Let's vote

Now that many of us have dipped our big toe back into social engagements, I was at an event, sitting next to someone I didn’t know but had heard of: “Emma Empowerment” (not her real name). She’s a pillar of several communities that empower women and girls. She asked what I do, and I said, “I am an empowerment self-defense advocate and have written a book about it which is also a movie. My next project is a musical about women’s self-defense.” She looked taken aback, so I added, “Kidding.”

She brightened and said, “We just had a self-defense class for my group!”

“Terrific,” I said. “Who taught it?”

“Oh, this really nice guy, Marty Martial Arts!” (also not his real name).

“Can I be straight with you?” I asked.

A slight hesitation, “Oh, OK. Sure.” Our chat went from small talk to big talk in a flash. “You hired a man to lead a women’s self-defense class?”

“Yes, of course,” she says.

“Why? I promote women teaching women self-defense. This is a pet peeve of mine so forgive me if I’m putting you on the spot.”

A bit flustered, she said, “I automatically looked for a man. OMG. And I know better!”

“How’s that?” I ask.

“I’m a women’s sports coach, and I get overlooked in favor of men all the time, and yet I didn’t catch it when I did the same thing with a women’s self-defense teacher. We’re marking 50 years of Title IX this year, and we’ve made enormous strides. But women coaches? Not so much. I basically let my unconscious bias for male coaching inform my ‘shopping’ for a self-defense instructor,” Emma said. “And that’s exactly what I hate about my own field.”

“Indeed. Our biases run deep and unexamined; they are rarely malicious or conspiratorial,” I said. I then exacted a promise that the next time Emma hosts a self-defense class, she would call IMPACT Personal Safety (IPS), the nonprofit I have been on the board of for a long time.

We continued our chat and acknowledged that we all have blind spots that will take time to discern and dismantle. Regardless of gender, we’ve all been marinated in white, heteronormative male superiority that we are currently breaking through in thought, word and deed … sometimes daily.

Many people don’t even want to know the heartbreaking statistics of gender-based violence regarding women’s self-defense. I’m reminded of a middle-aged Mexican student in an IPS class in Tijuana. When some of the younger students doubted whether self-defense could work, she raised her hand. The older woman shared that when she finally got tired of her husband coming home smashed, she did some smashing of her own: with a cast-iron frying pan. She didn’t aim to kill him; she aimed to deliver a consequence that would prevent him from ever beating her up or batting the kids around again. And it worked — he never came home blasted after that. Don’t misunderstand: We don’t run around with pans and rolling pins, but you get the point of a woman breaking out of the stereotypes of emotional and physical submission.

So many things have shifted in our recent history. Openly gay people are married and even serving in the federal cabinet! A POC vice president; women on the Supreme Court!

The list is inspiring. If you’d told any of us 60 to 70 years ago that women could be anything other than a wife, mother, nurse, maybe an author or actor, librarian or teacher, we’d think you were, at best, a dreamer or, at worst, bonkers. My mother couldn’t get a credit card in her own name, for goodness sake! In my own circle, I know female lawyers, doctors, consultants, clergy, pilots and self-defense teachers: badasses all. And judges. Yes — judges.

This brings me to the upcoming election. As I wrote in June of this year for the primaries, a confession: as election-aware as I like to think of myself, evaluating the judges on a ballot has traditionally stumped me, and that’s embarrassing to admit. I’ll bet many of us are like that and possibly too proud to cop to it. To help make the most informed choices, I typically utilize the Consumer Watchdog voting guides, Democratic party and union endorsements, and recommendations from the League of Women Voters. I still feel ignorant about judges, but not this time.

I’m very impressed with the Defenders of Justice slate that consists of Elizabeth Lashley-Haynes (Office 67), Holly Hancock (Office 70), Carolyn “Jiyoung” Park (Office 118) and Anna Slotky Reitano (Office 60). They know what life as lived is like and can sit on the bench with compassion.

Finally, lest you think I vote a straight female ticket, many men also deserve our votes. Hyperlocally, for school board, I’m voting for Billy Malone. Hoo-boy, Kimberly Kenne, the incumbent, is tone-deaf, entitled, and a generally despicable person who shouldn’t be allowed near a school, let alone a school governing body. Talk about blind spots: She’s a walking, talking example of one. Let’s all vote with our eyes open.

Ellen Snortland has written this column for decades and also teaches creative writing. She can be reached at ellen@

beautybitesbeast.com. Her award-winning film “Beauty Bites Beast” is available for download or streaming at vimeo.com/

ondemand/beautybitesbeast.