Women & Self-Defence.

In response to this blog, Tropical Threads asked:

“So, I’d like to hear your ideas on what would make self defence appealing to ‘most women’. Not a trick question or anything. I’m genuinely interested.”

It’s a good question, without a simple or short answer. I was going to try and answer it in a rational manner over a series of blogs, but I’m not sure I’ll manage to because just thinking about the issue is driving me to drink.


I’ve got a ton and a half of ideas of how self-defence could be made more appealing to a whole bunch of women. That makes me neither rare not special. There are scores of women out there who don’t get into SD for very specific reasons, and many of them will tell you what these reasons are, if you ask them. There are also scores of women who are into SD despite a whole bunch of issues; they will also tell you what these issues are, if you ask them.

The problem isn’t that these women are not talking. The problem is that they’re not being heard. Or worse, when do get heard, their concerns are dispelled by using a bunch of standard bullshit methods; the same bullshit methods used to belittle and ignore women in a variety of other settings. Most of them boil down to:

  1. assuming that women are simply incapable of comprehending their own experiences and need to have them explained by people with bigger brains in their pants;
  2. treating them accordingly.


This steaming turd burger gets dropped on my plate on a routine basis. I’ve lost count of the number of times male self-defence instructors have gone out of their way to explain to me how I’ve misunderstood my own life experiences. Sometimes it’s so absurd that it almost manages to be funny, like when a kind man undertook to mansplain mansplaining to me (I hate the term, btw, but sometimes there isn’t a better one). In case you’re wondering, it’s not that men talk down to women, ever; it’s that women do not understand technical speech registers and get themselves all offended over nothing. I know it’s true because a man who’s worked all his life in a male-dominated field took the time to explain it to me and my girlfriends. The fact that us chicks have convinced ourselves that working and playing all our lives in male-dominated fields too might have given us a valid point of view on the issue is yet another proof of how irrational we are.

I’ve sat and looked at this back-and forth – the constant wringing of hands over why women won’t do SD quickly followed by the waving of issues away when that question gets answered. I’ve contemplated the possibility of wailing away at it with my mighty keyboard, but I’m fully aware of the fact that the entire thing would be an exercise in futility. True misogynists don’t listen to women. That’s one of their defining traits, and it’s why those complaining about the evils of “virtue signalling” really ought to learn some history. People who’re deliberately oppressing those they consider lesser- or non-people don’t listen to them, because they are lesser- or non-people.

I could go off on one about this, and I’d probably achieve very little. I’d be another voice getting ignored and give myself an ulcer over nothing. More importantly, though, this problem isn’t entirely gendered. It’s not just women’s voices getting silenced; plenty of men are raising very similar issues, too, and being shown just as little respect in response.

A whole lot of the issues that put women off SD training are also the issues that make a whole chunk of SD either useless or actively anti-useful to many men. If there’s a gender bias, I reckon it sits largely in how the bulk of men and women respond to these issues, rather than in how severely they affect us. And that’s a whole ‘nuvver blog right there.




Women & Self-defence? No can do.

In response to this blog, Tropical Threads asked:

“So, I’d like to hear your ideas on what would make self defence appealing to ‘most women’. Not a trick question or anything. I’m genuinely interested.”

It’s a good question, without a simple or short answer. I was going to try and answer it over a series of blogs, but I’m not sure I’ll manage to because just thinking about the whole issue is driving me to drink.

Or rather, there is a short answer, but it isn’t terribly helpful: “you can’t.” Making anything in the world appealing to “most women” is an unrealistic goal. In fact, the way in which the question itself is framed is often part of the problem.


There is no such thing as a “typical woman”, or a “normal woman”, or a “real woman.” I’m a woman, and so are Michelle Obama, Cláudia Gadelha, and the Kardashians. Oddly enough, we don’t hang out. And believe me, it’s not just because we’re not neighbours.

Women are individuals, just like men. They have individual tastes, interests, needs, dislikes, etc. There is not a damn thing in the world every woman, or even most women, like. For instance, a lot of the stuff that is marketed “for women” – wine and chocolate and pink and shoes – is not my cup of tea.

My idea of fun is playing wreck-a-neck, reading sci-fi from the 70s, and hitting people with swords. So if you try and get me through the doors of any establishment by marketing for “what women want” according to some checklist you picked up from Cosmo, chances are you won’t get me. In fact, you’re likely to put me off.

Women are not a uniform blob. Even within my friends group, which includes a preponderance of non-traditional women, you’d struggle to find something we all love. You may manage to find something we all tolerate, at a push. You can, however find things most of us hate; and not being treated as individual human beings with actual functioning brains comes pretty high on that list.

