On The Shark Has Pretty Teeth, Dear: Why I Teach Women Self-Defense

@glow bug

This is a great place to start! http://www.nwmaf.org/find-a-self-defense-instructor

Posted on January 8, 2014 at 4:22 am 1

On The Shark Has Pretty Teeth, Dear: Why I Teach Women Self-Defense


Yes, I have encountered those tactics, and have been frustrated by them many times. :( However, that's honestly not what I saw happening in this case. I was startled by the whole Twitter reaction when the article first appeared. It wasn't that the comments were clumsy; on the whole, they were clearly stated. A large number of them were very bluntly taking issue with the suggestion of any violence prevention strategy other than "teach men not to rape." I do think it worked up into an attack on the concept of self-defense itself, and that needed to be addressed.

Incidentally, a few days later, I was reading an article about a young woman who successfully fought off an attacker here in the UK. They had a few brief quotes from her (including one where she said she fought partly because she knew that if she didn't, he could do this again to some other woman, or maybe a child). Apparently in one quote she said something to the effect of "...women should know they can fight back," (can't remember the exact quote), and the first few commenters took her to task for it! I was mortified. Here was this survivor who had fought for her life and been successful, and you had people saying, "She did a great job. The only thing she did WRONG was to tell other women they should fight back."

Seeing those comments so soon after the Everyday Feminism thing was really troubling to me. Rape culture is real, our complicity in it must be checked, but honestly, if there needs to be a backlash against something, it is NOT against womens' agency. We have the right to physical resistance to bodily harm.

I guess what I'm trying to express, in so many words, is that the people saying "the way this discussion around self-defense and sexual assault happens reinforces rape culture and patterns of victim-blaming" also need to be careful of the language they use and the blame they place, lest they do harm to some of their great allies. :(

Posted on January 7, 2014 at 5:57 pm 3

On The Shark Has Pretty Teeth, Dear: Why I Teach Women Self-Defense


Believe me, I find Twitter insipid, but unfortunately those tweets motivated the very incident we are talking about here. (At least, it's what *I* am talking about here). EverydayFeminism took a string of tweeted objections equating SD with victim blaming and support of rape culture seriously enough to remove the article in question and post the disturbing apology that motivated both this piece and my comment.

That being said, I don't disagree with you one bit about the necessity of being very mindful of how we frame self-defense classes. Being careful when we talk about this stuff is no inconvenience for any good teacher; it's a requirement. I don't know whether or not you are familiar with self-defense training, but -- as this article points out -- there are so many well-informed, well-qualified, female instructors out there, some of whom basically wrote the book on fighting rape culture and worked tirelessly to create a curriculum that incorporates just these considerations into every. single. class. So it's more than a liiiiiitle bit insulting for people who may have no idea what material their classes actually include to accuse them of victim-blaming -- in some cases, no less, using the same language that's proudly supported rape culture for years, e.g. "Self-defense doesn't work!!!11!"

So, yeah. My beef is not that people want us to be careful with our language and how we approach topics. My beef is with people who are, through their own ignorance of the work of female self-defense pioneers, belittling that work and dismissing a great tool at womens' disposal.

Posted on January 7, 2014 at 2:48 pm 5

On The Shark Has Pretty Teeth, Dear: Why I Teach Women Self-Defense


Must respectfully disagree with you here. I don't really have an opinion re: the merits of Krav Maga, but the rest of your comments aren't really accurate in terms of teaching short-term, empowerment-based self-defense to women. Just a few reasons why:

* "Sparring at full resistance/force" may be a great way to learn to box for those who want to do so, but it's a myth that that is required to learn to defend oneself.

* Full-contact sparring will put many people off entering a school entirely, and as I learned from my teacher, we don't learn best from being frightened and/or hurt. At the very least, full-force is not the *only* way to learn.

* Women's bodies are different from men's. Techniques that men may be more likely to choose, e.g. pitting strength vs. strength, are not necessarily going to be the best choice for a woman, especially one with limited training. They may not even be relevant to her situation at all, e.g. she is unlikely to encounter an attacker who wants to box with her. This does NOT mean there's nothing she can do to defend herself.

* Proficiency in boxing and judo takes years. It's important to be able to provide training that does not require any particular athleticism, nor years of commitment to be effective.

* Full-force sparring can be intimidating and triggering for survivors of violence, and it's wrong to indicate to them that that is the ONLY way to learn how to fight.

* Lastly, with many women, half the battle is emotional and psychological; we lack the sense that we're entitled to take care of ourselves, the daily visual/verbal/physical assertiveness skills to express that entitlement, and the belief that we'll be successful if we try. Self-defense training that just focuses on fighting techniques but ignores this crucial element is what gives SD a bad name.

Again, I say this with respect because I know your comment was well-intended, and because I'm a big fan of martial arts training. The author of this article gives links to loads of research informing a different approach to women's self defense -- interesting to read if you're so inclined.

Posted on January 7, 2014 at 1:57 pm 2

On The Shark Has Pretty Teeth, Dear: Why I Teach Women Self-Defense


There are obviously some poorly-designed self-defense courses out there. No one has pretended otherwise. However, this piece, and my response to it, were specifically directed at Twitter commenters who dog-piled a relatively inoffensive article and, in so doing, claimed unequivocally that advocating self-defense training = victim blaming. That response is equally simplistic, and equally dangerous.

Posted on January 7, 2014 at 1:22 pm 3

On The Shark Has Pretty Teeth, Dear: Why I Teach Women Self-Defense

Posted on January 7, 2014 at 1:16 pm 0

On The Shark Has Pretty Teeth, Dear: Why I Teach Women Self-Defense

This piece is right on! A well-designed self-defense course has nothing to do with blame, and nothing to do with rigid rules as to how to respond in a life-threatening attack. It is about finding your own voice, your self-worth, and your strength. It's about being aware of a "toolbox" of various options that *might* be helpful in difficult situations (from the everyday to the scary), granting yourself permission to take care of yourself, and creating solidarity with other women.

In short, speaking of someone who came of age in a supportive community of empowerment self-defense students and teachers, ESD is basically the polar opposite of what those Twitter commenters have claimed. In fact, it's MORE than the opposite: it's an active opponent of victim-blaming and the oppression of women.

Posted on January 7, 2014 at 12:50 pm 3