Friday, July 24, 2009


A local hospital had a bulletin board up advertising their classes, and in additional to the usual baby-care and cancer support classes, they had the following:

Mother & Daughter Safety Training
For daughters 14 years and older and their mothers.
This 3-hour class addresses the safety issues facing young women on or off high school and college campuses during the activities of daily living. The training is built on increasing the awareness of our surroundings, obeying instincts and employing proactive safety strategies including when socializing and dating.

Topics Covered:
~ Safety in elevators, parking lots & 'fringe' areas
~ The importance of the Buddy System and team work
~ What to do when approached by a stranger
~ Alcohol and common "Predatory Drugs": What they are and how to avoid them
~ Early recognition of inappropriate acquaintance/date behavior.

Well, that's great, I always wanted to bring my daughter to a three hour class on being terrified of the world! (Not my son, though. He can handle himself.) There's nothing here about self-defense tactics, either. Just a big list of things you should fear and avoid. All flight, no fight, and absolutely no standing your ground and asserting your right to walk around your own goddamn neighborhood.

I'm sure there are some useful lessons. "Keep an eye on your drink" and "dates who cross little boundaries will cross big ones," those are important. And if there's a really super creepy dude in the elevator maybe you should wait for the next? But the number one lesson of this class seems to be that girls should be afraid. Afraid of parking lots! Afraid of being alone! Afraid of strangers! Afraid to drink! Afraid to date!

(The part about "what to do when approached by a stranger" particularly weirds me out since this class is for 14 and over. Stranger Danger is one thing for 8-year-olds, but by the time you're going to college strangers will occasionally approach for non-menacing reasons and you should have the maturity to assess the situation rather than answer "excuse me, which way to James Street" with "OH MY GOD, SECURITY!!!")

Self-defense classes are awesome. Everyone, male and female, should have basic self-defense skills. But there's a difference between "the gift of fear" and just being quiveringly avoidant of everything that isn't background-checked and piss-tested and wrapped in Nerf.

Anyway, strangers aren't the danger. I've seen a couple dozen assaults in my day, and about two of them were between complete strangers. (Both of those, incidentally, weren't in "fringe areas" but in convenience stores. Perhaps we should teach our daughters never to go to 7-11, it's just not worth it.) The rest were committed by partners, siblings, friends, cousins, my boyfriend's weird friends he invites over, this john my pimp said was cool, and of course Sumdood. It's sort of comforting in a way to think that threats come from "outside," but it doesn't reflect reality. You can creep through the parking lot with a can of mace and total situational awareness and then go home and get raped by your husband.

There's a class I'd like to teach young women, actually. (Young people. I've seen a man streaming blood after his wife broke a heavy ceramic mug over his head.) Identifying and getting the fuck out of destructive intimate relationships. Not a brief sideline to Stranger Danger self-defense but a whole class on the real threat. Best for kids young enough to not be in serious relationships yet, but open to any age. It would save ten times as many lives as this "young ladies are fragile flowers that mustn't go into the big bad world alone" bullshit.


  1. If you could figure out a way to get people who need your class to take it, you'd be filthy rich and beloved by all.
    Good luck with that.

  2. That class would require common sense, responsibility, and command of one's self. Like THAT's gonna happen

  3. I've taken a couple self-defense seminars just to see what they teach, and they always talk about the stranger who approaches you in a club/bar/alley. And sure, these involve actual fighting, and it's nice and all...but they never do talk about how the guy you know down the hall, or your friend, or your boyfriend could be the attacker. How do you handle that when it happens if you never knew it could?

  4. At first I though, "Cool. A self-defense class for moms and daughters." And then I kept reading.

    "Identifying and getting the fuck out of destructive intimate relationships. Not a brief sideline to Stranger Danger self-defense but a whole class on the real threat."
    That's such a fantastic idea. I know very few people who've been attacked my strangers, but several who are in destructive relationships and think they have to "work things out."

  5. I remember this double standard growing up. At a certain age my brother was allowed to go certain areas at certain times, yet when I was the same age I didn't have the freedom, the justification along the lines of 'it's more dangerous for a girl to be out late.' It's a tough balance for sure, drawing the line between being practical and safe and then being overly controlling and slightly sexist even, cause there are certainly a lotta tough ass girls out there that could beat the crap outta any man!