Tropical Threads, if you’re reading this, I’m not saying that YOU believe all women to be clones. I’m saying that a lot of attempts at marketing self-defence to women are cack-handed to the point of being insulting. They treat Women© as members of an alien species to be enticed by dangling pink shiny chocolate-coated kittens in high-heel shoes. Then they wonder why so many women don’t buy into that.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t steps self-defence instructors can take to increase their intake of women; but the first one has got to be to stop treating us like an amorphous, pink-obsessed herd of flibbertigibbets.

Rant over.

Now, my marketing experience is pretty damn limited. However, I have a lot of experience walking out of places because they’re a poor fit. I also have friends whose brains are better than mine; so I’ve asked them for their opinion. When I can bear it, I’m going to try and throw out a collection of our experiences, impressions, loves, and hates. It’s absolutely not a guide to understanding Women.

I believe the initial question needs reframing. Better questions would be “How can we make self-defence more appealing to more women” or  “How can we make self-defence more appealing to a certain type of woman.” Both questions demand an understanding that there’s no such thing as A Typical Woman.

The answer to the first question, I believe, lays in looking at current barriers, gatekeeping behaviours, and various system failures that often stop women from joining or reduce the chances of them carrying on training. A lot of the times, the real problem is not “how do I get more women in” but “how do I stop keeping women out.”

The answer to the second question lays in talking to actual women and asking them what they like and dislike. Way I see it, either you pick a demographic that matches the product you offer and market to them, or you have to adapt your product to the demographic you want. But marketing to “Women” is unlikely to cut it.



The more I think about it, the more it seems that someone, somewhere, needs to ask a question:

“Why is so much self-defence so goddamn toxic?”

I don’t think I have what it takes to answer it. It would probably require a whole book written by someone both more qualified and braver than me. All I’m going to do here is riff on a tiny aspect of the issue on a better-out-than-in basis.

There are certain common aspects of self-defence training, or at least self-defence marketing, that drive me demented. One of them – the one I was thinking about when I wrote this blog– is that so much SD states a requirement for badassery that is

  1. intensely not me, nor a whole bunch of other people; and
  2. bullshit.

I have zero problems looking at that requirement and tossing it into the nearest bin. I’m happy being me. I have precisely zero interest in being any more badass than I am at present (i.e., not very). And I know I can self-defend, because I already have. Numerous times. I’ve been self-defending all my goddamn life, pink frilly sundresses notwithstanding. I could absolutely learn how to be better at SD; how to increase my efficiency and lower my risks. That’s what I’m looking for in my training. But anyone telling me that I need to radically change my personality, my preferences, my clothes, my hobbies – that I need to become a different person in order to self-defend – can go chew on a brick. I see that kind of claim as indication that the trainer in question is not the trainer for me, and leave it at that. And, as a result, I’m walking away from a lot of learning opportunities.

Telling people that badassery is the entry cost of SD training is straight-up gatekeeping. Telling people that badassery is the inevitable result of SD training is also gatekeeping, because it will put a lot of people off. That was my original bugbear. The problem was that those two issues didn’t explain away the amount of rage that bugbear generated in my Hell0-Kitty-clad bosom. It took me a while to realise what was really winding me up. The problem isn’t with when the gatekeeping keeps people out; it’s with when they buy into it.

There’s another setting in which people are told that the reason bad things happen to them is that they’re just-not-good-enough people. That if only they could be better, for whatever definition of better one picks, then all the bad things would stop happening and their lives would finally be ok. That their best hope, maybe their only hope, lies in changing themselves. And that the person who’s telling them this is doing so for their own benefit.

That’s what abusive parents tell their children. That’s what abusive partners tell their victims. Well, not all of them, I’m sure; there’s probably a bunch of self-idealised psychos out there perfectly happy to say that they’re hurting their victims for shits and giggles, but that’s not the norm. It’s a hard game to keep going without access to a sound-proof basement.

If you want to hurt people today and be allowed to hurt them again tomorrow, there are ways to convince them to go along with that. You can tell them that you’re hurting them because you love them, and you’re trying to make them better. You can tell them that they’re bringing it down upon themselves, by being so goddamn <insert-negative-trait-of-your-choice-here>; that their hurt is the inevitable result of their failings. And you pretty much have to tell them that if only they could change themselves, if only they could just stop being so wrong, then it would all be ok. That they have the power to change the behaviour of those around them, and their luck.

That hope will keep them struggling and failing indefinitely. Each failure will be seen as a confirmation of the inferiority you highlighted. It’s a self-feeding loop. Hell, if you do it right, you can get them to be thankful to you for correcting their behaviours, however much those corrections hurt.

