One of the main control mechanisms of oppressive systems is fear. A key example of this is rape culture. The patriarchy oppresses women by making them fear violence and victimization. When women find ways to eliminate the fear created by rape culture, they weaken the patriarchy. This is why I believe it’s crucial for women to train in martial arts, or at least take a self defense class once.
In addition to training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu I have trained in Boxing, Muay Thai, and combined them all for MMA training. At one time I was training for fights in all three of these disciplines. Yes, the featured image is me, a year and a half ago. I was punching, kicking, and getting punched and kicked at least five times per week. I am lucky that I never had the occasion to use these skills outside of the gym. Many women are not so lucky.
Learning how to properly punch, kick, take someone down to the ground, disarm them, and maybe break their arm, was an incredibly powerful experience. I don’t just mean that it was a profound experience, which is was, I also mean that it made me feel literally full of power. Knowing I had this skillset made me less afraid of being attacked.
I want to take a minute here to acknowledge my privilege. I am a white woman from the suburbs of Connecticut. I live in Vermont, in a city, but not a “real city”, a Vermont city. The likelihood of me being attacked is much lower than it is for some women. Walking home from the club in the middle of the night is not nearly as dangerous for me as it is for some other women. Unfortunately violence against women is so widespread that no women, no matter how privileged, can really feel like she’ll never be the victim of violence, but I do feel the need to acknowledge the fact that my circumstances make me much less likely to be attacked and that is a form of privilege.
That being said, I did have a healthy fear of being the victim of violence. I knew that statistics dictated that is was more likely for me to be a victim than not to be a victim. I also watched far too much Law and Order: SVU. I didn’t start training to fight with self defense in mind. I started training at a very angry time in my life where I felt like the only answer to my feelings was hitting things or being hit (don’t worry, I’ve discussed it with my therapist). The unintended result was that I began to fear violence less and less. I began to be more confident that I would know what to do in a violent situation. Of course, I acknowledge the possibility that in an actual violent I would forget everything I know and freeze, but just knowing that I had some training made me less scared.
Being less scared has allowed me to stand up for myself in unexpected and seemingly unrelated ways. I used to be the kind of girl who just let guys touch me without my permission when dancing because I was too scared to start something. Now I assertively say no without fear. I used to walk home at night with my keys in my hand to use as a weapon in case someone tried to grab me. I used to insist upon being walked to my car if it was past midnight, even if my car was a block away and the whole path was well lit. Now I walk casually to my car alone, no matter what the time of night, and my keys stay in my purse. If I’m out with the guys I trained with they don’t insist on walking me to my car because they know I can handle myself. If those sentences just made you nervous it’s because you’re a victim of the fear created by rape culture. Your fear allows the patriarchy to control you. Training in martial arts allowed me to be free of this day to day fear. I suggest martial arts or self defense classes to any woman who is looking to make herself a little more free of the control of the patriarchy.
Of course, women training in self defense or martial arts does not address the core issue: rape culture itself. The fashionable thing to say today is don’t teach women self defense, teach men not to assault women. I agree with this statement wholeheartedly, but I find it naive and shortsighted. Of course changing the way men think about women and violence is key to dismantling rape culture, but this takes time. Like generations worth of time. Today’s parents need to teach their sons differently than this generation and generations before were taught. Those sons need to grow up and put their different viewpoints in to action in the world. Those sons need to have sons and teach them their different viewpoints. Whether we like it or not, violence against women is here to stay for quite some time because rape culture is here to stay until we can change a whole generation of men.
So, in the meantime women need martial arts and self defense. Women need to know that their bodies can be powerful weapons if they need to be. Women need to know that they can stand up for themselves and protect themselves if they are ever threatened. Women need to know how to react if they are ever faced with violence. And more importantly, women need the confidence that comes from knowing that they can literally kick ass.