There is a duality among women that I and others have observed. We either are extremely reluctant to recognize that violence exists in the world and that we may need to be violent to resist it, or we are extremely confident that we will be able to respond with force and effectiveness against the evils that may be visited upon us. You may see one or both in yourself, or know somebody who fits into one or both sides of the coin, but it’s not always easy to be reflective enough to figure out where we’re at.
On one end of the spectrum, we float through life assuming that people are well-intentioned. We believe in the innate goodness of people. To the extent there is unpleasantness in the world, we think of it as unfortunate events that happen to other people in other places. Murders and assaults are vague news items, to be quickly scrolled past. Even though we might be fascinated by the true crime genre, it’s distant novelty, not current warning. When somebody tries to tell us that we may need to defend ourselves, we recoil from the idea of hurting anybody, even someone who might be trying to kill us. Occasionally, sometimes, we might acknowledge that not only may our safety be at risk but that we might be the right person to do something about that problem, but our interest may be short-lived as we prefer to return to our comfortable lives where threats remain no more than vague possibilities.
Feeling called out? It’s okay. It’s completely understandable why none of us want to face the idea that nightmares could come alive in our living rooms. I’ve been there too.
At the other end, we believe that fighting is instinctive, that we will be able to claw our way out of danger like a bear, a lioness, some other strong and sleek predatory creature. We think that when push comes to shove, when the bad guy is in our faces, we will be courageous and savage, with our innate or fledgling deadly skills magically activated to full power by the danger to our lives. We know evil exists and see it around every corner, in every gaze. We leap on opportunities to expose creeps and traffickers, aggressively asserting our right to exist in a world without any manner of threat. We not only are aware that bad things happen, we live ready for bad guys to cross our paths. We may arm ourselves, often assuming that we will rise to the occasion of defending ourselves with or without recent training or practice because we are certain that good will prevail.
Is this you? It’s okay. When we are empowered, it’s easy to trip into the confidence of “we are women, hear us roar.” It is, after all, kind of the point. I’ve been there too.
Laid out like that, though, you might see that while we might feel safe at either extreme, they both miss part of what it means to be safe. Ignoring the fact that bad things can happen to good people doesn’t make those bad things go away. Having unquestioned faith in our ability to stop every bad guy in their tracks doesn’t mean reality will agree with us. Ideally, we sit somewhere in the middle where we recognize that violence exists and that we may need to prepare ourselves against it – and that we can do so successfully! – while not being tempted to think that we are able to deal with every eventuality. We need to see and acknowledge risk, so that we can plan for it, find ways to mitigate it, at the very least see it coming so we aren’t frozen in shock when it hits us. We need to see and acknowledge the weak points in our preparations, so that we are not complacent with our mindset and skill set, and not surprised when it turns out that this time, perhaps there is no harm being done, or that that time, the harm is overwhelming and impossible to triumph against.
Finding the balance is hard work. Realism is a necessity, but we must not lose sight of the good that exists. Preparing for danger is a necessity, but we must not lose hope that we can stop it. Confidence gives us the power to move through the world fearlessly, but so too does appropriate caution. Fierceness allows us to live fully and without limits, but prudence draws the lines that keep us alive. Some days, balance looks like walking the tightrope between them. Others, it’s bouncing wildly from side to side, trying to land in the right spot at the right time. Regardless, as long as we keep trying to bring these sides together, we are on track to both survive and thrive, to feel and to be safe.