Thinking about that sort of situation turns my stomach, but that’s nothing compared to thinking about how that mentality is replicated and fostered in self-defence training; the training that many  survivors latch on to in the hope that it will help them protect themselves. In the hope that it will turn them into better people. People to whom this sort of thing doesn’t happen. People to whom this sort of thing would not have happened.

In latching onto so much of self-defence to pull ourselves out of the abusive mentality, we’re latch onto the core mechanisms of abuse; and hey, it doesn’t even feel bad. If anything, it feels familiar and comfortable. It fits right in the grooves carved into our brains. We can do this, because we’ve done it before; but this time it will be different, because this time the person who’s sitting in judgement of us is on our side, for realsies. This time our benevolent overlord will genuinely and no shit lead us to a place where we can be strong and healthy and happy and free. Where we can be better people. We won’t be ourselves, of course, but who’d want to be us, anyway? I mean, if we weren’t shit, they wouldn’t be telling us how shit we are on such a regular basis.


A few months ago, I picked up Richard Grannon‘s “removing the narcissistic malware” course. I found it incredibly interesting at various levels. From a personal point of view, it’s helped me look at patterns in the way I mess certain things up. Although I pride myself in not making the same mistake twice, I do make the same kind of mistake with unfailing regularity… which really amounts to the same thing. Although the information is incredibly helpful, at times it’s hard to digest. The lines between agency, responsibility and blame can get painfully blurry.

Almost none of it is completely new to me, but I’d filed it in one mental folder and not looked at how it connects to everything else. It’s a stupid/normal/human thing to do. It does reduce the practical applications of information, which is a waste. At the same time, it also reduces the amount of time I spend feeling nauseated about the state of the world, so I guess it’s a trade-0ff.

The latest punch to the gut was realising how trauma and self-defence instruction can get intertwined, can grow tight and twisted around each other; how they can so easily feed into each other; and how sometimes even situations that are very functional can be based on an underlying kernel of deep and abiding dysfunctionality.

Trauma often changes people. Whether it’s temporarily or permanently; whether it’s for the better or the worse; whether that change is harnessed by the person going through it or a freight-train running through or over them; whether it’s in everyone’s face or so internal as to be virtually invisible even to the individual in question… Trauma and change seem to go hand-in-hand. Hell, maybe that’s the difference between “something that happened” and “a traumatic event”: the fact that the latter changes you whether you like it or now.

Trauma, or the change it brings about, has a tendency to make people look for certain things, and susceptible to certain things. Yes, everyone is different and everyone is special and everyone reacts differently, due to a myriad of variables that affect the impact of an incident on their lives and their recovery from it. However, everyone is also human, and there definitely are patterns in how humans tend to react to things.

Trauma can make people exceptionally good at doing some things. Sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes that’s a bad thing – sometimes the difference is only an issue of short- vs long-term, because some exceptionally useful short-term adaptations and tendencies are hugely toxic if carried on indefinitely. If you lose the ability to find that switch, or if you identify with your survival mechanisms to the point that all you can do is survive, that you’re too afraid of letting go and moving on to thriving… not good.

Trauma can also make people more prone to getting into violent or abusive situations; traumatising situations, ultimately. Trauma can lead people into more trauma. Sometimes I think of it as a virus, altering people’s behaviour to make them more prone to catching another dose, or to spreading it around.

Self-defence is about managing violence, or the threat of violence. For us in this time and place, violence is often closely linked to trauma. But the process can also work the other way round: traumatised people get into self-defence because of their trauma, and incorporate what their trauma has taught them in the way they learn. They accept and respect lessons delivered in damaging ways, or altogether damaging lessons. Worse than that, traumatised people get into self-defence because of their trauma, and incorporate what their trauma has taught them in the way they teach others.

Perhaps trauma has taught them so much in such a short space of time, and dismantled so much of what they’d previously learnt, that this way of learning feels “more real.” Perhaps I’m full of shit. Perhaps I’m seeing imaginary things. But I look at the ways in which some self-defence is taught and preached, and I see the hallmarks of trauma all over it. I see lessons that are carried too far, or warped (e.g., yes, it’s important to be strong and withstand bad things and bad people, but it’s also important to remember that getting the hell out of their way, if it’s an option, is often the best option). I see methods of teaching that are potentially traumatising or re-traumatising hailed as “transformational.” I see a false equivalence between what is awful and hurtful and what is real. And although I think I get it, I can barely stand to look at it.


There is nothing for you here.

