Women and Self-Defense Classes: The Fallacy of Self Defense for Women

Jul 1


Mark A. Jordan

Mark A. Jordan

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Women's self-defense classes, seminars and videos are short-changing women. The idea that women can learn to defend themselves against men, without training with men, is simply false.


There are many who say women learn self-defense better in an exclusively women-only environment. The so-called "experts" say it is less intimidating if women don't have to compete with the men,Women and Self-Defense Classes: The Fallacy of Self Defense for Women Articles or, it is easier (more comfortable) to discuss subjects like rape without men present. So, the new trend in self-defense programs is "Women's Self Defense" classes.

I don't agree with this line of reasoning, because the overwhelming evidence suggests that this is the wrong approach. I can't tell you how many times I have heard, "I took a women's self-defense course once. But, I went home and tried some of the stuff on my husband (or boyfriend), and it didn't work!"

There is nothing more confidence-shattering than to spend the time learning all the techniques and starting to feel good about yourself, only to have the bubble burst the first time you try out your new-found skills. Women then begin to feel there is nothing they can do to protect themselves when they can't even make it work against someone who isn't really trying to hurt them.

The real shame is when someone is really attacked, and after repeated attempts, can't make their self-defense techniques work. At that point, they simply give up, and won't fight back no matter what. I can only imagine that someone in that situation would look back on the time or money spent for self-defense classes and feel that they had been victimized twice!

Why "Women's Self Defense" Programs Don't Work!

Most of the people who take my self-defense classes are women. Sometimes, I even have a class that is all women. However, that is by coincidence, not design. Women who sign up for my classes know that there may be both men and women in the class. Whether there are actually men in the class is not important, after all, I am instructing the class, so there is always at least one man in the class.

The point is, if a woman is so intimidated by men, that she will not even take a self-defense class with men, she will never survive an attack by a man. Why? Because "intimidation" is just another word for fear. Until she can prove to herself the techniques work on a man, she has done nothing to help her get over her fear of men.

If she is ever attacked, it will probably be by a man! If she hasn't gotten over her fear of men, she will immediately panic, no matter what she has learned. If she hasn't learned how to deal with the bigger, stronger, more aggressive male, she will not understand how the dynamics of the situation will change in the real world!

Women MUST practice self-defense techniques against a man! Otherwise, how will she know they work against a man? This is what we call "realistic scenario training" (more about this later). If she has only practiced self-defense techniques with other women, she gets a false sense of security that her techniques will work in the real world. But, an even bigger problem is that most of what is taught in these so-called "women's self-defense" classes wouldn't work anyway!

Poor Teaching Methods

Much of what is taught as "women's self-defense" is not only ineffectual, but insulting as well. Courses intended only for women assume they are weak, less capable of defending themselves, and therefore need different methods from men to counteract violence. Women have been told to "yell 'FIRE', carry a hat pin or umbrella to jab at him, do something vulgar to gross him out, like tell him you have VD." If any of that junk worked, we'd be teaching men to do the same thing.

The following sample of bad advice still shows up in high schools and women's self-defense courses:

"Confrontation always makes everything worse. Don't react-it might be an overreaction. Don't add to the violence by becoming violent yourself. Don't make him mad. Trying to escape risks escalating the problem."

These ideas are wishful thinking or blind optimism. Experience at real crime scenes teaches you something very different.

Imagine if the percentages of women and men raped were 50-50 instead of 98 percent women and 2 percent men. [Outside of prison, those are the true percentages.] Now imagine someone telling men, "Don't overreact to rape, guys. Go along with his demands so you won't be hurt." I think you can see there might be a double standard that is completely unfair to women.

Doing Nothing

Doing nothing against a violent attack is the biggest risk of all because it makes resistance and escape later far more difficult. Worse, statistics show it actually increases the likelihood that violence will escalate, especially when the crime is rape. The most profound example involving resisting (doing something) versus submitting (doing nothing) was a Department of Justice study of rape published in 1985:

  • Rapists do not normally pre-arm themselves with weapons. Only 23 percent of 1.6 million cases studied involved knives or guns. [The major exception to this are rapists who break into a residence; 96 percent grab a knife from the kitchen.]
  • Approximately 51 percent of women resisted in some form, ranging from screaming to fleeing, to fighting back; the remaining 49 percent did nothing.
  • When broken down between resistance or submission, there was only an increase of two percent in the injury level to the women who resisted.

