There is no excuse for the violation of another human being.
That is a FACT.
However, we live in a world where people continuously do so, & the reality is that we must learn to defend ourselves.
Playwright Lilly Pedilla engages this truth through an evolving collegiate scene where seven students grapple with the layers of grief, anger, confusion & guilt that surround the rape of a friend, in How to Defend Yourself one of six shows playing now in the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville.
The narrative of this play was unfortunately familiar to me. In the seventh grade I started taking martial arts classes with my Dad, who was afraid of his daughter becoming a high school cheerleader & wanted to get her into an extracurricular alternative that might trump cheer. It worked.
In martial arts I learned to defend myself. I also heard constantly about all the scenarios where I might have to use what I learned…as a girl.
The boys didn’t have to hear about it. At least not nearly as much. So, sparring for them was purely exercise & sport. But, for me & it was training for how to not get taken advantage of by any man who might find my (then) fit frame a target of unwelcome advance.
I thought about those classes & hypothetical scenarios while watching How to Defend Yourself & it angered me…a lot. We should be able to defend ourselves if we want to know how, but we also shouldn’t have to learn. This play forces the audience to encounter how essential it is & also how disgusting it is to be essential.
The cast also exposed many uncomfortable facets of the complexity of human sexuality. They forced us to question the “norms”, challenged whether they exist, & invited us to self-identify with one or more characters, evaluating our own sexual behavior in the past & present.
It is not easy or enjoyable to consider how you may have played part in propagating sexual expectations, behaviors, or perspectives that could have harmed another human, be it in body or soul. But we must, because ignorance is not an excuse for continuing.
How to Defend Yourself is a must-see for any adult. Despite language & the discussion of sexual activity, I would also recommend this play for parents & their high school/college age children. We need to talk about these issues in honest ways & train one another to create safe spaces in every venue of life.