I have been taking up self-defense for a little more than four years, with one year hiatus after busting my knee during training. With that many years training, and being the only female, I have moved up to become an advance student and even gained an assistant instructor certification.
Last year was not a great year for the place I used to train, as it was losing many students for different reasons, mainly because of work. So a few students came up with the idea to save the place that we had come to care about. They asked me for support and I agreed.
The problem was we were not sure how to attract people to learn the type of self-defense that the place offered, because it is perceived as a rough and hard training. So we tried to come up with a different “marketing” strategy by making demo videos. The head instructor approved the strategies that we formulated. I offered to handle its social media accounts, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, because they were not being optimized. All for free.
One night during a meeting in which I was the only female, we agreed that we needed to put more videos to attract people to train. The instructor said that he had thought about making a video that would attract women. Being the only female with advance training background, I offered myself to do the demo videos. I have done lots of demo videos with them, so it shouldn’t be a problem this time. I was surprised when the instructor said that the demo would be presented by another woman, someone who had had no training background whatsoever.
Half protesting, I asked, “Why her?” His reply was epic.
“Well, let me put it this way,” he said. “She’s a fantasy and you’re the reality.”
My face turned red and my jaw dropped. I asked him what that was supposed to mean and he repeated the remark, pointing his hands at me as if to show that how I was dressed that night proved his point.
I turned to the other boys to ask for support. They said nothing, confirming that I was the so-called “reality.” It was one of those embarrassing moments in my life. I had never been so humiliated by a person whom I had trusted.
I posted this on Facebook a few months ago because I needed to get it out of my chest. I should have argued against him, but, instead, I said nothing. I actually believed those words to a point that it lowered my self-esteem and self-worth. It took a while before I gained my self-confidence again.
I finally stopped training at the place. Not because of what he said, but because of a series of events. It was a toxic environment. I, for one, didn’t want to train in a place where the instructor categorized women in such a way.
A friend opined that I should have just accepted it because everyone wanted to see pretty faces in the magazine. It was a status on Facebook, so she might not get the whole story. But she thought wrong. I objected to their choice for the demo video not because I wanted to be on the video. It wasn’t about that. I am actually not very comfortable in front of the camera. My concern was purely safety. The girl – the supposed “fantasy” – had never trained self-defense. EVER! So, we would have a lot of work teaching her from zero, and then there is the safety concern. I have trained for four years and I still got bruises.
Secondly, it was a commercial video, so, we needed to be careful with copyright issues. You cannot put up some female videos, even if she’s a member in the website without her consent. I was an assistant, so it was my job description.
Third, the video was intended to attract females. Why the hell do you need “fantasy” anyway?!
I didn’t mention all this as that would be too long of a posting on Facebook. But, the friend suggested I refrained from posting this status and displaying such a low self-esteem. But, I did feel insecure and would very much want to be honest about it. I should have said something about reality vs fantasy back then, but I was holding my tongue because I actually bought it.
I bought the idea that male thought of me just a mediocre reality and they wanted fantasy. In so many ways, the way I presented myself was just so boring for male to approve. That was horrible. It took every power to restore my confidence, starting from walking away and talking about it.
The experience gave me a precious lesson to learn and it confirms that the most hurtful things come from people you trust. He may forget he had said it, he may deny it or dismiss me for being “too soft” to be hurt by the remark. But that’s not how you treat someone who has stuck by you for many years, who has endured hard training, and who genuinely wants to help.
I would’ve been perfectly OK if other capable women would do the demo. But he went too far with his remark. It was also regrettable to have come from a man who should have promoted self-worthiness as a characteristic of the self-defense discipline.
There will be people like this, judging, stereotyping, preaching, and challenging your self-worth. That’s just people. You can either walk away or stay – it’s your choice. But from my experience, always be true and be honest to yourself. If it matters to you, then speak up. I will choose reality over fantasy anytime.
Fidelis E. Satriastanti is a freelance editor/writer/journalist/blogger/translator based in Jakarta.