The first time I punched a man in the face, it probably wasn’t the best idea. Actually, there were two men, but I was high on frustration, blinded to the fact that they were on rugby tour from Oxford, so they had a relatively large build, with an ego to match.

To set the scene, I was with a friend (let’s call her Jo) at a music festival, ordering at the bar, when the said men began commenting on, and then pinching our bums. When they ignored our demands for them to stop, Jo grabbed one by the collar, which pricked up the ears of the nearest security guard.

He reprimanded them as a teacher would two mischievous adolescents, and sent them off into the crowd to continue living their best lives, and harass more women.

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“Ladies, calm down,” he told us, “Don’t let them ruin your night.” The man was clueless. Clearly, the official security didn’t have our backs, so we had to take action ourselves.

Jo and I are both boxers, and would have had far less courage to do what we were about to, had we not known how to throw a good punch, and more importantly, to slip a punch coming back at us.

women abuse, boxer

Ilham Rawoot. Image supplied.

We approached these men on the dance-floor, where Jo attempted to explain the concept of disrespect, to which one of these fine species stuck his face into hers, and spat, “You’re an ugly old b***h.”

Clearly, this was neither the time nor audience for a schooling on toxic masculinity. There was no way these men would respect us unless we engaged in the only thing they would take seriously — a physical fight.

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At this, I threw a well-trained right hook. When one started twisting Jo’s arm, I threw an even better left hook, after moving my ring to my left hand to make it hurt more. Blood spattered across our white t-shirts.

“What the f**k is wrong with you!” one of them screamed at me. “Why are you so violent!” I didn’t realise it immediately but I had hurt myself quite badly with the ring I was wearing, and needed to visit the paramedics’ tent.

While there, upon telling the women paramedics what had happened, they tried to suppress smiles, and one mouthed a “well done”.

My main opponent was in the tent as well, announcing his entrance with shouts of “my father is going to sue her for assault," his mouth bleeding profusely from the corner. He was humiliated.

I was fuming. Why did this man only see my punches, our bar brawl, as assault and violence, while thinking nothing of violating women’s bodies?

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Fast forward a few months, to a bar in Johannesburg. Two men openly gawking at me, when one licked his lips and winked.

In my fury, all I could muster was some bad language, for which they scolded me for being “rude” and told me to apologise.

When I refused, one pressed my arm hard against the bar, to which I responded with a right jab. This time though, the bouncer saw the situation for what it was and kicked them out. They screamed innocence, maintaining that I was “the one who started the violence”.

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When that man had licked his lips, it made me feel physically dirty. In fact, I quickly forgot the actual fight, but that catalytic five-second interaction had left me shaking. I can still picture it, and it evokes immediate anxiety and rage. It scarred me. 

That and the time my grandmother’s doctor told me I was “sexy” as I was at her bedside after an operation, the many times I have had to remove someone’s hand from my waist after having just met them, the time that guy at a party told me I looked “F***able” and I got into trouble for “causing a scene”, the time that random guy licked my face on the dance floor, the many times men on the street have called me an “ugly b****” or worse for ignoring their catcalls. 

That is violence. There are certain times when a punch is self-preservation. It is a way of stopping things before they get worse, for me or other women. It’s the only thing that the type of man who will pinch bums, will respond to, and respect.

Now, I’m not an advocate for wanton physical conflict resolution. I am an advocate for women doing what we need to protect ourselves in a world where men make both spoken and unspoken laws on what constitutes violence.

Yes, we must discuss, engage, educate. But we must also stay alive. Until we have enough men who understand what ‘violence’ really means, we need to look out for ourselves and each other, when society does not.

How do you think women should protect themselves when confronted with abusive behaviour? Share your thoughts with us here.

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