I Beat My Assaulter, And It Was Fucking Glorious

cw: sexual asssault.

Three years ago this week, I beat up a man who groped me in a club. It was fucking glorious. Celebrate that anniversary with me!

I was 50 years old, dancing with my Beloved, my heart lost in the joy of movement and freedom that are now like phantom limbs from the Before Time, itching in longing.

Photo: Robert E. Rutledge

And then a hand on my ass. 

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been sexually assaulted throughout my life and I know that my reactions have spanned a spectrum, all of them valid. That night it was: Are you fucking kidding me? And my body went into autodrive; it knew exactly what to do. 

I found my groper--he was the only one walking as we all danced. I marched up to him and tugged at the back of his shirt so hard that he fell. 

And I sat on top of him and I punched, and I punched, and I punched his face.

And as I punched I yelled at him “Don’t you ever touch a woman like that again!”

It had been a long time since I had experienced as much clarity as I did in those moments. I knew exactly what I was doing--defending myself--and exactly why I was doing it. I was done with men and their fucking hands. 

It did not matter: hijab or tank top, a man’s hands still found me. And I was fucking done. 

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Earlier that week, I had launched #MosqueMeToo to support a young Pakistani woman who had posted on Facebook that she had been sexually assaulted while performing pilgrimage at Islam’s holiest site in Makkah. I too had been sexually assaulted during pilgrimage--Haj--in 1982 when I was 15 years old. I write more about it here.

My #MosqueMeToo tweets went viral and for five days, I was flooded with both the stories of Muslim women who had been sexually assaulted during pilgrimage and Muslim men telling me I was too ugly to be assaulted--as if sexual assault was a fucking compliment--or demanding to know why I hadn’t “made a fuss” and fought back.

For one night, I wanted some respite, so my Beloved and I went to a club to give my traumatized heart the joy of dancing.

And then that hand on my ass. My 15-year-old self at Haj had been covered from head-to-toe with just my face and hands showing. And now here I was, at age 50, wearing a tank top and jeans on a dance floor in Montreal, Canada. 

It did not matter: hijab or tank top, a man’s hands still found me. And I was fucking done. 

If at that most sacred of temples--the holiest site of my religion--I am not safe from predatory hands, where am I safe? If at that most secular of temples--a dance club--predatory men also insist on assaulting us, where are we safe? 

I wanted him to know that next time he thought he could assault a woman, she too could beat the fuck out of him.

I looked him in the eye and smacked him across his jaw so hard I worried I had broken my fingers. And that’s when he ran away.

Unlike in 1982, when I had frozen and burst into tears, I found my assaulter and I punched and I punched. And when I stopped, the fucking asshole stood up, adjusted the cap he was wearing and turned to look at me. I looked right back at him. I wanted him to see the average height woman whose ass he thought he was entitled to just reach out and grab. And I wanted him to remember her as the harbinger of more rage and more punches to come. I wanted him to know that next time he thought he could assault a woman, she too could beat the fuck out of him.

I looked him in the eye and smacked him across his jaw so hard I worried I had broken my fingers. And that’s when he ran away.

High on what I had just done, Robert my Beloved and I went to the bar to get some water. He told me two men had wanted to intervene to stop me from beating up my assaulter but that he had stopped them, telling them “No, no. He assaulted her first. She’s got this.” Bless!

I don’t want to be protected. I just want patriarchy to stop protecting and enabling men. I don’t want to be protected. I want to be free.

If I wasn’t already enraged at the fuckery of two men who wanted to save a man from my fists and my fury, enter a club manager from Stage Left to place the cherry on the patriarchal cake.

After I explained to him what had happened, the manager looked at my Beloved and asked me “Why didn’t you let your husband take care of it?”

Reader: I almost beat him up too. 

“First of all, he’s not my husband,” I replied. “Also, this is my body, I take care of it.”

Patriarchy is so universal and normalized that asking cis men to see it is like asking a fish “What is water?” It enables and protects cis men who sexually assault women, and it demands that only other cis men “protect” us. As long as we obey and behave in ways it approves of, of course. That “protection,” you must remember, is conditional. Because if we disobey, ha!

