I’ll lead with some good news: our documentary, “Beauty Bites Beast,” has won the Best Feature Documentary award at the 4th Annual Artemis Film Festival! (If you’d like a discount code to attend the screenings, go to the end of this piece and I’ll hook you up as I just happen to know the film’s director — wink, wink.)
The Best Documentary prize is in direct contrast to the virtually all-pervasive ignoring I’ve bumped up against with my mission to train a critical mass of women to know how to handle a potential or actual predator during the moment of the contemplated or actual assault. Once a woman can handle her own attacker, the better off we’ll all be; not just the woman, but society in general.
My view is not at all obvious or logical to a great many people. The idea that women are helpless without a rescuer is an ancient meme embodied in the idea of “damsels in distress.” A thoroughly modern version of the damsel syndrome is embodied by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via their funding and training of third-party bystanders to stop violence against women. Hardly anyone funds violence prevention by training women and girls simple yet effective emotional, verbal and physical boundaries. There’s even less funding for such classes taught by women themselves.
When I first wrote “Beauty Bites Beast,” I realized that I needed to impact people’s belief systems at a global level, so I became a delegate and credentialed journalist for the UN’s 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. I attended in concert with the United Nations Association’s Pasadena chapter.
As I met hundreds of delegates and journalists in Beijing, I learned to thicken my skin against palpable, knee-jerk resistance to my promoting of women’s self-defense, along with practical skills for and by women with the partnership of allied men.
“Women are made for love, not fighting,” they’d say.
“It’s unnatural for women to defend themselves,” they said.
“Teaching girls to protect themselves is unfeminine,” they pronounced.
My smartass answer?
“Is it feminine to be beaten up or killed?” (I was more diplomatic than that, I promise.)
I kept talking and talking. Hey, a big mouth is also a form of self-defense!
I got the greatest pushback from both global and locally based human rights activists and some UN-based folks, often from women. “Self-defense is a form of victim blaming!” they’d proclaim. Finally, I experienced a breakthrough with this mentality at the Greater LA chapter of UN Women at a screening they sponsored last year in West LA. My book had morphed into a movie which “unpacks” all the reasons people — women and men — assume that women can’t defend themselves effectively and shouldn’t even try.
Petra Hand, a woman who’d worked on the ground with UN organizations in the Middle East, recently wrote, “I was one of the women who thought self-defense was victim blaming. I had it so wrong. What ‘Beauty Bites Beast’ showed me, in a truly transformative way, was that self-defense is about agency; my right and capacity to set and protect my own boundaries. I also believed that self-defense was always violent, for tomboys, not what a nice girl should ever do. Besides, the onus should be on men to change their behavior towards us, right? I had it so wrong again. The film breaks down how self-defense can play a role in true empowerment. You will laugh, you may tear up, but you will definitely walk away enlightened.”
Wow! So Ms. Hand represented a greater shift, including our film being selected as a side event this year in New York for the 62nd Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations. That was a hoop we would never have cleared even five years ago.
I went to New York a few weeks ago and conducted a lively Q&A after the screening. I met Pille Tsopp-Pagan, the executive director of a nonprofit full-service shelter for victims and survivors of family violence in Estonia. She said, “Although there were many interesting meetings and ideas to select from during CSW62, I can say that the most influential was this documentary … Ms. Snortland and her movie really changes the world!”
To finally be heard at the UN will fuel me for the rest of my life. Oh, and winning Best Doc is nice too! n
Ellen Snortland has written Consider This for decades. Contact her at beautybitesbeast.com
Re: The Artemis Film Festival. If you’d like to attend, I have discount codes for tickets to our two screenings of BBB on April 28 and 29 in Santa Monica. To get them, “like” the movie’s Facebook page @beautybitesbeastdoc.