Calling All Badass Women


Bernadette is on her knees, fist clenched. Determination oozing out her eyes. The target is on the ground between two breeze blocks. Traverser la cible, go through the target. Focus. She sucks in one last breath, blinks, raises her fist…

Rewind to morning. Nine women around a table dangling teabags into hot water. No breeze blocks, just nine women with name-tags. Nine different women. In age, in colour, in expectations, waiting for Sophie to arrive.

God, Sophie looks dainty. A kind of Victoria-Sponge-making do-gooder who hands out Call me Jesus business cards at the end of the session, not a badass Queen of Self Defence. Plus her voice is gooey.

We do a clockwise tour of the table and say who we are and why we’re here.

Sophie listens, nods, and I imagine were an alien to pop into proceedings, it would scratch its hairy purple tentacles and wonder who the absent entity we’re all banging on about actually was. The one who ransacks conversation, takes up too much room, shouts show-us-your-tits in the street and is allergic to most major forms of empathy.

Sophie gets on her feet. Arms erect in front of her, hands as firm as knives, she looks ahead. I bob my teabag in the mug and wonder what damage a Victoria Sponge can do, but with a front kick Sophie lets out a noise from the deeper reaches of her belly that reverberates around the room. Le cri du pouvoir, it’s called. The power cry.

Hypnotised by the possible, we try and mimic what Sophie does. We’re all scarecrows and jelly and we look very silly. After three, Sophie says. Front kick and power cry. Boom. More belly, she says. And we give it some more.

From the power cry we work on words. How to deliver a controlled “you’re going to let go of me right now!” instead of a high-pitched whimper-yelp. On a crowded bus we learn to use “this pig’s hand has been touching my arse, who does it belong to?” Or a perfectly executed “no!”

Things are thawing, we can feel it. And look at Bernadette, she’s not crying anymore.

Lunchtime. Quiches, bread, salad. And talk beyond the name tags. Anneso speaks about Istanbul, the beauty of the city she had to leave and the transition period she’s in now. People nod, laugh too. Maybe we’re all in transition, I think, as Bernadette rips a baguette with her teeth and tells us how in the Ivory Coast, a group of men killed her niece in front of her.

Back in the training room with our coffees, Sophie challenges our notions of gender. It’s set in stone, she says, solidified throughout generations to the detriment of women who will forever be relegated, forever be the target of down-talking. Unless.

We think about our husbands, sons, brothers, fathers, our great uncle Bob, and how our world is indeed so very carefully constructed. Almost without our knowing, it shapes a boy into a tear-free and muscly go-getter and lets him grow up to be a King. A girl will be coaxed into putting ambition and rebellion on the back-burner, confined to seducing, right from age four, to turn into a cardboard cut-out princess. As the boy rises, the girl doubts.

Sophie means business. No tambourines to Kumbaya. No fluffy fairy cakes. Just the lightening kick in the shins, the jab in the knee, the zip, the locomotive. For some reason we don’t care how we look or how we sound – we just sweat, fall over, and get up again.

Then comes the plank of wood. A sturdy plank over two breeze blocks, and Bernadette is above, dreaming of going through. Propelled by a power cry from another realm, Bernadette’s fist is swift, purposeful, and it snaps the wood in two.

The applause is heartfelt and boisterous. It rings deep within all nine of us. Because in just one day we’ve learned how it feels to shout together and make a room boom, and to smash that plank of wood, just like Bernadette.

Image: Piaxabay