Before Trump:

“Women, LGBTQ, and some religious and ethnic minorities have zero interest in self-defence even thought they’re at-risk groups! They’re bloody idiots!”

After Trump:

“Women, LGBTQ, and some religious and ethnic minorities suddenly have an interest in self-defence because they feel at risk! They’re bloody idiots!”

Every time I think I’ve got a handle on my swearing, something like this happens.

For those who missed it, there has been a surge in the number of women, LGBTQ people, and minorities making enquiries about self-defence training in the US and Canada (maybe elsewhere too, and I haven’t heard about it) in the last few weeks. This surge has been sparked by fear. Whether the fear is purely theoretical, caused by reports of actual events, or caused by fake or exaggerated reports, it matters very little. The bottom line is that some people are now afraid, or more afraid than they were before, and that has spurred them to take steps to improve their ability to self-defend.

This is something that every damn self-defence instructor I know has been trying to achieve since forever.

[If you know of any instructor who has taken steps to convince people that no, their lives are actually so safe that there’s no possible need for them to learn self-defence and they should spend their money on something else, please send them to my house. I’ll buy a circus wagon and tour around the country as a public show.]

Self-defence instructors are keen as mustard to explain to anyone who’ll listen that it’s important to evaluate one’s risks, that it’s critical to know one’s victim profile, that it’s crucial to have situational awareness, that it’s vital to stay abreast of anything that could radically change the game. More than that, some instructors’ entire business model revolves around fear-based marketing. It’s such a ubiquitous, despicable trend that Randy King did a rant about it (click the link! it’s worth it, I swear).

Yet, the vast majority of this pleading, preaching, and awfulising has thus far fallen on deaf ears. Way too many self-defence gyms are still overwhelmingly populated by strong, fit, young, straight, often white, males. This routinely angered a lot of self-defence instructors, who shouted loudly and proudly that a lot of people must clearly be bloody stupid. Don’t women realise that they’re more at risk than men because they’re on average smaller and weaker, plus they have squishy bits? Don’t LGBTQ people and minorities realise that bigots may seek to victimise them? What is wrong with these people? Do they want to get hurt?!

That was last month, though. Now, that’s all changed. Now, so many of the same people who’ve been screaming in my face that I am in dreadful danger what with being ostensibly female and small and foreign and not-always-traditionally-gender-conforming-looking… The same people who insisted that I must buy their self-defence system because it’s the only thing that could keep me alive… Now they don’t want to teach me, or those like me, or those very much unlike me but in a similar boat. And they’ve got a very good reason for it: my fears of victimisation are baseless. I’m being paranoid. I don’t need self-defence; I need to readjust my view of the world, and realise what a safe, pleasant, welcoming place it is for me.

I’ve got a lot to say about this, but 90% of it is swearwords. I’ll spare you that, and give you the only logical explanations for this behaviour I could find:

  • Those instructors don’t know what to say to the affected groups. The approaches often used for what passes for “women self-defence” become blatantly ludicrous when applied to any other at-risk group. “Do you have to go out looking so Muslim?” “If you’re going to walk around at night being gay, you’ve only got yourself to blame.” “Black people just need to learn to avoid the places where they’re in danger.” They couldn’t sell that shit, and that’s all they’ve got.
  • Those instructors don’t have anything worth teaching to anyone who’s not a fit, strong, young male. A lot of systems, despite their protestations to the contrary, rely on strength, size, and speed. Having an individual like me try to use those techniques and fail can be brushed under the carpet; it’s just me being useless. But having five or ten or twenty people like me all failing together… that’s going to look bad.
  • Those instructors are scared at the prospect of actually teaching students who may be targeted for serious violence. There’s a lot of mental onanism associated with male-on-male fighting. It’s super-epic, particularly if you haven’t seen or gone through it. Assaults, however, aren’t epic in the least. If one or more people decide to rape me, or to beat the hell out of me because I’m in the wrong country, that’s not going to be a story I brag about at the bar later on. I’ll be lucky if it doesn’t become part of my obituary. Teaching at-risk people is taking on a huge responsibility.
  • Those instructors are choosing political narrative over student well-being. To them it’s more important to assert that racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, etc. are non-issues than to help affected people manage their risks. They have a need to deny that there’s any additional risk involved in having certain characteristics in certain areas. That throws off risk assessment pretty badly right out of the gate; which, for me, makes the rest of their self-defence instruction at the very least questionable.
  • Those instructors realise that guys like them are the source their students’ fears. Instead of accepting that and doing some soul-searching, they go into flat-out denial that the issue is valid.
  • Those instructors are actually sexist, racist, and/or various-phobic, and they don’t want that kind of student around.

