Years ago, when I was a freelance journalist, I launched a series of articles about women who hit or killed their assailants. I had two goals:
First, I wanted to bring attention to the fact that most women in prison, at least back then, had acted in self-defense against boyfriends or husbands who had repeatedly beaten and/or threatened to kill the women. Second, I wanted to flip the script of women being brainwashed from birth that we are weaker than men – leading women to feel helpless in assault situations, despite the fact that any form of resistance overwhelmingly stops the assault. (Men who attack women are looking for an easy win, not a fight.)
When I typed in the words woman kills attacker, without quotes, I got thousands upon thousands of pages of search results, with stories about attackers who killed women. When I put the quotes around my search, however, I got one or two pages of results with stories about women who killed their attackers.
The search results were abysmal. Disheartening. They spoke to the very issue I was addressing. The disparity of these results was not just a reflection of how many women had bought into the idea of being weak and helpless – ie, a reflection of the dearth of real-life stories out there. It was a reflection of media censorship, which in turn was a reflection of collective social horror and terror about the idea of women being “violent” – even when a woman’s very life was at stake.
I make this assertion as a former freelance journalist who sold articles in as little as one hour, to editors at top magazines worldwide – the very same editors who were unresponsive to or uninterested in stories about women who hit or killed male assailants.
I also make this assertion as a book author: In my 20s, I was fed up with the incessant levels of street harassment, and I began hitting men who harassed me. In other words, if I was sitting at a beach, minding my own business, and a man started in with the hey-baby-blah-blah-blah routine, and wouldn’t leave me alone, despite my firmly and repeatedly telling him to do so, I hit him.
I was done handing my space over to men – including two soldiers and a security guard who harassed me – and I documented my experiences in my book, CONSEQUENCE: Beyond Resisting Rape. I discovered that nobody wanted the book, not even the feminist press, not even the radical feminist press.
We fear women who take up space. Yes, even women are afraid of women who take up space. Women should be smart, but not outsmart men. Women should be strong, but not overpower men. Despite all its lip service to women’s equality and liberation and yada yada yada, society much prefers quiet women to loud women, dead women to fierce women.
Ultimately, after three years of searching for a publisher, I self-published the book in 2000. (Get the 2022 edition here!) My first reading was at an open mic that was mostly middle-aged men, with one young woman and one old woman. I felt extremely anxious, as I walked in and scanned the room. I anticipated being booed loudly, perhaps even with vegetable scraps thrown at my face. Imagine my surprise when the men loved my book. They thought the premise was a no-brainer: If someone is f***ing with your space, you deck ‘em. Period.
The old woman cackled with her head thrown back, throughout my reading – presumably enjoying how I turned the tables on power disparities she surely experienced throughout her life. Surprisingly, it was the young woman who confronted me after the reading, yelling in my face about how angry and violent I was, and how wrong it was for me to hit the men harassing me. The scene was comical (as I wryly pointed out to her), with me standing there calmly and peacefully, and her raging at me.
I never forgot that moment. And it followed me, as I did readings around the country: Women, I discovered, are afraid of our own power – specifically, power that takes us out of bounds of social approval, social acceptance, and men’s love.
I have so much more to say on topic! You can get my full analysis, along with some highly entertaining stories of disrupting street harassment, in my book, CONSEQUENCE: Beyond Resisting Rape.
I also recommend reading Real Knockouts: The Physical Feminism of Women’s Self-Defense and Women Who Kill and watching the video, War Zone, which follows a young woman through the streets of America, confronting harassment – decades before cell phones were available. The filmmaker and I actually did a program together, as part of my book tour a quarter century ago, and I showed her film at the opening of each CONSEQUENCE reading.
In addition, I recommend following CaffinatedKitti on TikTok and on Instagram. Her mission is to “outcreep the creeps,” and she does so brilliantly – with over-the-top, theater-of-the-absurd harassment responses which have left me screaming with laughter.
What do you think about women hitting men who harass women? Leave your comments below!