What You Do Does

“You know what you do. You don’t know what you do does.”

I first heard that at an event with Rebecca Solnit and Joan Halifax, Roshi. Solnit said it, but she was referring to something she had learned from Halifax. The concept apparently goes back to Foucault, but the provenance doesn’t really matter. The idea does.

Those are powerful words that can keep you going in times of despair. Don’t focus on the outcome, because you can’t control it and may not live to see it. Just do what matters to you, what you think is right, what you find necessary in the here and now.

I’m thinking about this for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the political debacle in the U.S., which has exposed the weaknesses in our Constitution and in our myths. We are not the country we thought we were.

But I also saw someone refer to the “failure” of Second Wave feminism. I fundamentally disagree. Second Wave feminism was a rousing success.

No, we didn’t end the patriarchy with the Second Wave. But the feminist activism going on right now wouldn’t have been possible without it, just as the Second Wave wouldn’t have been possible without the Suffragists and other feminists who came before that.

Were there flaws? Sure. Plenty of them. But there was still a sea change in the options open to women.

I am old enough to not just remember help wanted ads divided by gender, but to have been paid a lower minimum wage because I was a woman. (It was a violation of the Civil Rights Act to do that, especially since I was doing the same damn job in a pizza place as any of the men, but the rules hadn’t yet caught up.)

And while I was a little kid in the 1950s, I can remember my mother’s reaction to the way women were treated. She never stopped being angry.

I think about her experiences a lot when I read Joanna Russ. (I’m currently reading Gwyneth Jones’s book on her,  which has brought up a lot of these ideas.) But while Russ’s How to Suppress Women’s Writing unfortunately remains all too relevant, things still changed a lot during the Second Wave.

When I became involved in ESD-Global, it became clear to me that so much of what is now going on with empowerment self defense is rooted in the women who, back in the 70s, started training in martial arts and teaching other women.

These days things that many women martial artists like myself have said for years are becoming mainstream. Women have begun to know they’re strong and powerful. Many of us are starting to reach the point where we’re not going to put up with misogynist crap anymore.

For those of us who train, our conception of self defense has also grown and changed over the years. Many of us lifetime martial artists no longer think people need to spend years of hard training to reach the goal of being safe in their lives. Empowered self defense is a path all of us can take, and all of us are better off for it.

I didn’t see that coming when I first wandered into a dojo and fell in love with training. I didn’t even consciously think about it in self defense terms. I just loved to train, and that changed me.

I hope that what I have done affects other people, but that’s the part that’s beyond my control.

You know what you do. You don’t know what you do does.

So go do what’s important to you. I suspect we’ll all be better off for it.

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