“Girls Fight Back” urges women to protect themselves

Callaghan Bartlett

Sports editor

(April 16, 2015)

Participants in the Girls Fight Back program pose at the end of the seminar with GFB representative Nicole.

Girls Fight Back was founded by Erin Weed in 2001 in response to the murder of Weed’s friend and sorority sister Shannon McNamara. McNamara fought against her attacker, and was killed because of her resistance. However, enough evidence was gathered to convict her murderer.  Since then, Girls Fight Back (GFB) has been leading self-defense classes and seminars across the United States. Weed emphasizes that GFB is not to avenge McNamara, but instead to provide peace for her and all women. In late March, Nantucket High School senior Olivia Slade and junior Lizzie Thayer brought out a representative from GFB who taught a self-defense seminar at the Nantucket Police Station.

Since 2001, GFB has taught over one million people how to fight back. While the event on Nantucket and most GFB events are geared towards women and girls, they do offer courses like Students Fight Back and Fight Back on Spring Break which are all gender neutral.

The course on Nantucket, which was led by Nicole from GFB, was in reaction to cases of sexual assault in the Nantucket community.

“This is just to give you some background on self-defense, this is kind of an issue that you know, scares us, and I think some background will be helpful to everybody, especially our age, going to college soon and everything,” said Thayer.

The seminar began with a discussion about things like gender roles, consent, victim blaming in things like sexual and physical assault, and the judgement free zone that GFB creates. There was a disclaimer that made it clear that the course taught on Nantucket was not a full contact course, but only an introduction to self-defense. However, GFB does offer full contact self-defense courses.

The seminar then launched into subjects that had to do with self-defense, like using your intuition, safety tips with things like being self aware and aware of your surroundings, practicing eye contact, and using verbal boundaries. The first main topic brought up on self-defense was the idea of intuition. Nicole defined intuition as the ability to know something without knowing why. She challenged the women and girls to trust their intuitions, to be able to say “I know it,” instead of “I knew it.”

Nicole then brought up some basic tips for women to stay safe in their daily lives. She asked the attendants to choose awareness, to keep their heads up, practice good posture and exude confidence. This way, you can be aware of your surroundings and possible predators will be aware of this too. She also warned not to make assumptions about predators. You cannot associate attackers with certain characteristics, because anyone is capable of violence.

Nicole also talked about tools of manipulation that predators use, how to spot them and how to deflect them. The first tool is charm, something a predator can use to attempt to lure victims in. GFB provided the women and girls of the seminar with a response to someone who is attempting to use charm to manipulate. One can simply say: “I am not interested in having a conversation with you.”

Predators will also disrespect your negative response, meaning they will not take no for an answer. Nicole challenged the women to not let others disrespect their no’s.

Nicole then introduced the idea of bystander intervention. Most people aren’t eager to intervene in serious assault and abuse cases, exemplified in the story of McNamara. Her neighbors report hearing her scream, but not one person did anything to intervene. Nicole challenged the audience to be active bystanders, and to intervene in any way they feel comfortable. She provided resources on a national scale like 911, and local resources like the A Safe Place hotline. This bystander principle also carried over to supporting survivors. Nicole provided ways to support victims of assault, like listening without judgement, believing their stories, being there for them, and providing support. GFB also provides tips on their website for supporting victims of abuse.

After the discussion, Nicole started the introduction to physical self-defense. For this portion of the seminar, NHS sophomore Natty Davidson volunteered to act the part of the male attacker, and Nicole played the part of the female being attacked. The first form of self-defense was a verbal defense. This involves deflecting, emphasizing, and setting up a double boundary using your body and hands. Often this is the only form of defense necessary, as attackers may back off after this. In fact, Weed was attacked on the way to a GFB seminar and was able to defend herself using the double boundary.

After going over verbal defense, Nicole moved on to physical defense. She identified physical weak spots on Davidson’s body, like the neck, groin and eyes. She then identified the strong points on her body, like her teeth, elbows and knees. She showed different scenarios of attack, involving the attacker grabbing the wrists, grabbing from the behind or on the ground. The sequence of using the strong points on her body against Davidson’s weak points is dubbed the “badass ballet.” Nicole emphasized the ability to take advantage of the man’s groin, and the power of the woman’s behind.

Continuing her demonstrating of physical defense, Nicole showed different weapons and the correct techniques to use them. These weapons included car keys, pepper spray, cell phones, pens and pencils, and even high heeled shoes. Despite the vast amount of weapons available, she emphasized the fact that any weapon brought into an attack can be used against you, so it is important to have proper training in using weapons. GFB offers practice canisters of pepper spray so you can be prepared to use it in an attack.

Slade and Thayer were inspired to bring this program to Nantucket due to an increase in stories in the news about sexual assault nationwide and locally. Slade’s teammate on her off-island lacrosse team had something similar to GFB come to their community. GFB was brought to Nantucket through Slade’s and Thayer’s organization, Liv & Liz for Literacy, a program that provides a book to every child born on Nantucket.

“I think it was definitely a good introductory class into verbally how to stop someone, or different ways to use your body, and I think it gives people the idea ‘wow, danger is out there,’ and now they know if they want to further protect themselves, they can take the class,” said Slade.

“I had been wanting to work on women’s issues for a while, like I’ve always been very passionate about it. When I wake up in the morning, first of all, I think, what am I? First, I’m human, then I’m a woman. Why don’t I focus my efforts on trying to help women? I’m very passionate about self-defense and just empowering people,” said Nicole.

Nicole works for interACT, which is a theatre troupe that performs interactive sexual assault prevention for the United States Navy. This company works with the company that runs GFB.

“I feel empowered, I feel safe. Verbal strategies were the hardest for me and I feel like for a lot of women, that’s the hardest thing for them, being able to say no and setting boundaries. With the Girls Fight Back Academy, we did self-defense where we do exclusively verbal strategies for like an hour or two.”

It’s empowering to be like okay, I can say this. Its okay for me to say this, and who cares, I would rather be safe than nice,” said Nicole. “I can see like the lightbulbs going on, their brains turning. Some of these things maybe things they’ve never heard of before, they might not have known, like hey, I can say no, or at least felt empowered to say it. Or maybe felt like self-defense was like is something that they couldn’t do, and they realize how simple it is, and they’re like oh my gosh, I could totally do that if I needed to.”

Tags: ,