This is all I’ve got. There could be other reasons. In all honesty, I don’t care: the entire phenomenon is so repugnant that I’m choking on it.

There’s a silver lining to this toxic cloud, though. As a friend of mine said, “If you have political or philosophical reasons not to want to see what your students fear and judge them for fearing it, then the best you’ve got is a few good moves for bar fights.”

Instructors who go out of their way to trivialise your concerns right off the bat are communicating a very clear message: that they are useless to you. They might be ok teaching other students, but with you they’re being dogmatic, disrespectful, or arrogant. Those are not tolerable qualities in a self-defence instructor. Well, they’re not tolerable qualities in any instructor; it’s just potentially more dangerous in this field.

This has the potential to save a whole load of people a whole load of time and bother. No further information is needed. Just take your money elsewhere. And in the middle of this huge trainwreck, this makes me nearly happy.

[Oh, and before anyone tries to sell me the “but self-defence should focus on those attacks that are statistically most likely, and hate crimes are not very likely”… I’m willing to buy that an instructors believes that if and only if their curriculum reflects the statistical likelihood of various types of attacks. Given that the bulk of women self-defence is about stranger rapes, which are nowhere near the most statistically likely attacks for women to encounter, generally speaking I’m calling shenanigans.]

Not today.

I read an Italian short story about a million years ago about a town (country? geographical location) where people wore different flowers on their lapel to signify various things. In that story, the meanings had largely to do with relationships and sexual interactions. One flower, for instance, meant that the wearer was looking for friendship; one meant love; one meant sex. It seemed to me that, if one could trust people to be open and honest, it’d be a good system indeed. Having said that, if one could trust people to be open and honest, a large proportion of the world’s problems would disappear… So maybe I ought not to hold my breath.

I’ve been dearly wishing lately for something similar-but-different. It’s remarkably easy in these days of internetting to be in constant interaction with people we’re not actually in contact with. People whose only window into our world consists of what we post or message; which, for private people or people who do their hurting in private, may not come anywhere close to reflecting their physical, mental or emotional state. People who don’t get a chance to look at our expressions, make their own opinion about the sort of day we’re having, and modulate their behaviour accordingly. People about whom we don’t get a chance to make the same evaluation, either.

Best case scenario, we end up taking each other at face value without our faces actually coming into it. This would work if our actions and reactions were entirely independent of our feelings. Problem is, they’re not. Even if they could be, I’m not entirely sure that they should. If we take away the emotional component of human interactions, then are we still having human interactions? Would they be Vulcan interactions? I’m not sure.

What I’m sure of, is that for most of us there are days when we particularly do not need to get kicked in the teeth; days when behaviours we could normally tolerate or brush off end up hitting us badly because of how we already feel, how things have been for us, and sundry other life issues. None of that is visible from the ‘net unless we announce it.

I know some folks who are good at that: anything that happens to them gets broadcast far and wide. I am personally not one of those people. I’m unlikely to advertise major life events on social media, particularly if they’re bad. I’m also very unlikely to broadcast my mood. And as for the chances of me saying that I don’t need to get any grief today, because today is a bad day, because way too much shit has come my way and I’ve juggled it as long as I goddamn could but it just kept coming and I started dropping it and now I’m drowning…. That’s just not gonna happen.

Maybe it’s my own fault – ok, it’s definitely my own fault for creating the social media community I find myself in, but I also doubt that, if I tried it, it’d be well received. And anyway that would require me to be brave enough to be that vulnerable in public, which I’m  not, and that’s that.

The problem is that the alternative is increasingly looking worse. The last six months of so have been bloody in my “community.” Between politics and life events and even more politics, a lot of people are spending a lot of their time at the end of their tethers. Problem is, this isn’t a known, advertised fact. Their external lives carry on regardless – which is fine, which is normal, because the universe doesn’t stop just because you’re hurting. But people around them carry on regardless too, and that’s where the problems lay.

