Saturday, May 23, 2009

On Women & Self-Defense

According to the US Department of Justice, almost 2.25 million women were victims of violent crimes like robbery, sexual assault and rape in 2005. The DOJ also says that about 100 American women per hour are assaulted by someone they know.

Because there are too many women being victimized, I've been toying with the idea of becoming certified to teach women's self-defense for quite a while. But believe it or not, there aren't as many straight self-defense programs as you may think that actually: 1. inform participants of the very real numbers about women and violent crime 2. don't make participants whack the heck out of a man in a big, padded suit and 3. are taught by women.

For the record, self-defense for women is not just learning physical ways to protect oneself against attack. A good program should also include assault statistics, address confidence and self-esteem building as well as ways to de-escalate a conflict if at all possible. Attacks aren't always about the unknown assailant jumping out from behind the bushes as, again, many women are assaulted by people they know. And when the attack is a surprise, women - who generally have less muscle mass than a man the same height - may not be able to effectively use the strength techniques many programs teach. Call me cynical, but I want to see a woman my size - not a burley, martial arts master who's studied for 20 years and was also an Army drill sergeant - take down a big guy who has grabbed her by wrists or throat before I'll believe a technique is do-able for the average Jane.

Unlike men, women don't learn how to defend ourselves when we are young. Boys are encouraged to wrestle and rough-house while girls are encouraged to stay clean, avoid the fray, observe or even cheer the boys on. I read a quote a few days ago about what would happen if this were allowed in the world of dog breeding. Imagine separating a litter of puppies by sex and letting the males practice "hunting" by play fighting and chasing toys while discouraging the females from doing the same. Crazy, right? But that's exactly what we do to young humans, isn't it?

Picture a threatened cornered animal. The growling and baring of teeth is a warning that said animal will fight with everything they have to protect life, limb and/or babies. Girls who do the same are called unfeminine tomboys. And we wonder why so many women have no idea how to even try to defend themselves when push comes to shove. How often is the myth about not fighting back so as not to anger an attacker still perpetuated?

You don't have to have years of martial arts training under your belt to know how to use your voice (62% of women who screamed, according to a 1998 FBI criminal victimization survey, escaped from their attackers), run (81% of women who tried to run away escaped) or not be a passive victim (68% of women who used some type of physical force were also able to escape). You also don't need a black belt to listen to that voice in your head telling you that a certain situation just doesn't feel right.

We need to be encouraging women and girls of all ages to not be victims by default. Why we aren't is simply appalling.

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