I’ve had a number of discussions with well-meaning men on the subject of “women’s self-defence.” Usually it starts with something along the lines of, “Women are never to blame for an assault against them, but…” And then he goes off on a list of things she should do in order to avoid being assaulted. She shouldn’t dress a certain way. She shouldn’t go out alone at night. She should learn to fight. She shouldn’t drink “to excess” – a limit usually set by someone other than the person doing the drinking.
In order for any method of “self-defence” to be viable, it must be evidence-based and evidence-supported. Steering clear of any particular area, style of dress, alcoholic beverage, or flavour of lollipop will not keep anyone safe. In fact, it stands to make her less safe, as she will now be so caught up with trying to follow “safety rules” she may be unable to focus the appropriate amount of energy on the things that can actually make her safe – like building positive relationships, exercising her own judgment, experiencing freedom, and just enjoying life. So called “advice” is in such abundance she is now hyper-vigilant, and quite possibly unable to relax enough to know when her own instinct is being triggered. The wrong advice -no matter how well-meaning- does a lot of damage.
As men, you and I don’t even hear this advice because we have the privilege of being much safer (even if sometimes only in our own minds). We go where we want, do what we want, and if something feels hinky to us we just act accordingly – because nobody is going to stand over us and tell us we’re being silly, oversensitive, and reactionary. We just don’t have it the same way, so please, unless you are a particularly anomalous man who conducts himself according to fear instead of power, check your privilege at the door and stop giving lousy self-defence advice -advice you’d never take- before it gets somebody else hurt and blamed or even killed.
Real “self-defence” is about options, empowerment, self-trust, and activism. It isn’t about “don’t go there” and “don’t drink that” or “always stay in pairs or groups” (eventually, we are all somewhere alone) – those are limits others wish to impose on women. It’s a form of control, and it perpetuates an imbalance of power known as rape culture. Even the notion a woman needs to learn to do violence in order to defend herself is nonsense (it’s an option, but one left to her to choose or not). Real self-defence is empowering rather than preying on fears they’ve already had enough of. Real self-defence starts with Shut the hell up and listen to what she has to say about her own safety.
This is not, by the way, meant to imply women cannot learn self-defence/counter-violence or take risk-reducing measures without assuming blame/responsibility. We are all complex beings who can hold multiple dimensions of thought, if you will, without short circuiting like some computer in 70s sci-fi. The issue is whether these measures are based in actual research (evidence-based & evidence-supported), or on what amounts to superstition/mythology. Most advice I hear falls into the latter category.
So please, just stop.