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Defending Ourselves Against Violence

Self-defense can increase the options and choices that we have in any given situation, including situations where we are at risk of violence. Self-defense itself is a choice that is made at a particular moment. Each woman will make the best choice that she can, based on her resources and knowledge at the time.

Just as there is no one right way to respond to violence committed against us, there is no right way to defend ourselves. And, as much as self- defense may help in certain situations, the most important step in ending violence against women is to stop men from being violent and from allowing others to be violent.

In recent years the experiences of women who have been practicing self-defense have changed our ideas about what self-defense is and how we can use its techniques. If you decide to learn self-defense, be sure to think about the real possibility that the person you may defend yourself against may be your date, friend, husband, father, teacher, or co-worker.

Thinking about self-defense in this light, we can see that self-defense study actually includes any activity—assertiveness training, exercise, sports—that promotes self-confidence, self-knowledge, and self-reliance. In addition, the skills we tend to associate exclusively with self-defense can actually be of benefit in other areas of our lives.



Toward an Understanding of Male Violence Against Women

Race, Class, and Violence Against Women

Blaming the Victim

Sexual Harassment

Domestic Violence

Sexual Assault

Incest and Sexual Abuse of Children

The Sex Industry

Defending Ourselves Against Violence

Ending Violence Against Women



Self-defense classes teach us to shift our self-awareness so that we remember that we are the sources of our own energy and the initiators of our own actions. Instead of freezing in the face of assault, we learn to mobilize our thoughts, assess the situation, make a judgment about the level of danger, choose the response we wish to make, and then make it. (See Resources for information on self-defense classes, including "Model Mugging.") We can use this self-awareness in other life situations, such as medical examinations, job interviews, or communication with a difficult person.

I have experienced such profound changes in my self-image and in the way that I see the world and relate to people that I really can't separate my study of self-defense from the rest of my life.

Several myths can prevent us from defending ourselves effectively against a physical assault. They include the myth that the assailant is invulnerable, that greater physical strength will decide who will prevail, that we don't know how to defend ourselves.

Yet, as women we have defended ourselves against attack in many instances. One woman frightened off three adolescent males who were following her along a city street by turning quickly and letting out a bloodcurdling yell. Another stopped a would-be assailant with a kick to the midsection. A young girl sitting on the train found a wayward hand on her knee. She took the man's wrist in her grasp, raised his hand high in the air, and said loudly enough for the entire car to hear, "Who does this belong to?" He got off at the next stop.

There are countless stories like these, even though we don't see them on TV and we don't read them in the newspapers. When we do hear such stories we may attribute such escapes to luck or good fortune; too often we don't take credit for our own courage and resourcefulness. It is important to our self-confidence to reclaim those successes.

At this point, little is known about the value of self-defense for battered women. Street techniques, which depend upon surprise and causing damage, don't work as well against repeated assault by men we live with. Yet, other skills developed in the practice of self-defense may be useful, such as learning to work through the inner obstacles that come up when we are faced with a violent situation. As we begin to feel more self-confident, we will be able to consider how we might resist the battering or how we might eventually leave the batterer and the violence behind us.

Guidelines are needed for adapting physical techniques for use by women with various physical abilities. Furthermore, we need to support the work of all the organizations committed to our safety, because without them, self-defense is a piecemeal approach to women's safety.


Copyright 1984, 1992, 1998 by the Boston Women's Health Book Collective. All rights reserved. Published by Touchstone, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc.

To order Our Bodies, Ourselves for the New Century


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