Gen Y Speaks: After a traumatising encounter with a stalker, I decided to learn self-defence and ‘power poses’
I recall being petrified and rooted to the MRT seat, my heart fluttering wildly against my ribcage.
Just a few moments ago, a young man with short brown-dyed hair and dressed in a black oversized T-shirt and long pants, sat down beside me on the train.
This was in early 2020, when I was 26 years’ old. He was probably 18 or 19, by my estimation.
Gradually, the stranger began to lean closer to me, sitting too close for comfort. Then, placing his weight on my left arm, he typed on his handphone notepad: “Can we be friends?”
I tried to muster up courage, and ended up shaking my head slowly, my eyes darting away from his shifty stare that seemed to be directed at my face and body. It was an uncomfortable moment.
I did not know why my voice deserted me. I did not know why my body could not move an inch, despite my mind constantly telling me to leave.
When I finally reached my MRT station at Ang Mo Kio after what seemed like an eternity, he got off the train as well, and continued to follow me out of the station. I entered a nearby shopping mall, with him tailing about three metres behind.
He then asked me out of the blue: “Are you a polytechnic student?”
Perhaps he didn’t intend it to be so, but this question almost made me break into laughter and forget my fears about this unsolicited encounter. After all, I was already working for two years back then at the start of 2020, far from being a pre-university student.
With a bit more confidence this time, I blurted out a firm “no”, then escaped into a horde of young people who were shopping with their massive paper bags. He did not follow me, at least from what I could tell.
Till today, my recollection of the incident still sends chills down my spine. It has also taught me to be more vigilant around such men, no matter their age.
Yet, I know other women also have such experiences, many ending in far worse outcomes.
Recently, I read about the public outrage over the brutal attack of a woman in a restaurant at Hebei, China, where a man and his eight companions assaulted the woman who reportedly rejected his advances.
Surveillance footage showed how he tried to touch the woman, only for the woman to smack his hands away. It later escalated into violence against the woman. All this, because that man simply could not take no for an answer.
Another recent viral video was of a man from Uzbekistan who hit his wife on their wedding day, after he lost to her in a game.
I also saw a TikTok clip originating from Malaysia that showed a woman being tailed by two men. It went viral with over 3 million views. She ended by reminding other women to be vigilant when they are out alone in order to stay safe and sound.
Just within my circle of female friends, I would often hear stories on harassment, stalking, cat-calling or groping.
I cannot help but recoil at these acts of disrespect and aggression toward women by some men. It is also well-known that most of such cases go unreported.
BEING PREPARED AND LESS TERRIFIED
So, why are some men unable to be respectful to women, whether they are strangers or intimate partners? Why do some, in extreme cases, perpetuate violence towards women?
There are no straightforward answers to these questions, and each case is due to highly individual circumstances and reasons.
Perhaps it is also structural, such as the effect of a deeply-entrenched patriarchy, or cultural and gender stereotypes that persist. It may be that education in some places is still lacking, and social change is needed to mitigate these issues.
But whatever the reasons, as a woman, I realised that it is important for me to be prepared and less terrified should such an incident happen to me again.
In the past two years since my encounter with the stranger, I did some homework on how to improve my confidence and deal with future scenarios calmly.
The first step I took was to practice self-defence to prepare me for a possible assault.
Whenever I had free time, I would watch videos on women’s self-defence on YouTube. One channel, Final Round Training, taught me techniques like “wrist grab defence” and “choke escape” through short and concise videos. For one to two hours each time, I would practice these skills by myself or with a friend.
I then decided to take it a step further by learning beginners’ techniques in Gracie Jiu-jitsu, a form of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu that consists of various techniques such as straight armlock suitable for someone of smaller build.
One can also formally enrol into their Women Empowered program, designed specifically for women to ultimately earn a pink belt in self-defence.
While I have rehearsed some of these skills in simulated scenarios, I found that it is not the brute strength or dexterity that are the biggest takeaways for me, but the psychological tenacity and confidence that come with practice.
For example, women’s self-defence often discusses the psychology of male perpetrators, analysing their typical intentions and plans, as well as ways attackers would usually adopt to trap and attack women.
This understanding of the opponent’s mindset helps me determine which appropriate de-escalation or full-force techniques to use, and what might deter attackers from continuing to cause harm.
The second method I found useful that I use on a daily basis for over a year is to practice “high-power poses” for at least two minutes at the start of each day.
According to Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy, postures that close one’s body up, such as hunching and crossing one’s legs, are “low-power poses” that can make one feel powerless.
If one adopts the “Wonder Woman” pose, that is to stand upright with feet apart and both hands on hips, research has shown it can reduce cortisol, a hormone that controls stress, and increase testosterone, which is commonly associated with dominance.
In fact, Cuddy’s research found that women often adopt more low-power poses than men. This has made me more mindful of my posture and actions so that I would more often open my body up to feel more powerful and confident as a woman.
While women can stand their ground and prepare for any microaggression or violence from men, the problem can truly be solved when men and women can respect each other, and that brute force and violence against women are never acceptable in any circumstance.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Alvona Loh Zi Hui is a junior doctor who works at a public hospital in Singapore.