FUQ….! We say that a lot in conversations, both casual and academic, about self-defense training it because is so often dismissed outright. When we press the issue, asking, “But what is your concern about self-defense training?”, we start to uncover the assumptions people sometimes hold that they can’t easily challenge, because they don’t even ask the question! We therefore offer you our Top 10 Frequently Unasked Questions (FUQs) about empowerment self-defense, along with our answers.
1. Q: Do empowerment self-defense teachers actually know the realities of who assaults whom, or do they naively believe all rapists are strangers who jump out of the bushes? A: Yes! Empowerment self-defense instruction is informed by the data on violence against women, and so these instructors know very well that women are more likely to be attacked by someone they know – an acquaintance, a friend, an intimate. Empowerment self-defense training includes the dynamics and responses to sexual assault by known perpetrators as well as strangers. Without asking this FUQ, you might have the impression that this training is about karate chopping strangers and street fighting.
2. Q: Do empowerment self-defense teachers realize some women have frozen during an assault because they were so shocked it was taking place? A: Absolutely. “Freezing” is a common and natural response when the body is flooded with adrenaline as part of a fear response. Empowerment self-defense training teaches women to minimize how long that response lasts by creating realistic assault scenarios and teaching women to breathe, focus, yell, and fight. Adrenaline then facilitates women’s ability to fight back, rather than interfering with it.
3. Q: Do empowerment self-defense teachers realize that a lot of women are impaired by drugs or alcohol when they are assaulted? A: They do; in empowerment self-defense training, women learn that drugs and alcohol can impair their ability to respond in an assault situation, and that at times, perpetrators deliberately use drugs or alcohol to create impairment to facilitate an assault. Women are reminded that while drugs and alcohol are risk factors for assault, the responsibility for assault always lies with perpetrator, and never the target/victim/survivor. Moreover, empowerment self-defense training increases the likelihood that women can and will have options to respond, even with some impairment from drugs or alcohol.
4. Q: Do empowerment self-defense teachers train women in anything other than karate chopping and throwing someone to the ground? A: “Karate chopping”? What is this, 1970? 🙂 Empowerment self-defense training uses a range of physical and verbal strategies that are demonstrated to be effective in thwarting assault. While some empowerment self-defense instructors have a martial arts background, the techniques taught and practiced in empowerment self-defense are simpler to master in a matter of hours, not years, of training. And the verbal skills are of equal importance to the physical techniques; women learn that they are entitled to set and maintain their own boundaries, and the words and language to calmly and assertively do so; the physical techniques are designed to maximize women’s areas of strength, and to target areas of vulnerability on the perpetrator.
5. Q: Do empowerment self-defense teachers even realize that the gender norms and expectations in our society encourage women to be nice and pleasing, not mean and aggressive? A. They certainly do. Gender socialization is an explicit topic in the psychoeducation that accompanies the verbal and physical strategies taught in empowerment self-defense, and women are encouraged to try and practice different traits and behaviors, regardless of what they have been taught or what feels “natural”. Just like for drugs and alcohol, women are not blamed for being targeted for assault by virtue of their “niceness”; niceness is not asking for it. However, our (un)questioning friends, women’s socialization and adherence to – and access to – stereotypical gender norms varies in multiple ways, and women in empowerment self-defense courses are understood to have different socialization experiences. See Question 6!
6. Q: Do empowerment self-defense classes recognize the way gender is not the only form on inequality– that women’s experiences are in fact filtered by physical ability, age, religion, race, ethnicity, size, etc.? A: Um, yes! Intersectionality, or the concept that our identity is multi-faceted and that systems of oppression…well, intersect around different aspects of identity (thank you, Kimberle Crenshaw) is critical in understanding violence against women, and the differences in violence that different women experience.
7. Q: Do empowerment self-defense classes assume you have to be young and fit to learn and/or use self-defense? A: Absolutely not! (as the increase in our aches and pains in our 20+ years of work with empowerment self-defense can attest). For example, Prepare Inc., the NYC-based chapter of IMPACT (c) Personal Safety, address that very issue on their web site: “This system of self-defense is appropriate for all ages, all levels of fitness, and all body types. You will discover and learn to enhance your own body’s natural strengths. Limited class size ensures individual attention and personalized instruction, including accommodations and adaptations for pre-existing injuries, physical disabilities and learning challenges.”
8. Q: Are advocates of empowerment self-defense assuming that we shouldn’t teach men not to rape, and making only women responsible for addressing violence against women? A: Are swim instructors assuming we should fire all the life guards? Are nutritionists assuming we don’t need any FDA regulations? Are…okay, you get the idea – and NO! Teaching women to effectively defend themselves against sexual assault is a critical aspect of combating violence against women, and with more demonstrated efficacy in reducing rates of sexual violence than programs targeting rape myths, norms around masculinity, and bystanders, but NO EMPOWERMENT SELF-DEFENSE INSTRUCTORS ASSUME THAT THIS SHOULD BE THE ONLY WAY TO ADDRESS VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN. Sigh. Forgive the yelling. We just say this A LOT.
9. Q: Do empowerment self-defense classes teach about how to get help if you’ve been assaulted? A: Empowerment self-defense training focuses on all critical issues around gender violence and sexual assault; in addition to verbal and physical safety strategies, instructors talk about awareness, interpersonal dynamics, and self-care – before an assault is imminent, in the face of assault, and after being targeted or attacked, regardless of whether the assault was attempted or completed. Women are encouraged to be aware of what they need, and to believe they are entitled to get it.
10. Q: Are empowerment self-defense classes blaming women who did not fight back when assaulted for being assaulted? A. Never. Empowerment self-defense training is designed with the goal of increasing women’s options and choices – in life and in the face of assault. Instructors work to provide women with knowledge, skills, and resources; they trust women to make the choices that are best and safest for themselves, and they respect those choices, whether women choose to resist an assault or not, and whether the assault is thwarted or completed.