I’ve been in situation where I’ve had two people message me because they were deeply upset or triggered about some political event, only to see them minutes later end up in a bloody public argument with each other. Neither of them aware of the fact that they caught each other on a bad day. Neither of them aware of the fact that the other one was hurting, or how badly. Neither of them aware of the fact that what they were doing was exacerbating that hurt, because there’s nothing like in-house warring on a day when you’re already struggling to hold your shit together. Neither of them able to say the right thing to make it all better, or at least to park it or make it all go away in a way that wouldn’t wreck their relationship, because they just didn’t have it in them at that particular moment. Both of them judging the other based on the amount of hurt they inflicted in the moment, even though that hurt might have been at least partly unintentional. Hurt people hurting hurt people. Worse than that: good but hurting people hurting good but hurting people.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle,” said Maclaren or Plato or Meme Generator. Problem is that we forget, particularly when we’re fighting a hard battle too. I wish there was someway of broadcasting that today is not a good day on social media, in the same way that our faces and postures do it in real life. A grey cloud for sadness, a teardrop for sorrow, a balloon with a broken string for existential dread, anything. I’d settle. I realise it’s the most ridiculous idea in the world, but the alternative doesn’t seem clever either.


Bad Romance.

I occasionally suffer from insomnia (November to March is “occasional”, roight? Roight). When I do, one of the ways I stop myself spending my nights screaming at my brain to shut up already and go to sleep, is read free crap on the Kindle. It specifically has to be crap otherwise I get into the “just another chapter” routine and there’s no way in hell I’m ever gonna sleep, ever. It’s also got to be free, because I’m cheap. A lot of the free crap I find is classed as “romantic novels”. The definition these days apparently encompasses stuff that would be porn if it was written from the point of view of a penis… but people blessed with vaginas only have romances, obviously.

Anyhoo, plot-wise these things aren’t terribly original. In particular, there is a recurring storyline that’s been driving me demented:

  • Girl meets boy in dangerous/dubious circumstances.
  • Girl has a bad feeling about boy.
  • Boy tells girl to stay away cos he’s bad news.
  • Girl ignores it all cos boy is pants-wettingly hot.
  • Girl jumps boy and they have rumpy-pumpy – generally totally not the sort of rumpy-pumpy she would normally have but wow nasty sex is actually fun, whodda thunk it (and we skipped on the protection but who needs that when bonking a near-perfect stranger when that stranger is hot, hey?).
  • Hijinks ensue, leading to;
  • The Big Reveal: it turns out that boy was… a werewolf, or a vampire, or a secret Dom, or some suchlike dark-but-not-ill-meaning creature. He wasn’t a BadGuy©, just a TroubledGuy©, which is why he was trying to keep the girl in question at arm’s length.
  • Girl embraces his troubles, because they come with a penis attached.
  • They live happily ever after, and much sex happens. Oh, and occasionally they have werepuppies.

I keep finding these stories out there, and they scare me. I know plenty of people who’ve gone through precisely that storyline in real life, because hot boys are indeed hot. Only they didn’t find well-meaning werewolves at the end of the rainbow: they found addicts, abusers, fraudsters, criminals, narcissists, sociopaths, and so on. And it didn’t end well.

I understand these stories are just that: stories. They’re not designed to educate or inform or guide people. They’re a bit of light-weight amusement not intended to be taken seriously. However, to me they read like reverse fairy tales. The fairy tales of old encoded bits to advice on how to keep your bacon out of the fire: don’t go wandering in the woods; don’t make wishes without considering the consequences; don’t boast; don’t insult people, because you never know who you may be dealing with; don’t go snooping in people’s houses; have unnaturally small feet… well, ok, so not all of them include useful lifestyle advice, but a bunch of them do.

Furthermore, in the old stories many of the heroines are eye-rollingly passive.* Things seem to just happen at them. The female heroes in these new stories aren’t like that at all. They have minds of their own. They make their own decisions. They carve their own paths. And what they choose to do is stuff that is mind-bogglingly stupid; stuff that in the real world could make their lives very difficult, or unnecessarily short, but it all turns out alright for them, because.

These modern stories scare me. They encourage women to ignore their instincts, their common sense, the evidence of their own eyes. They present a view of what romance should be like that, in real life, is all too often one-way ticket to AbuseLand. If there were only one or two or six of them, they wouldn’t bother me in the least; but they are legion. I find their ubiquity terrifying, because any message that’s repeated often enough seems to get normalised and internalised. And if we’re really suggesting to women that love should be scary, that people’s troubles make them better partners, that if you feel bad about someone hot then he’s bound to be The One… Well, that could end badly.


*The flipside is that the whole story is about them – the male heroes only turn up right at the end, and a bunch of them don’t even have names. Well, either that or Prince Charming was a serial philanderer.


“Locus of control” seems to be a current buzzword in some self-defence circles. Unfortunately, the term is being misinterpreted and misapplied. That’s not just annoyingly incorrect and misleading; it’s also potentially dangerous.


First things first: definitions. “Locus of control” is a term with an actual, accepted meaning:

A locus of control orientation is a belief about whether the outcomes of our actions are contingent on what we do (internal control orientation) or on events outside our personal control (external control orientation).

