One Universe at a Time

Our documentary Beauty Bites Beast is like "The Little Engine That Could," in that it is now on the final list of qualified documentaries for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar. We think we can, we think we can, we think we can! That's great, but what is really crucial about our work is that -- whether in book or movie form -- we're saving lives. Sure, an Oscar would be nice because of the added reach it would give our "Little Movie That Could," but we are making a difference, Oscar or no. We'll never actually know how many but in a few paragraphs, I'll share a recent example.

The movie version of Beauty Bites Beast opens with beautiful shots of the universe that cross-fade into the amniotic sac of an in utero fetus. One of the cool things about this opening is that very few people know what they are looking at; it just looks like so much "star stuff," as Carl Sagan termed it. It's hard to distinguish a nebula from a placenta because... well, again as Sagan said, we are all made of "star stuff."

One of my favorite quotes from the movie version of Beauty Bites Beast is from Yehudit Zicklin-Sidikman, our executive producer. Yudit is also the co-founder of El Halev, the oldest and most diverse empowerment self-defense provider in the Middle East region, serving Israelis of Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Druse and Bedouin backgrounds -- over 50,000 served since 2003. Ms. Zicklin-Sidikman says, "I think every individual is a world in and of themselves, and when we break that, we're really destroying a universe."

A universe. Each of us is a universe, and we have the right to defend that universe, as the drive to protect oneself is not a gendered attribute. In nature, all creatures, female or male, strive to survive using whatever tools they have. That females of the human variety are almost all culturally brainwashed into thinking 1) that only males are defensive and 2) a man will always be there to save them, occurs as one of the largest tragedies on the planet that we can avert with very little effort.

Now for that universe I referred to at the beginning. I saved Alicia Erickson's life: a young woman / universe I didn't even know existed.

Little did I know that my book Beauty Bites Beast would be read, then acted upon by the University of North Dakota's Women Center Executive Director, Kay Mendick in 2000. Thanks to my book, Kay has been teaching IMPACT classes at UND ever since. Fast-forward sixteen years. Kay texted me last week with the news of a success story from Alicia Erickson, a former UND student. Alicia had saved her own life because of the IMPACT Personal Safety class she took in the spring of 2013; a class she only took because she needed to come up with a one unit course to maintain her full-time student status.

Alicia was walking home late one night in Minneapolis when she heard running steps behind her. Her heightened awareness gained from IMPACT training kicked in as she realized she was now in a "situation." She turned around and saw a man in a crouching position who was looking right back at her. Fearing that the man was hurt, Alicia called out, "Are you OK?"

He jumped up and grabbed her from behind with his left arm around her neck, saying, "If you scream, I'll stab you," over and over. She listened intently, and then she heard the voices from the IMPACT class she'd taken 3 years previously: "If they tell you not to scream, don't listen and scream anyway!"

Alicia screamed and screamed while looking at the houses in the residential neighborhood, hoping for help. And then her body took over, as her training kicked in fully. This training lives in "muscle memory" without the need for cogent thought. She stomped his right foot and delivered an elbow strike to his solar plexus / rib cage area, still facing away from him. As she prepared to turn around and knee him in the groin, she saw that he was running away clutching his mid-section and panting. Her reaction was "Hey, I'm not done here!" Her body started to run after him, but her mind stepped in and directed her to run the other way.

Recollecting her IMPACT Personal Safety graduation day, she remembers looking over at her parents who both had tears in their eyes, witnessing the fight that their beloved daughter demonstrated in the completion of her course. Alicia also remembers vividly the long form fight she had to complete where the "mock assailant" male instructor in a padded suit just kept coming at her and coming at her, and her realizing that she had what it took to not give up and to fight for her own life if she had to. She did have to... and she did just that.

It's untenable that we don't teach women and girls the basics of protecting themselves from attack. Raising defenseless human females is detrimental to everyone and the only people who benefit from erstwhile female helplessness are... guess who? The perpetrators. Nope, the Universe needs ALL its universes to work, one universe at a time if need be.

NOTE: This article is an updated and expanded version of my column in the Pasadena Weekly that originally ran on December 1st, 2016