“Fighting” orignally appeared in Details Magazine, July 1995

Suzanne Vega puts her best fist forward

Some girls are taught to be sexy. L.A. girls, for example. They’re taught to be blond and cute and show a lot of skin. It’s different in New York. Here you have to prove yourself, and you can’t let any other kids mess with you. Not girls, and not boys. Boys will say stuff to you to see if you can take it – talk about your shoes, call you names, or say things like “Hey, white bitch, are you really a girl or a faggot?” So you cry or you run. Or you fight. Here are my rules for fighting with boys.


That was my father’s advice. If you have to fight a crowd of boys, it’s best to go for the biggest one. That way you won’t have to fight them all. The others will see that you mean business and you will win their respect.


If Tony W. picks up a lead pipe and swings it at you in the school hallway, he is bluffing. There’s no way he’ll hit you with it. This was proven wrong, though, when Tony W did in fact hit me in the ribs with a wooden board as I went after him in the street. I chased him for blocks and returned to see the younger kids out on the stoop cheering.


If my brother has provoked a fight by calling Tony W. a bastard, then I still have to jump in and defend my brother. If everyone is standing around in a circle downstairs chanting “The Vegas are sick, they suck on big dick,” then you must go and fight all of them and make them stop – even if you are happily reading Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley and do not want to go. You have to defend your honor. And your family.


And always defend your own. I forgot to do this once in a fight with Jonathan R. He hit me in the stomach and knocked the wind out of me, after which my face hit the sidewalk and I chipped my front tooth.


Don’t make a threat and then not do it. (See CALL THEIR BLUFF, above.) I came close to backing down once when I offered to fight Malcolm W. I remember saying “Do you want to fight?” The words popped brightly out of my mouth before I had a chance to bite down hard on them, and I remember Malcolm W’s look of amused amazement, since he was the toughest, meanest guy in the school. He was thirteen, and there were rumors that he had a woman in her early twenties whom he’d gotten pregnant.

So when he turned his cold eyes in my direction and said, “Fight? Yeah, I’ll fight you. I haven’t had a fight in a while. I could use the exercise,: and he began to roll his sleeves up over his hard, tan muscles. I thought I was going to die. The other kids on the stoop looked at me nervously and said, “No, Suzy. Don’t Suzy.” I don’t think I actually said or did anything after that except stare at him, and eventually the whole thing blew over. I was relieved, but at least I had saved face.


Girls are crazy and mean. They don’t fight fair. Fighting fair means hard, tight fists and regular punches. But girls will slap, bite, pinch, pull your hair, rip the buttons off your shirt and the earrings out of your ears. There are no rules in fights with girls. Just hurting.

The one exception was the fight with Carla W., when she challenged me. We never even touched each other. I just stood there staring at her as she wound herself down, and she eventually began speaking nonsense. “I’ll kick you in the guts and two babies will fall out!” Eventually the crowd around us began to laugh, and I won.


” One of these days you Vegas will learn that violence is not the answer!” shouted my teacher Ruth M. as I held Michael E’s face against the floor in the hallway. I had him down but never knew quite what to do after that, as I had no natural killer instinct. She forced me to let him up, and soon after that she quit teaching to enter politics. Today, Ruth M. is Ruth Messinger, Manhattan Borough president. She spends a lot of time fighting some of the boys herself.

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