I have been reflecting on the rise of women’s fighting spirit over the last few years…We see it in our popular culture with increasing female lead heroines; in the discovering of Ancient fighting women in book’s like Adrienne Mayor’s Amazons; and in our social world, such as through the amazing real-life Hollywood heroines emerging through the Weinstein saga and #MeToo movement. Of course, there is also the rise of actual female combatants. But I’d say it is all part of the same thing, women’s fighting spirit is increasing and so is their courage, but it is expressed in many different ways. Sometimes, in the case of Oprah (like Mother Theresa) the strategy is love. But the spirit is the same, taking on a formidable, fearsome situation or opponent.
Younger women seem to have it in droves, while for some of us older women, it can be a very slow and awkward awakening. A life time of conditioning to be the ‘nice girl’ and to consider other peoples feelings is hard to shed. As a new identity comes through, it is messy and chaotic at times. You don’t break out of an eggshell gradually, it happens in fits and bursts.
I would class myself as an ultimate beginner, in terms of fighting skill-level, I’m akin to a stumbling toddler. This relates partly to my personality and upbringing. Yes there was domestic violence… maybe you learn early on to shirk away out of a sense of safety. I’ve met many aggressive, loud, domineering women who were perhaps born knowing how to fight – at least verbally! I was not one of those women, so I accept I’m on a different learning trajectory from them and have decided to be patient with myself and accept my flaws. Making mistakes is the only way to learn. Also I am at peace with the idea now, that fighting for some things, even if you do it badly, is still better than not fighting.
I remember the time the idea of ‘fighting spirit’ first pricked my consciousness.
Although I had joined the Defence Force in 1990, and undoubtedly military history and military tactics classes addressed the issue of ‘fighting spirit,’ it was never something I understood at a personal level. A female colleague once asked me, “do you feel anything when you are doing the bayonet assault course? I don’t. I just pretend to look enraged and aggressive!” I had to admit that I didn’t feel particularly angry towards the wooden post with a sand-bag strapped to it either, but yelling and making noise did seem to rally the spirit for such activities.
One day I happened to fracture my back in a team building trust activity gone wrong. I was dropped 5 metres. I was also concussed. “Your brain has swollen,” the doctor explained, “it will take a few months to settle.” He scanned my medical file and asked me if I had put in a claim yet. I hadn’t. He looked annoyed, shook his head, looked up at the roof, contemplated for awhile then abruptly swivelled around in his chair to face me directly. “Look!” he said throwing his hands on his knees, leaning forward to glare at me, eye-ball to eyeball. “You. Need. To. Learn. How. To. FIGHT!” he said, his fingers clutching and opening wide again, to emphasize each word. His fingers stretched as wide as they would go, in a rhythm that matched the changing contortions of his face…
I was very tired and concussed and looked at him blankly. “Fight!” he said again. Perhaps my eyes and face conveyed my thoughts. Fight? the idea seemed distasteful to me. I leaned back in my chair and thought to myself, “don’t try that pep talk with me, can’t you see I’m not one of those grunt guys?” Being in a military hospital, I figured, he must have had years of hundreds of big men parading through his office, and had somehow just got me mixed up with one of them, he simply didn’t realise he needed a different pep-talk for me.
I looked at him like he had no bloody idea and he looked back at me as though I had no bloody idea. He grunted and threw his hands in the air and turned back to face his computer where upon he started angrily pelting the keyboard. It was silent except the sound of his keystrokes. At the end of the appointment we said a stiff, formal goodbye. Yet that moment has stayed in my mind. In the silence is dawned upon me that there was something I didn’t understand, a gap in my knowledge of how to be in the world. His great annoyance at me did penetrate my consciousness and leave me wondering, but it was a puzzle I wouldn’t start piecing together in my mind for another 10 years.