Yes, there is always a risk involved in fighting back, but there is just as much risk in doing nothing. If you face a rapist and do nothing, he'll rape you. If you face an armed criminal forcing you into his car and do nothing, he'll kidnap you. The "do-nothing" group believes that in doing nothing, they risk nothing.  Doers, in contrast, have simple and direct reasons for taking action: "If I don't do something fast, it's going to get worse."

False Claims

Another problem is the false sense of security given by unsubstantiated claims. One direct-mail women's safety device provides an "instant and easy self-defense" video for women.... "Can you point your finger? ... Can you raise your hand? ... If your answer is yes, you can instantly escape anything from rape to severe attacks.... It's quick and easy." The product being mentioned here, pepper spray, almost never works this way in the real world. Note: You may want to read this article on the problems of using Self-defence Products - http://www.alljujitsu.com/weapons.html

One television commercial for a women's self-defense program promises "two-minute, guaranteed knockout using your feet. When your assailant tries to grab you, use the heel of your shoe to strike into his head over and over." Could you really learn to do this in two minutes? It takes years of training in karate or taekwondo to learn to effectively kick someone in the head, and even then, it's a risky move. It's just a marketing ploy to get your money.

If you buy a police radar detector that is guaranteed to work, but doesn't, the result is a speeding ticket. If you pay for "self-defense classes" or videos that don't deliver as promised, the result can be severe injury or even death. Relying on someone else's guarantee is only a false sense of security that will only have bad results!

Anti-crime gadgets, and martial arts self-defense programs marketed to women, are often too simplistic and come with unrealistic guarantees. The fact is, surviving crime requires far more mental toughness than physical abilities. Size, weight, conditioning, and upper-body strength don't make the difference. If they did, a lot of men would be in deep trouble. Crime survival takes tough-minded mental conditioning, the same for both men and women.

What Does Work

What works, as proved by the results of both police and military testing, is "realistic scenario training". Scenario training consists of learning techniques, rehearsing them in realistic scenarios, and then visualizing these actions in your mind. It is a method used in many fields, from sports to law enforcement, military to medicine.

Scenario training is a way of planning our responses. We do something similar every day in our regular lives. We plan what to say if the boss criticizes a report we've submitted, or how to appease our spouse if we've done something irritating. Often we actually rehearse the words we'll use, we do it constantly. It doesn't always get us what we want, but it gives us a better chance.

Face-to-face with violence, your first split-second problem is not what is he going to do, but, "what are you going to do?" Scenario training against violence answers that question at the right time ... before it happens. You can make mistakes and learn from them before it becomes a life or death situation! Scenario training to survive violent crime draws on real-life crime cases, which allows us to analyze our own mistakes, as well as the mistakes of others, learn from them, and decide how we will respond differently.

Without realistic scenario training, people panic and freeze up; they have no way to cut through the overwhelming fear that boxes them in during a crisis. Everyone needs to train for the same scenarios, and everyone, men and women alike, need to train the same way: to develop the mental toughness needed to survive a real attack!

This is the bottom line that must be adopted by every woman, every women's self-defense teacher, and every parent of a daughter: If the how-to-survive-violence technique and advice is not acceptable to men, it's not acceptable to women.

Knowing how to handle yourself when confronted with violence is your only insurance against becoming a victim, or just another statistic in a police report. You have car insurance, home-owner's insurance, life insurance, health insurance…

What insurance do you have against being the victim of a violent crime? A long-term self-defense program offers the most comprehensive training, and therefore, the best opportunity to learn to handle almost any situation that may occur. However, if you don't have the time to commit to a long-term program, at least some form of weaponless self-defense training is better than none.

But women MUST practice techniques with MEN! The idea that women can learn to defend themselves against men, without training with men, is simply false.

Resources: Strong, Sanford - Strong on Defense; Simon & Shuster, Inc.; 1996Federal Bureau of Investigation - Uniform Crime Report; 2000