I am a Fujian White Crane Kung Fu & Tai Chi instructor, and I have been involved with Chinese Martial Arts for 40 years. I teach and train in the UK using a Kung Fu style which was founded by a woman fighter in China in the 17th Century, Fang Qi Niang. I am very proud of being the first non-Chinese woman to achieve the grade of 6th Dan as recognized by the Chinese National Wushu Association (People’s Republic of China).
The problem with talking about violence
As a martial artist, I teach and speak to a lot of men. Kind, gentle, loving men who are horrified at the prospect that any of the women in their lives should suffer violence. And I train them to deal with inter-personal violence because that is what martial arts are for. But over the years I have found that violence is difficult for men to talk about – it can be triggering, it can raise fears that they don’t want to deal with. So with the 2023 UN Campaign to Eradicate Violence Against Women approaching, I had conversations with the Instructors I teach with.
An attack on a woman is an attack on all who love her, respect her, value her.
Men are not immune to the impacts of violence a woman is subjected to. I am struck by the husbands, fathers, and brothers who are seen after the trial on the steps of the courthouse telling the world what it feels like to be the ancillary victims of a violent crime against a woman by another man. They are helpless in their suffering – living with bereavement, living with traumatized family members who may never be the same again, bringing up children without their life partner. So, non-violent men need to understand and speak up about this issue because at any time it can affect them too, in ways they may never anticipate.
The campaign – “What did she expect?”
I felt that as a group of physically powerful men and women who teach martial arts we should speak up. Our social media campaign was based on answering the question “What did she expect?”
This judgemental question is asked when there is a report of a woman being attacked in public spaces. One of the first pieces of information in the news is often what the woman was doing – for example, walking home from the bus stop. We know the answer to the question, but why don’t we say it? In this example, she expected to walk home from the bus stop – it is as simple as that.
16 Days of Action
So, we each answered the question and over the 16 days of the UN Campaign posted the answers every day on the Instagram accounts of our instructors. The UN Days of Action are big sources of news and social media activity but this often dries up after the first day. It was important for us that we kept answering that question every day for the 16 days of action, because the problem does not go away with simple answers. We wanted to have a conversation, not a sound bite.
The use of language - The Question
When a woman is attacked in a public space, the first questions that often arise are “What time was it?” “What was she doing there?” “What was she wearing?” These all have factual answers. “What did she expect?” sums up the previous questions in a way that implies the woman made a bad decision. This is more than just victim-blaming (in the wrong place at the wrong time and somehow she should have known better). It implies that there is in fact no answer at all.
This is wrong – we take actions to achieve expected outcomes all the time. When women go about their daily lives in frankly mundane situations their expectation is that they will achieve the outcome they anticipated. In other words, all the things we do, such as popping to the shop because we’ve run out of milk, are a need (no milk for tea), decision (buy milk) followed by an action (go to the shop), and an expected outcome (go home and have a cup of tea). Violence interrupts the outcome – it does not change the expectation.
The use of language – The Answers
We came up with 16 answers which reflect day-to-day situations where there are clearly expected outcomes for the woman. A woman going for a run expects to get some exercise, to sweat a bit, to look after her health. She does not expect to become prey for a violent predator – and neither do the men in her life. So in answering the question we used very direct language in the past tense. This is important.
Among the many messages following abductions and killings, there is often “She was just going home.” That is true – she was but she never made it. I wanted to use language that does not describe the process which was interrupted (going home) but the expectation that was not met (she expected to get back home). My hope is that this helps people to move mentally from a passive observational mode watching a process into a direct shared experience mode (when I go home, I expect to get there).
Finally, we used direct quotes in the Instagram posts. This was a conversation and the way that social media works means that we read someone else’s words inside our heads. So I asked a person a question and then he answered it. He is telling you the answer.
For example, one of Instructor Richard Wagstaff’s answers was “She expected to put down a blanket and enjoy the sunshine.” This is a shared experience that many people (men and women) can relate to. Realising that somebody else’s identical expectation was interrupted by violence is a starting point for moving to an understanding how violence disrupts people’s lives – and maybe how we can move towards disrupting the violence instead.
Finally, when you hear the question asked again (as it will be) maybe you can just say the answer – “Well she expected (insert news story here).”