It’s the way the men who enter the elevator size up the lone woman already in the carriage before they silently flank her. It’s the way the man entering the subway does a double take at the woman standing by the entrance by herself, as he decides what he’s going to do to her. It’s the way the jilted would-be lover, frustrated at the resistance he’s getting, loses any semblance of pleading and grabs the woman he’s tangling with by the hair. It’s the way another man, on another elevator, presses himself against another woman, also alone, secure as he is in the belief that it’s his right to smell her hair and wrap his arm around her neck without a second’s hesitation.
These are some of the opening moments in found footage that Melbourne artist Magnets (Siobhan McGinnity) came across in her online search for “women doing karate.” That search, which McGinnity says has been her “2AM wormhole for years,” due in large part to her own background in martial arts, led to the discovery of videos showing women defending themselves against real-life attackers. As Magnets, McGinnity compiled several of these videos, interspersed between footage of women and girls practicing karate in gyms and competitions, and made them the video to her latest song, “Fight.” Lovers of feminist revenge films, this one’s for you.
One of the most personally remarkable things, watching this video, was that no matter how many times the horrifying scenes of assault on the screen ended with an attacker curled in the fetal position or knocked out cold in an elevator, I never believed the next one would end happily. Sexual abuse is so normalized, and female vengance and escape is so rare, that I simply could not fathom that humanity would be allowed an entire video in which every single woman wins the day. With “Fight,” Magnets put her finger on the pulse of the feminist revenge fantasy, but she also twinged the deeply internalized social message that watching a lone woman out-fight, out-maneuver, and just BEAT one or more male attackers is jarring and unrealistic. There’s as much to be learned from watching women win as there is to be learned from realizing that we, the viewers, might have been expecting them to lose.