Kickboxing, Jane Eyre and female rage
A week of witnessing and hearing survivor stories hasn't been easy. Kickboxing usually helps. But this week it wasn't so easy.
I fucking love kickboxing. I’m totally, utterly, hideously bad at it, but I love it. I started classes a few years back, in a primary school hall with a group of elderly keep-fitters and broad chested muscle-nut. The sound of a perfect punch cracking a pad brought a rare peace to my scrambly ADHD brain.
But - the classes were chaotic, my marriage started its death spiral, I left. My arms lost their little strength.
Before lockdown, I realised I wanted to fight and kick again. So even when I feel like shit, I remember that I don’t make enough endorphins, that my therapist reminds me to do cardio three times a week. I turn the XBox on, push the sofa back, scoot the coffee table and rug to the side, pull on my sexy kickboxing shoes. I find my fighting stance.
On Monday morning I called an old colleague I’ll call Jen*. Jen is bold, generous, kind, warm, tenacious. Over the zoom, Jen paused - why, she asked, did I think she could be helpful? ‘Just little things you’ve said Jen - I just had a hunch, I could be wrong’.
Her voice dropped. She sighed.
Her daughter Maddie had always wanted to go to uni - since she was 14, she had always wanted to be the first person in her family to get a degree. It was a point of pride, that she was leapfrog her family, build a professional career. Jen was delighted.
Maddie works hard, gets the A Levels and the place. But. Then she’s talking about uni not being the only way. And she’s dropping out. And she mentions that boyfriend has suggested ...
And then, and then.
On the other side of the zoom, Jen sighs. Looks away from the camera. She breathes out as she measures her words. “I tell her - ‘it’s up to you love. If you don’t want to go, don’t go. But this has to be your choice for your future’”.
Who of your haven’t done this? Measured carefully ‘supporting her whilst not alienating her further’? Go on - count the times you’ve done this.
Sitting here, I can hear myself with Jen, getting angry and I’m blurting “Yes! OH MY GOD fucking HELL Jen?!?!! THESE MEN” and I’m raging and my brain is ranging - I think of the Friday night DM I read in my battered old car in a dark Tesco forecourt. “I have my very own Jay who left me in £50K of debt”.
A woman whose ex coerced her into debt so high that, years on, she is still rebuilding her credit rating. Who left her homeless and penniless.
I thought of an old colleague whose ex forced her to not work when their babies came. When she was brave enough to take her and her kids away from a man who pretended they were broke but was buying drugs and prostitutes, who was tracking her phone and threatened to kill her. Who sponged their assets and left her penniless.
And again. I feel lucky that I escaped. That I got my degree and my masters despite him.
I see women who I love, who think that they are weak because they aren’t perfect. Who don’t know that they have been abused. That this behaviour is illegal. I see their faces and hear their tears, see their downcast eyes and hear them downplay their brilliance because a man needed to destroy her to make himself feel like A Big Man.
Society creates these dynamics of abuse, where men are deemed more naturally in control and we, as women, are so fucking used to ceding to men. We are told that we should give up and give over to these men. And that when we complain, when we speak up and out, we have to prove, over and over.
Coercive control has been illegal since 2015, but society has taught men and women to allow men to possess, control and dominate women for millennia. We still think of women as hysterical, dramatic, shrill and insane when they say “I don’t think this is right".
There are still people in my life who don’t want to see that I was abused. There’s a pause, a space where there’s still a sense that I’m making a fuss, that I should really have got over it by now.
How do you get over someone who tried to erase your sense of self by just ‘getting on with it’? This is part of the cycle of diminishing the power of the abuser and victim-blaming the survivor. She is not ‘weak’ - she is just not superfuckinghuman. She is having a normal reaction to someone consistently battering away at her grounding, her gut, her intuition and relationships. That she still loves and works and feeds her children and pays the bills IS her being a superwoman. We need to recontextualize how society talks about power and money in relationships and how we respond to women (it is mostly women) who discuss their experiences of abuse.
To manage my scramble and sorrow, I press play on a warm-up video. Pulled on my too-light boxing gloves and moved through the first routine, cross punches and elbow strikes. And as I cross-punched I thought of Jay. Of “Oh, Annabelle, come on you know I love you” and I thought of his dad and his mom, how his dad was so fucking fed up of me being in his house and him mom teaching me the one exact way to wipe down the kitchen counters after the end of the day (rubber gloves, scalding hot water, soda crystals on a clean cotton cloth). Her skivvy, her willing servant.
And they came, the tears. Twenty years of tears. Hot, ugly, snotty, body curling tears. I emailed my clients, pulled on my pyjamas and found ‘Jane Eyre’. I promised myself to honour the girl who knew Jane’s power lay not in ceding to Mrs Reed or Brocklehurst or Rochester, but to trusting her innate sense of justice and rage:
“Something of vengeance I had tasted for the first time; as aromatic wine it seemed, on swallowing, warm and racy: its after-flavour, metallic and corroding, gave me a sensation as if I had been poisoned”.
Jane is forever changed by naming Mrs Reed’s abuse. She begins her long journey to freedom. For me, kickboxing is where it comes out. I allow myself the rage of my injustice. And I hope I help some of you to see and feel yours, too.
I see you. You are a fucking warrior. I am here for you.
* Jen & Maddie are pseudonyms