Self-Defence on “Woman’s Hour”

This morning’s episode of “Woman’s Hour” on BBC Radio 4 brought up a subject that seems to be burning away on my backlog of “to do” articles. This is the issue regarding self-protection and feminism. I won’t go into too much detail here, suffice to say that I have always seen myself as a type of feminist (probably one in the Mary Wollstonecraft to Angela Carter mould as opposed to ideas presented in the SCUM Manifesto), and I teach self-protection. In fact, I teach both mixed sex and women-only self-protection courses. I see a harmonious relationship with feminism and self-protecting training. Others don’t. Their reasons for this are, at worse, ideological and I have addressed this in “What Should be and What is: Long Term and Short Term Self-Protection” 


This debate was ignited in the popular media when Miss Nevada, Nia Sanchez (a fourth degree black belt in Taekwon-do), responded to a question regarding a large number of sexual assaults occurring on college campuses that have apparently been “swept under the carpet”. Rather than engaging in a debate regarding “rape culture”, Miss Sanchez put forward her belief that all women should learn some form of self-defence.  A very vocal feminist contingent were outraged by this response. As far as they were concerned, this just reinforced the argument that we are living in a “rape culture” and Miss Sanchez was guilty of blaming the victim. This latter accusation was one of the main topics for the “Woman’s Hour” segment on today’s show. Self-protection is an apolitical issue and I was relieved to see that support from both the left and right sides of the political spectrum weighed in support of Miss Sanchez’s argument. However, I can see why the context might have aggravated those who are rightfully angered by those who feel rapists are being accommodated by an attitude that doesn’t take sexual assault seriously.

Today’s programme came off the recent comment made by the Assistant Principle of Rye College in East Sussex that self-defence training should be a part of the curriculum for girls. “Woman’s Hour” presenter, Jenni Murray, brought in Premier Self Defence’s Debi Steven and political journalist/blogger, Milena Popova, who amongst her martial arts qualifications has a black belt in Kickboxing, to debate the matter. I was happily surprised by how balanced and informative the debate was. Both guests presented very valid views that are really part of the same picture. Obviously, my default position is to support Debi Steven’s cause and in favour of self-protection for girls and women. However, Milena Popova, who did not come over as being totally against teaching self-protection, brought up why so much self-protection being taught is not only useless but damaging. My article “The New Martial Arts Mystique” looks at the consequences of false empowerment. Debi Steven was in agreement over the truly bad state of many self-defence courses. Most do not prepare clients for the realities of violence. As is the case with interpersonal violence across the board, the victim often knows the client. This is something that is rarely addressed by self-defence classes, which usually reinforce the myth perpetuated by the media that an attacker will be an unknown monster, jumping from the shadows. At one end of the scale we have classes offering magical “cures” in the form of their training and at the other end we have the propogation of paranoia.

At the pre-fight stage, few apply effective ways to spot, avoid and deescalate a threat as well as dealing with the effects of the chemical cocktail on the body (adrenaline, nor adrenaline, cortisol, endorphins and dopamine).  At the in-fight stage not enough is done to best replicate fighting situations – although there are also those that go way too far with scenario-based training – and technique selection is usually overly complex. The post-fight stage is probably the most neglected altogether despite it often being the stage that leads to the most damage.

In conclusion, this was a very satisfactory segment of the show. Both guests came over very well and I felt this was a very rare occasion where the topic was addressed sensibly.

Today’s episode of “Woman’s Hour”.

Women-Only Self-Protection: A Defence