I wish I would have met Cindy Cushing Coughenour, the founder of Fearless and Female, when I was much younger. The first time I saw her in action was at the Peace, Love, Safety event in 2016, an evening of self-defense, food, fun, and sisterhood. With more energy than anyone I’ve ever known, this diminutive dynamo showed a room of about 200 women, how to thoroughly kick ass to protect themselves. Letting women beat up on her for a living, Cindy shows the audience what to do, then has them gently practice on each other, while yelling “NO,” at the top of their lungs. It’s a little intimidating, just being in the room.
At this event, Cindy had slides with inspirational messages cycling on big screens at the front of the room. The one that really caught my attention said,
“You don’t have to be nice to people who are trying to hurt you.”
If I had taken her class when I was younger, and had seen this message, I would have spared myself some trauma.
When I was a girl, we were taught to be “nice.” I couldn’t imagine slapping the face of a fresh man. That would have been too “uncool.” Unfortunately, my “coolness” got me into situations I couldn't get out of. If I hadn’t have been worried about being “nice,” I wouldn’t have bought into the narrative that made me feel like I had no choice in the situation. As an adult, I’ve learned to speak my voice, be an advocate for myself, and set boundaries. But what if I had learned this earlier?
Cindy’s mission, to teach women of all ages how to recognize and avoid dangerous situations and fight back when necessary, was inspired by a tragic event in her life. Her neighbor and best friend since first grade, was murdered in the basement of her college dorm the summer after their freshman year. On her website Cindy says,
"As young girls, Julie and I knew how to dance, swim and drive a car but we didn't know how to protect our bodies in a dangerous situation. I now travel the country teaching women and young girls the lifesaving skills that Julie and I never had the opportunity to learn."
I am honored to announce that Cindy will be coming to the Finishing School for Modern Women on Sunday, August 5th to teach us how to be safe and protect ourselves. I’ve sat in on a couple of her classes now, and I can tell you that you’ll leave the event feeling confident that you can easily scare off an attacker, if not seriously maim them. Mainly because of this!
We have to teach women - young and old - to own their power when it comes to standing up for ourselves so our daughters, granddaughters, nieces, and friends, won’t become victims of violence. We pass so many things along, from one generation of women to the next. My mother taught me to be a strong, independent woman and that is what I try to pass to others, through my actions and words. As we continue to teach the women who follow us, this strength will grow exponentially through the generations, and eventually we may even reach a time where women won’t have to live with the same fear, intimidation, and violence.
Recently I read an opinion piece by Mona Eltahawy, “What the world would look like if we taught girls to rage.” In this article, she said that girls around the world are taught are taught at a young age that they are vulnerable or weak. By the time they’re 10, research shows they believe it.
We must find our inner strength and rage out about violence against women. These acts are about so much more than physical abuse. This vulnerability is one of the ways women are held back, and not allowed to play. We blame the victim, instead of the criminal, making excuses about how it will ruin the rest of their lives, never mind the impact the attackers “indiscretion” will have on the rest of the survivors’ lives. We can’t expect someone else to be around to come to our rescue. We have to learn how to protect ourselves - and believe we can do it.
The truth is we don’t think about attacks enough because we want to believe that people are basically good and won’t hurt us. Because of this, we don’t always pay attention to what’s going on around us. The saddest truth is, that from 1994 to 2010, statics have steadily found that 78 percent of sexual violence involved an offender who was a family member, intimate partner, friend or acquaintance. Strangers committed only about 22 percent of all sexual violence. These “strangers” frequently manipulate, coerce and confuse victims to get what they want and may seem like a “nice” person. They’re not.
While we’ve been taught that we are the weaker sex, it really isn’t true. (I pity the fool that would try to mess with me now!) We must be prepared to stand up for ourselves as fiercely as we would for someone else. Amazingly, putting up any kind of fight is enough to get an attacker to leave you alone. Defending ourselves isn’t about who is the strongest. How successful a woman is at defending herself directly depends on her ability to realize the confidence to fight back – and this is what Cindy teaches so beautifully.
I hope you come play with us at the FearLESS and Female: Personal Safety and Self-Defense class on Sunday, August 5 from 2 to 4:40. We’re going to kick some ass!