I am a 6'3'' white American teenage guy. This fact can pose serious problems when I have to deal with the aggressive behavior of others. I am required by my culture to adhere to codes of behavior which are often contradictory. For example:
As a young, strong male, I am expected to be powerful both in body and will, and make this clear to those around me.
As a young, strong male, I am pretty much required by law not to act in an intimidating or threatening manner to anyone who is a public servant, female, significantly older or younger than me, smaller than me, in my temporary care, or a relative of a girl I am dating. No matter what the situation, as long as my life is not in danger, this rule applies.
Now, on the surface, there seems to be little contradiction between these two 'unwritten rules.' But in fact this makes self-defense very difficult. Consider the following situation:
A female friend of mine is upset with me. She begins to punch me, as hard as she can. While she isn't doing serious damage to me, it hurts. I ask her to stop and she refuses. Theoretically, I have the right to prevent unwanted physical contact. There are two ways for me to prevent her from continuing: I could flee, or I could physically hold her hands down or push her away. But either of these actions would constitute breaking one of the above rules. Any physical intervention on my part is almost certain to be interpreted as aggression by a third party. After all, she's a female, and I'm a big guy. And my other option, to flee, is in its own way just as bad. I communicate to others that I am either not able or not willing to defend myself. This makes me a target for other, more serious confrontations, which I would rather avoid.
So, in this situation, I need to find a way to convince/force this female to stop hurting me, without using my superior strength. On top of that, I must appear strong but not intimidating. That's a tall order, especially considering I have done nothing wrong in this situation.
Another example: I am at the home of a young girl I wish to date. Her father asks to speak to me privately, where he does the standard "don't hurt my daughter" spiel. But he uses phases like: "If you upset my daughter I will kick your ass" or "I'm not afraid to go back to prison." Then he takes a step towards me and grabs my arm.
Now, a full-grown man has just threatened me and proceeded to initiate agressive contact. From a purely tactical standpoint, not retaliating would be a bad move at best, suicidal at worst. He's established that he's willing to harm me, and has moved against me in an aggressive manner. Any reasonable person would be justified in assuming that they were under attack. In fact, by not retaliating, I allow him to gain control of my arm, which would make it very easy for him to hurt me seriously. But think about how other people would see this: a guy beat up his girlfriend's dad before the first date. I would not get much leeway from the law for this kind of response. However, if I do not react, I let him know that I am not willing to defend myself, establishing weakness and giving him an excellent opportunity to hurt me. Once again, I find myself in an impossible situation. How am I to defend my well-being and my reputation without severe backlash?
I have seen people who are fully capable of defending themselves be seriously hurt because they refuse to harm or intimidate their attacker, and can't leave because it will make them seem weak. Battered husbands, for example, suffer extreme distress and emotional damage (not to mention physical injury) because they feel they are not permitted to defend themselves against abusive wives. And those that flee or seek help from others are seen as weak and often not taken seriously as a result.
Physically imposing young males are caught in a convergence of social norms: We have to appear powerful, but never use that power. We have to dissuade most attackers without the benefit of intimidation and still seem strong. When another person creates a dangerous situation, my actions, the actions of the victim, are subject to much greater scrutiny than the person who caused the incident.
Of course, these rules stop applying if I feel my life is in serious danger. If the attacker has a weapon, if they are attempting a full-body charge or some other unusually harmful maneuver, or there are multiple attackers, I feel no qualms about running or defending myself. And in such a situation, I would not be worried about being misconstrued as the criminal instead of the victim. But for the majority of cases, the attack is not so serious, and thus my response could be interpreted as a crime against someone less able to defend themselves.
I personally am very much afraid that I will either one day be charged with a crime for defending myself, or be seriously hurt because I felt I could not protect myself in an acceptable way.