. I didn’t back away and I didn’t get “hostile.” But given the final response I kind of wish that I did get “hostile” and hit him. The final insult was that he tried to flirt with me, telling me he really likes intelligent girls!
Such “hostile” situations happen to women on a daily basis. They often make women feel weak and vulnerable, keeping them as caged creatures in a so-called free world. It is this exact torment felt by all women that is addressed in Loolwa Khazzoom’s book Consequence: Beyond Resisting Rape.
No matter what women do, it seems that men are always there making comments and even violently attacking them. In this short, yet extremely illuminating book, Khazzoom retells some of her own experiences of harassment by men. Most of the incidents take place on her vacation in Israel, but her experiences in no way are limited to that country alone.
Khazzoom describes situation after situation, during her trip in which men felt that they had the right to infringe upon her space simply because she was a woman. She discusses all of the frustrations that I and numerous women go through on a daily basis. Throughout the book Khazzoom struggles with ways to confront the men who harass her. Should she answer their rude and disgusting behavior with violence? Or would that just be sinking to their level? Or would she feel better by standing up for herself and showing men that there are consequences for their actions?
After much internal debate, Loolwa was finally pushed to the point in which she decided that violence was indeed the only way to handle the situation. She decided to finally hit a man who was harassing her. Interestingly, after she did it, her overwhelming feeling was ecstasy.
I must admit that I felt a good deal of ambivalence while reading the book. I kept finding myself thinking, ³Come on, you know if you are dancing in the streets that men are going to harass you.” As I read on, I realized that it was precisely this kind of thinking that the author is attempting to eradicate. I, like most women, have been socialized to think that I must moderate my behavior or else I should expect, and even deserve, any harassment I receive.
Instead, Khazzoom asks: Why can’t women walk around with the freedom that men do? Why can’t women walk around at 1:00 am and not fear being mugged or raped? Why can’t women dance in reverence and celebration of a beautiful moon without being harassed or called crazy? The answer is: we can¹t only to the extent we shy from challenging the patriarchal order. Sure we may put ourselves in danger if we decide to dance in the moonlight or walk the streets at night but as Khazzoom suggests, this is no more dangerous than the state of being a woman in our society. Given the fact that women are subject to countless acts of harassment and violence, Khazzoom asserts that taking risks for our freedom by acting in ways out of the script for women is no more dangerous than simply living. Khazzoom suggests that if we don’t take risks and refuse to moderate our behavior we will never experience true freedom.
After reading this book and after doing some extensive thinking on the author’s points I am not sure that there is ever a “right” way to handle situations of harassment. What makes it the right way is that the choice is empowering and affirming and is a conscience and autonomous choice on the part of the woman to stand up for herself, and therefore, for all women.
Vanessa McMullin for Off Our Backs
“Bracing and courageous call to fists”
To the daily torrent of indignities and assaults, both trivial and traumatic, Loolwa Khazzoom dares to take the outrageous step of fighting back, challenging, and even hitting her harassers. Some will say that she “goes too far,” others will cheer her courage, and still others will stare incredulously that a woman has the nerve to use men’s weapons against them. But few, if any, will read passively.
Loolwa Khazzoom’s Consequence takes a daring look at young women, violence, and power. In an age of backlash and increasing passivity, Khazzoom talks about a controversial “girl power,” unveiling the stigma against women who fight violence with violence. Consequence exposes the restrictions that everyday violence imposes upon young women, and challenges women (and men) to explore new ways of respecting and sharing each other’s space. Through her own experiences, Khazzoom pushes readers past the possibility of women responding physically to violence. She shares the solitary (and often frightening) “outlaw” experience of a woman who makes her own rules in the name of freedom.
After getting rejected from a number of publishers, one who described the book as “too controversial,” author, educator and performer Loolwa Khazzoom decided to publish Consequence herself. This short, powerful book follows the author from place to place as men leer, follow, touch, invade, threaten, assault, insult, and rape. Most days, in most corners of the world, women get so treated, with queer women statistically experiencing more violations than non-queer women. Few if any legal measures exist that support women defending themselves against these most pervasive “minor” forms of violence and assault, and women themselves often do not retaliate in their own defense. Hence, the harassment continues unchecked, and male dominance over women prevails.
Khazzoom calls for the laws permitting such assaults to change, and in the meanwhile, to empower women to consider physical retaliation, i.e., hitting, as a possible response. If women provide a palpable, injurious consequence for harmful, oppressive behavior, Khazzoom argues, the basis for sexist oppression will wither away. The alternative is to continue living in the small spaces of fear and avoidance produced by a “realistic” (i.e., accepting without challenge) view of menÕs danger to women.
After two decades of experiencing and witnessing similar encounters, I found it hard to resist KhazzoomÕs response to being harassed by a group of men. She singled one out, told him to leave her alone, and he mocked her cruelly. Rather than flee, ignore or crumple, she recounts, “I will never forget the strength, rootedness, and pure, radiant glee that filled me, as I witnessed the play-by-play follow-through of choosing to raise my hand and give that fucker what he deserved.” Now, I wonder if I have been, as Loolwa suggests, shortchanging myself by ruling out hitting as a viable option.
Some of her claims are too universal: “women everywhere” are not oppressed or endangered in exactly the same ways. I would also like to have seen more autobiographical writing about how Loolwa came to gather the chutzpah to actually throw those punches. But these are small quibbles compared to the books gargantuan, and long overdue contribution.
It is no small thing to suggest we stand up and literally, physically STOP harassers from continuing their quest to keep us in our place. Loolwa reminds us that we matter, we count, every single one of us, and the ability to fight violence against women is in our hands.
CONSEQUENCE throws quite a punch – literally. It opens with a typical day of street harassment which results in Khazzoom’s atypical response: a physical retaliation against the men who are visually and verbally assaulting her.
Whether or not one agrees with her proposed methods is up to the individual woman, and is almost irrelevant. The main drive of Khazzoom’s point, however, is one that most women (and hopefully men) can agree with: There are no consequences for visual and verbal assault. (Khazzoom is very careful to make the distinction that, for the sake of this book and this particular argument, she is specifically and only referring to male-to-female heterosexual interactions.) Through various examples of her experiences, Khazzoom works through the many issues and complexities that arise by experimenting with methods of reacting and creating consequences for the men attempting to objectify her body and usurp her right to be left alone.
Since CONSEQUENCE does raise so many complex issues, it is bound to be controversial, both between men and women, and amongst women themselves. But the fact that Khazzoom has been brave enough to fiercely raise the question should prompt us to read this book, and, at the very least, consider how we live our lives and how we would like to live our lives. Are our actions (or non-actions) truly choices or are they forced upon us as we grow up in a patriarchal society and made to look like choices? If Khazzoom can convince them of nothing else, readers will not walk away without a new sense of awareness of their own choices, decisions, actions, and the reasons behind them.
Alexandra Devin, for The Street Harassment Project
This book bashes back! Look out for Loolwa!
As always, Loolwa Khazzoom is on the cutting edge, writing real and raw, about the stuff that makes up our female lives.
Consequence is a detailed examination of the connection between sexism and violence against women. Loolwa Khazzoom thinks and acts outside the strictures of so-called “acceptable” female behavior…with thoroughly interesting results!
Consequence is a 21st century Grrrl Scout Handbook!