In the first part of this article, I (Lars Fidler) pointed out the ways in which self defense for women is no different from the self-defense typically taught to males and mixed groups, and made an argument for why women and men should be taught self-defense together.
Observe that we so far have only talked about the physical content and pre-emptive self-protection. These are things that are covered just as well in a more multifaceted self-defense school, where you will also get the repetition you need to actually put things into practice.
What can be vastly different between the violence perpetrated against women and the violence that men commonly face are the social and psychological circumstances surrounding it. For adults, the social contexts and behaviour of the perpetrator, the relationships between perpetrator and victim, the locations where the assaults take place, and the physical intensity of the initial attack can all be significantly different between men and women.
For women, relationships with perpetrators are often closer, and assaults develop gradually over a longer period, or seem to come out of nowhere, and as opposed to most assaults between men, many sexual assaults begin with and develop from a seemingly non-confrontational social interaction, such as an attempted or pretended seduction, that either very gradually or very quickly turns degrading and more or less violent.
Where men often have a clear line between what is a self-defense situation and what is not, women more often find themselves in situations where there are no good decisions. Due to their lack of intensity, and their context, initial attacks in sexual assaults cannot always be easily identified as attacks, before it’s too late. Add to this that it takes more before you resort to violently defending yourself against a romantic partner, a relative, or someone you thought of as a friend, than it does against a stranger in the street, and it’s easy to find yourself in significantly more difficult positions, that there are no shortcuts getting out of.
True is also that a woman can be faced, sometimes explicitly, with the decision to face the devil she knows, versus something potentially more serious. Does she really want to rake the man who obviously has no qualms about hurting her, in the face? Might that not make matters worse? After the first hard slap across the face and tightened grip for trying to escape, would you try again? Should you?
Furthermore, even a successful defense against a sexual assault can be devastating. Having just “violently assaulted” a friend, your boyfriend, your uncle, or someone even more taboo, can cause social ripples that never truly stop. Suddenly you’re at fault, and the only chance you have at explaining yourself is to tell everybody what happened, which does not only mean throwing very serious accusations at someone who is trusted and loved by your family and/or friends, but will also be extremely personal and unpleasant to talk about. All this with no guarantee that it will even make a difference. Not being taken seriously, or being outright blamed for the whole thing, are all too real risks. Easier to just let it happen, and then trying to forget about it, isn’t it?
These are all issues that are very important to talk about, and to have tools to handle; overcoming external expectations, knowing how to set up clear boundaries to make it easier to identify when they have been crossed, knowing when to listen to your fear and when to act in spite of it, and so on, and these are things that are more easily addressed in special courses, but regarding whether this should be done in an environment with only women, or together with men, you’ll find that the argumentation above applies to this just as well as to physical confrontation.
As a woman seeking to learn to defend yourself, special courses can help you with the social and psychological factors surrounding assaults, but take the exercises you (hopefully) learn at those courses, and bring them to a self-defense oriented martial arts school if you can, or at the very least find men you feel comfortable with, and try the exercises with them, increasing intensity gradually
A post from the founder and head publisher at Science of Skill, LLC. A martial arts black belt and self defense instructor, Dan has spent years training with and interviewing some of the world's best self protection experts. His passion lies in encouraging others to train smart and to improve the skills that make them safer and stronger.
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