Individuals with an external LoC believe that the outcome of their actions is determined by external circumstances – luck, fate, God, conspiracies, aliens, you name it.

Individuals with an internal LoC believe that the outcome of their actions is determined by his/her personal decisions and efforts – hard work, a winning personality, clear superiority over the human race, whatever.

This is the meaning of the term. There’s a whole lot of stuff it doesn’t mean:

  • Having an internal locus of control doesn’t equate to being proactive: people can be proactive because they believe that god or the little blue people who live in the television want them to be.
  • It doesn’t equate to being optimistic: people can believe that they can’t lose because the fate or the gods or whoever they ascribe agency to is with them. Historically, that’s motivated people to attempt all kinds of things, from the sublime to the ridiculous and the horrific.
  • It doesn’t equate to being independent: people can be very independent because they believe they can’t have any control over the behaviour and attitudes of third parties, so they shun society out of fear and turn into themselves.
  • It doesn’t equate to feeling or acting above the law: if you engage in criminal behaviours and you think it’s up to the fates whether you get caught or not, then you’re a criminal and you have an external LoC.

The list could go on indefinitely, because “internal LoC” means “internal LoC”; nothing less, and nothing more.

The other common misuse of the term is in assuming that  internal LoC is inherently good and external is inherently bad.This might kinda sorta work from a purely internal perspective. However, our lives are generally not solely internal. Most people interact with the world around them, to a greater or lesser extent. The level of control we actually have on various aspects of our lives can vary hugely.

So, for instance, “I failed the test because it was rigged” could superficially suggest an external locus of control. “I failed the test because I didn’t study” could suggest an internal locus of control. Those are gross oversimplifications, however, because they completely discount reality. It can in fact happen that a test is rigged, and there was literally nothing one could do to pass it. Realising and accepting that fact doesn’t make someone a quitter or a loser; it makes someone realistic, and it can enable them to actually take useful steps to address the actual problem (e.g., fighting against the unfairness of the examination instead of neurotically studying themselves into exhaustion).

[Fun historical fact: the Vikings believed that the time of their death was predetermined, unchangeable, and entirely unrelated to how they chose to live their lives. That didn’t precisely make them soft. Quite the contrary, in fact.]


Back to the original link:

In general, it seems to be psychologically healthy to perceive that one has control over those things which one is capable of influencing.

The highlight is mine, because the whole sentence is important. Feeling in control of things we aren’t in fact capable of influencing doesn’t make us strong, superior, rugged, pro-active individuals; it makes us delusional. It can also make us better victims and scupper our recovery.

It is absolutely true that believing that we have no control over things we are in fact influencing can lead us to make very poor life choices, or to make no choices at all. That is a huge problem in self-defence. People who believe they can’t do anything to stop being victims will most likely do nothing, and continue to be victims. It’s as useful as someone saying “I can’t do anything to stop being hit by cars, so I might as well not look when I’m crossing the road.” The repeated victimhood will confirm their belief in their own helplessness. It’s a vicious, downward spiral, and it’s repulsively ugly to behold.

However, pushing people to internalise their locus of control without encouraging them to take steps to gain actual control over their lives is terminally anti-useful. In order for people to manage or avoid situations, they need to have a realistic understanding of the elements that create those situations, and of the level of influence they can actually exert on them.

Think about it: if incorrectly internalising the locus of control was so empowering, it wouldn’t be a textbook abusive tactic: “look at what you’re making me do.” “I made my partner hit me” indicates an internal locus of control. So does “I made my parent rape me.” There’s nothing empowering or galvanising about this kind of thinking; not a goddamn thing. On the contrary, it can push a victim into staying into a situation, constantly trying to fix it by changing who they are and what they do, instead of getting the hell out of Dodge. If and when they get out, it can make their recovery heinously hard, because how do you recover from something you’ve caused to happen to yourself?  Self-victim-blaming is probably the worst form of victim blaming there is; how do you walk away from your internal voices?


Danger management is predicated on being able to correctly identify our hazards and establishing adequate control measures. It requires us to be able to connect with the reality around us: what hazards am I exposed to? what can I do to reduce my risks? It demands realism, and an understanding of how the world actually works; and that understanding often demands that we accept that we’re not all-powerful and all-controlling.

Self-defence experts who are selling a misplaced internal Locus of Control are not selling self-defence: they’re selling self-delusion. Unfortunately, as the market for that is ever blooming, they’re doing rather well at it.

Growing up with crazy: Ponies.

