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    Women and Children First?

    By Jewelle Gomez–

    Many years ago, I was riding a subway to work when a guy deliberately pushed up against me repeatedly. Fury rose inside me like an incendiary bomb so I shoved him back. He was so shocked he just shouted the “B” word until he hurried off the train at the next stop. I was lucky.

    I thought of that incident recently when reading a mystery novel and a character mentioned Lakshmibai, a 19th century Maharani and warrior for Indian sovereignty. I searched online where I was swept up in her heroic defense of her country against British colonialism. Her exploits deserve to be a realistic superhero movie. I mean, how many iterations of Batman can we swallow? In that moment when I was protecting myself, I must have felt Lakshmibai’s warrior power.

    In the 1970s and ‘80s, every lesbian I knew was in a sexy gi and taking aikido so we could defend ourselves. However, simply taking a self-defense class rarely overcomes the generations of guilt instilled in women about defending ourselves, which translates into “hurting somebody.” It’s not an easy binding to break.

    Data and experience tell us that the male-dominated cultures not only do not value the lives of women and girls but rather use our lives as fodder to heighten their sense of hegemony. I know I’m on the verge of a crazy lesbian/feminist rant. So be it!  Especially since the statistics barely reflect the number of women who are harassed (humiliated) in public every day.

    To change this, we must change the way children, especially boys, are raised. It’s not just training them to say “thank you” and wash dishes, but instilling in boys as early as possible the need to curb and redirect their impulses—away from shoving girls on the playground, making cat calls on the street, rape, domestic violence, and Russian airstrikes on Ukrainian maternity hospitals.

    I saw a post on Twitter (I know, I know!) in which a young woman offered thanks to an anonymous elderly woman who noticed her being harassed by a man on the street. He wouldn’t leave her alone so the older woman simply walked up, took her arm, and started a conversation as if they were related. It interrupted the harasser, who then scurried away.

    More extraordinary: in the thread that followed, a huge number of women reported similar stories. In each case, a stranger (female and male) recognized that a woman was being harassed and stepped up, not in a violent way. They simply interceded as if they were friends or relatives giving the aggressor a chance to retreat.

    The statistics about the abuse and murder of women around the world can be debilitating—”on average a woman or girl is killed by a family member every 11 minutes,” according to a UN report on global killings in 2020. However, this post on the internet felt like a small ray of hope. Women don’t have to be alone.

    In some faiths, “intercession” is a valued concept. In our everyday lives the act of intercession by individuals can be a new kind of faith—in each other. An organization that used to have the exultant name “ihollaback” offers education and instruction on these non-aggressive ways of interceding on the behalf of others who are being harassed. The group, now called Right to Be, is found at

    We can each have our Lakshmibai moments as we watch out for each other, and not just during the month of March.

    Jewelle Gomez is a lesbian/feminist activist, novelist, poet, and playwright. She’s written for “The Advocate,” “Ms. Magazine,” “Black Scholar,” “The San Francisco Chronicle,” “The New York Times,” and “The Village Voice.” Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @VampyreVamp

    Published on March 24, 2022