  6. Think there are three ways you can live your life...

    1) Ignore things around you
    2) Pay attention and react accordingly
    3) Paranoia and try again in the next life.

    1 and 3... you're dead. Either physically, emotionally, or other.

    Tried to think of something more to say, but couldn't... said it all.

  7. Don - I doubt on "filthy rich," but I've almost been thinking about how you'd put together a curriculum. I'd want to be really careful not to sound down on relationships but to give the message "love is wonderful and it does take work... but if it makes you feel like shit and you're doing all the work, it ain't love."

    Williamthecoroner - More importantly, it would require girls at the absolute peak of the "we're in TRUE FOREVER LOVE" phase to give up some of their illusions. I know I couldn't at that age. Of course you shouldn't let any boy hurt you, but this isn't any boy, this is the only man who ever loved me this much, and he's special.

    Anonymous - Interestingly, a lot of common self-defense-class scenarios do involve things that physically suggest intimate abuse, like escaping from choke holds. But I've never heard it explicitly framed that way--usually it's suggested that someone came out of nowhere and grabbed your neck.

    The Sexual Buzz - The "tough ass girls" statement worries me a little, actually, because it can be false confidence. I'm stronger than average and I've taken several martial arts classes, in class I seem to be doing great, but even in play-fights I'm just overpowered by most guys. That's why I learned to shoot.

    Dano - I think a lot of people get by on #1 and luck, but it's no way to live. And #3 just disgusts me.

  8. Holly : I agree.

    Problem I have with self defense classes and martial arts - they both try to codify something into pretty little rules and actions... which have no basis in reality.

    If you are fighting there are no rules, and the human body has many weak points. Finger through the eye, mule kick to the knee (takes what, 10 kg of force to destroy the joint?), grab and twist damn near anything (balls and inner thigh work best), elbow to the throat, etc.

    Most of it you can't really practice without crippling your sparing partner. I think the best class would teach that anything goes, and then give suggestions on what to do to cripple or kill an attacker.

  9. It seems to be that society is a little schizophrenic about self-defense in general, though. There was one time where I was verbally assaulted and then attacked by two strangers, in front of witnesses. I put one of them in the hospital, and sent the other running. And yet I was still detained for "excessive use of force". It's not like I punched him in the face or kicked him while he was down or anything, just that my fist broke some of his ribs. Assuming that this is a normal response, I'm in trouble no matter what - since I don't know martial arts and my experience comes mostly from street fighting as a kid (and not the voluntary kind), I can only do excessive force or ineffective force.

  10. "There's a difference between "the gift of fear" and just being quiveringly avoidant of everything that isn't background-checked and piss-tested and wrapped in Nerf."

    This quote in particular will go down in history as pure brilliance.

  11. Great points here, It sucks if mothers are taking their daughters to a class that reinforces the message "don't go out alone, don't talk to strange men, don't drink, you're a WOMAN & you're always unsafe." I think many self defense classes are better than this, though. I took a course that taught basic moves to briefly disable/slow down an attacker, but also taught assertiveness (how to make sure body language, tone of voice and actions reinforce each other, for instance -- so that a weak, apologetic tone of voice doesn't contradict a message of "leave me alone"), and how to use words to disarm a situation before it becomes violent. The class didn't specifically address getting away from an abusive partner, but it also didn't assume every attacker would be a stranger. And our instructor (who was amazing) didn't say one word about alcohol, being scared of elevators, or anything any of that crap -- she assumed we all had the right to be safe no matter what we were doing.

    "Most of it you can't really practice without crippling your sparing partner. I think the best class would teach that anything goes, and then give suggestions on what to do to cripple or kill an attacker." Untrue. In the class I took we practiced our blows & kicks on each other, being careful not to do them at full force. Not perfect, but way better than nothing. You wouldn't get far telling people that "anything goes," since there are lots of effective attack moves that wouldn't occur to an untaught person. Many women don't know what parts of the body are effective to use in a fight -- for instance they think you shd attack with your knuckles, elbows or knees, whereas those are some of the body's more vulnerable spots. Some kind of practice is essential.

  12. Lastnightsclothes - That class does sound pretty cool. I have two nitpicks though:

    In the class I took we practiced our blows & kicks on each other, being careful not to do them at full force.
    I've done that too, and it's useful, but it can also lead to the bad habit of not knowing what "full force" really is. I've taken entire classes like that, thought I was coming along nicely, and then just play-fought with someone who was truly bigger and stronger than me--I had no chance, and he wasn't even trying to hurt me. I was so used to people throwing punches planning to be blocked, and releasing holds when they knew they should, that I was totally unprepared for someone who didn't allow himself to be defeated on cue.