I don’t want to be protected. I just want patriarchy to stop protecting and enabling men. I don’t want to be protected. I want to be free.

After the fight at the club, I shared what had happened on Twitter under a new hashtag: #IBeatMyAssaulter.

Get 7 Necessary Sins for Women and Girls

All that weekend I was icing my bruised knuckles and hearing from women around the world who sent me their #IBeatMyAssaulter experiences; a global chorus of women who saw each other and recognized what it means to be done with the fuckery of patriarchy.

Photo: Robert E. Rutledge

And men were showing me how easily the goal posts can move. Under #MosqueMeToo men asked me, “Why didn’t you make more of a fuss?” Under #IBeatMyAssaulter men said, “You made too much of a fuss. You were too violent. Don’t you think you overreacted?” 

Whatever a woman does, she will always be victim-blamed. My message was clear: “Women, do whatever you need to at the moment.” This is self-defense. This is putting patriarchy on notice that we will fight back. This is warning patriarchy that it should fear us.

I know that we can’t always fight back. My priority is to survive. I never want what I have shared here to make anyone feel guilty for not beating up her assaulter. 

I also know that we are not socialized to fight back. We are not taught to fight back. 

Cis men are not socialized to expect us to fight back. I think of that often when I hear of the spike in intimate partner terrorism during the pandemic. When I hear about men who beat the women they live with during lockdown, I always wonder why those men never fear that those women could poison their food or simply kill them in their sleep for being the abusive fucks that they are.

I am not asking that question to put the burden of fighting back on women. Many do, and they are punished more severely for fighting back than are the men who beat or assault them. Prisons around the world are full of women who fight back and the streets are full of the men who assaulted them.

Incarceration rates for women in the U.S. are reminders of how other oppressions such as racism are at play alongside misogyny. The national U.S. average prison sentence of men who kill their female partners is 2-6 years, while women who kill their partners are sentenced on average to 15 years, despite the fact that most women who kill their partners do so to protect themselves from violence initiated by their partners.

I am asking instead why those fuckers never stop to think “I had better not beat her up today or else she could poison my food.”

If violence is the language that patriarchy understands, isn’t it time more women speak it?

How long must we wait until men and boys stop beating and killing us? How many rapists must we kill until men stop raping us? A TV episode in Australia--an ostensible democracy--was banned in 2019 because, among reasons, I asked those questions on air.

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From a very young age girls around the world are told that they are vulnerable and weak. By the age of 10, research shows they believe it. Conversely, boys are fed the stereotype that they are strong and independent.

What would the world look like if girls were taught they were volcanoes, whose eruptions were a thing of beauty, a power to behold and a force not to be trifled with? What if instead of breaking their wildness like a rancher tames a bronco, we taught girls the importance and power of being dangerous?

One day when I was four years old, a man stopped his car on the street under my family’s balcony, pulled his penis out and beckoned for me to come down. He did the same to my friend who had been talking to me from her family’s balcony across the street. I was so small that I needed a stool to see my friend from above the balcony railing. 

I was enraged at that man. How dare he ruin our reverie; two little girls, happy, oblivious to the street below. 

I waved my slipper at him to frighten him away. I believed I could shoo him away with just my anger. I absolutely believed in my rage, convinced that it could frighten away a grown man who had decided to stop his car underneath my balcony and wave his penis at two little girls. 

I honor that angry four-year-old girl. I honor her belief that she deserved to be free of molestation and free of interruption. She was born with a pilot light of anger, tenacious and sure of its right to flare whenever treated unjustly. I believe all girls are born with that pilot light of anger. 

That little girl found me on a dance floor in Montreal three years ago and told me “Beat that fucker up!” and I celebrate her. Today, we are waving our slippers together. 

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Mona Eltahawy is a feminist author, commentator and disruptor of patriarchy. Her first book Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution (2015) targeted patriarchy in the Middle East and North Africa and her second The Seven Necessary Sins For Women and Girls (2019) took her disruption worldwide. Her commentary has appeared in media around the world and she makes video essays and writes a newsletter as FEMINIST GIANT.  

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