Her wits about her: self-defence success stories by women by Denise Caignon & Gail Groves
Late at night you are in an empty street, feeling somebody is following you. You are too frightened to turn around, only hearing your breath and the steps of that unknown stranger coming closer…
Most women share nightmares like this one above. They are stressed by the mass-media which often publishes headlines like “Woman was killed by rapist”. Those reports easily evoke the impression that women don’t have any chance to escape if they are attacked by a criminal.
With their book Her Wits About Her Denise Caignon and Gail Groves try to set a counterbalance to the image of helpless women which is often reinforced by the media. The editors have collected a great many stories from women who have successfully defended themselves. By reading this book it becomes quite clear that the image of passive women does not represent reality – stories of successful self-defence are just commonly not told in the press and media.
Denise Caignon states in her introduction to the book that she has realized that women are hungry for tales of success and so was she. Together with her Co-editor, Gail Groves, she started a project called the Success Story Project and looked for women who were willing to tell their personal self-defence story. This book is its result.
This collection is meant to help women to revaluate their acting in those situations when they’ve been threatened. The editors want to help women to feel proud of the things they did instead of feeling guilty about the things they did not.
With this collection of authentic and very personal stories of women of every age and nationality the editors do not want to give instructions for self-defence but want to describe the experience of survival.
The book is divided into seven parts which are supplemented by the introduction and the foreword as well as a compilation of self-defence programs and a selected annotated bibliography for further information.
The seven different parts summarize stories with similar topics, for example the stories in chapter one, “Loss of Innocence”, are by women who were attacked in their childhood. Each chapter starts with an introduction and ends with a concluding essay that contains self-defence information and suggestions. That might be helpful, but for me, the stories themselves gave me more than that: all those different women tell their personal self-defence story in different settings and share their feelings with the reader. Although the reactions are quite different, depending on the surroundings and the cultural background of each woman, I think there is a common sense in them and one message is clear: trust your intuition, don’t give up, try more than one tactic and keep your willingness to get out of dangerous situations.
While reading this book I definitely ‘experienced’ that there is not a single tactic which promises to be the only one self-defence tactic one can revert to in a dangerous situation. It is an ever-changing view of looking at the world and the people around you and to adapt to changing circumstances.
The stories show that women of all ages and physical awareness are able to successfully defend themselves. For instance, there is a story a 96-old, double amputated women who defended herself against her attacker who was only in his twenties: She fought him off, leaving him naked an unconscious on the floor of her home. The women in this book are not heroines but ordinary women, but every one of them showed strength and power and proved that she kept her wits.
Although the book was published in 1987 it still seems up-to-date. By collecting individual stories instead of giving only figures and facts about self-defence the editors have achieved their aims: women are given the experience of survival. First of all, I was quite impressed by the women’s destinies and afterwards I felt encouraged. It proves that women have the strength to get out off a nightmare – using their wits.