    I'm frankly still not strong enough to go one-on-one against a 6' man with confidence (that's why I have guns), but I think that full-force practice on pads and bags, and sparring that leaves serious bruises, are necessary to get any idea of the strength and pain tolerance involved in a real fight.

    for instance they think you shd attack with your knuckles, elbows or knees, whereas those are some of the body's more vulnerable spots
    I've done several self-defense classes and I still think I should attack with those parts. Elbows and knees are your best option in quarters too close to punch or kick effectively, and knuckles are... rather time-tested, don't you think? As long as I'm aiming my hardest parts at the enemy's softest parts, I'm not punching a concrete wall, the "vulnerability" of my joints shouldn't matter that much.

  13. lastnightsclothes: If I'm not attacking with my knuckles/elbows/knees...what, precisely, am I attacking with? My head? I know such things as palm/heel strikes exist, but frankly I think I have a better chance of hurting someone with my elbows/knuckles. Especially my elbows. Damn things are pointy.

    Granted, I don't particularly like attacking with my knees unless I'm kneeing someone in the balls, and even then I still prefer my feet if I've got enough space.

  14. @Holly and @lastnightsclothes: yeah, elbows and knees are excellent weapons, especially if you're trained with them and your opponent isn't. It takes conditioning to get to the point where hitting with your elbows/knees doesn't hurt as much, but (as this blog can attest to), everything fun takes conditioning.

    I may write more on the subject on my own blog, but for now: great post.

  15. For self defense I take Krav Maga, the combatives system used by the Israeli army. It's not really a martial art, it starts from the assumption that you'll be given no mercy and that there aren't any rules in defending yourself. Very no-holds-barred. I heartily recommend it!

    Regarding the "tough ass girls" statement, I think it's a myth that in a straight fight women always lose. On the one hand, something I've learned in krav maga is that you don't have to be strong to hit the right spots. Kicking someone in the balls and punching him in the throat will work on almost anyone. It's true that on average men are stronger and bigger than women, but you really can overcome these disadvantages. A good fighter will beat a shitty fighter every time.

    That said, our lack of height and muscle mass isn't our only disadvantage. Most women just can't handle the idea of fighting. They don't have any real will to win or fighting spirit, and they give up far too easily. Obviously these things are nurture, not nature, but they're still problems we have to overcome if we grew up in this culture. Especially since chances are that your attacker will be someone you know, and the will to fight in general is different from the will to fight a friend. I think I could fight a stranger, but I'm not at all confident I could fight a friend, or a lover.

    In my case, I don't feel overmatched in fights against dudes. This could be because I'm six feet tall, but people don't really overpower me unless they're hulking behemoths. Even though I'm not particularly stronger than average. I can't do a pullup, and guys beat me really easily in pure strength contests like armwrestling, but fighting is different somehow. Maybe because it tests more than just strength?

    Bottom line, it's definitely not false confidence. We just have to try harder than men do.

  16. Sometimes, just fighting back can be enough for a woman to gain the upper hand, simply because Random Attacking DudeGuy doesn't expect that.

    A friend of mine was attacked on the street once— some guy grabbed her from behind, immobilizing her arms— and what she did was simply throw herself (and thus him) to the ground! That, apparently, was not something he was expecting. Not only did he lose his grip on her, but she got to her feet faster and proceeded to kick the shit out of his face while screaming for the cops.

    He was screamin' too.

  17. My dad does a bit of martial arts-type stuff in his spare time (mostly Wing Chun, but he'll borrow from other styles as he sees fit) and as such both my sister and I have been taught some basic amount of self-defense. I find the elevator part amusing as my dad and his students have sparred in elevators before. His teaching style actually seems pretty close to what Dano was talking about.

    Having pretty much grown up with it I just don't pay the size issue much mind in a fighting context since Wing Chun generally doesn't place much emphasis on physical power. If anything being taller puts me at a slight disadvantage since most of my opponents have a lower centre of gravity.

    Seconding the sparring thing. Making it a little more live forces you to think on your feet, while going slower is good for problem-solving stuff like counting how many different ways you can get out of your typical headlock (17 at last count).