I can’t remember not being pony-mad. I didn’t actually meet a horse until I got taken to the zoo at 7, but my obsession started years before that. I got in trouble my first week of kindergarten for taking home a toy horse (the concept of “stealing” was alien to me, at three, because I was pretty hazy on the concept of “property”; that little event taught me). By the time I started school, I’d collected enough toy horses to be considered officially weird. It wasn’t normal for Italian girls to be pony-mad. It wasn’t the done thing. We were supposed to be into pretty clothes and dollies and babies, not large herbivores. Luckily for me, I couldn’t care less about that.

Apparently my family decided that as they couldn’t cure me of my fetish, they would try to mitigate it, or redirect it. I can’t remember how old I was, but I wasn’t 10 yet when I got summoned to my Auntie’s house for A Very Special Moment.

I was told that they knew how much I liked horses, so they got me a special present. That sounded good to me. I was heavily into presents. I was expecting another toy horse. When I tore up the wrapping paper, however, I found myself holding a handbag. A handbag made of real animal skin; the skin of a skewbald horse.

On reflection, I guess it was a good thing that I liked ponies, not babies. My family could have gotten into all kinds of trouble had they presented me with a gift of cured baby parts. Instead, it was me who got into trouble. Although I managed not to break into tears, I wasn’t properly receptive to my Auntie’s kind gift. She’d gone through all this trouble to get me something special, something I should have loved, and I was being ungrateful. I was a horrible child.

I still can’t quite follow their thought process. “Here’s an object made out of the carcass of the thing you love the most, you’re welcome”?  I can’t quite make it stack up. I’ve never loved anything so much that I wanted to see it killed and made into a fashion accessory. The experience didn’t leave me entirely clueless, though. I learnt that people’s feelings are very important, and I needed to respect them. I learnt that I needed to think about how my actions would make people feel, and act accordingly. And I learnt that none of the above applied to me.

My feelings didn’t matter. My Auntie’s did. The fact that my Auntie’s action had hugely upset me didn’t matter. The fact that my reaction had disappointed her did. The fact that I didn’t just immediately do the right thing, instinctively opt for the right response, showed that I was a selfish, unempathetic, wicked child. A child who didn’t deserve this or any other gifts. A child who would have to work damn hard to make up for her obvious iniquities.

I was a lesser person, whose feelings mattered less than anyone else’s. If I wished things to be otherwise, that made me a bad person. It’s a rather neat system, really; you get to pick whether you want to be a second-class citizen, or evil.

I didn’t want to be evil; you go to hell that way. So I tried to make up for my badness. I wore the bag, but that was not enough. I had to smile and stroke it and say how much I loved it. I had to wear a dead horse around my neck, for all to see, and pretend to like it; because that’s what good girls do.





A couple of weeks back, I got a like on my business page from a name I couldn’t quite place. Turned out to be a classmate from my first high school – 88-91. I’d not seen him in 25 yrs. I’d probably spoken to him maybe a dozen times in total while we were in the same class. He’d somehow remembered my name and tracked me down. It was pretty damn cool, but it made me think.

I lost touch with literally everyone from those three years of my life – easily done pre-internet when you move continents a lot and have no money, but I didn’t even try. I got the hell out of Dodge and never looked back, even though Dodge had some pretty cool people in it. Even while we were shoved together for up to 8 hrs  a day 6 days per week, though, I never really got close to a bunch of people I actually quite liked. Apart from a handful of extremely close friends, I was pretty damn insular. The endless question is: what the hell was wrong with me?

I got talking to the Minion, who’s a million years younger than me but had a similarly shitty time in school. Although our circumstances weren’t identical, we pretty much had to deal with the same issues: bullying, violence, sexual harassment, the tendency of bad teachers to punish only the good students because it’s easier and makes them feel powerful, families incapable or unwilling to assist, etc. In response to these stimuli, she zigged where I zagged. She became quiet and withdrawn, trying to make herself too small to be a target. I got rabies.

About ten minutes into it, we realised that we were both regretting our chosen strategies. I regret building an exoskeleton and allowing myself to be powered nearly solely by hate, anger & spite. She regrets “not telling enough people to fuck off and just doing her own thing.” We both look at our lives since and see what our strategy has cost us. We compare our current lives to what may have been, and add up the losses. What neither of us has done is project the results of a different strategy, and add up those possible costs. And we have both forgotten the immediacy and seriousness of the issues we were facing. We’re armchair quarterbacking our kid selves.

Back then we did what we could to deal with what was in front of us. We used the resources we had. We could have done something else, or nothing, and maybe that would have worked better for us long-term; but short-term, maybe it would have gotten us beaten into a bloody pulp, or raped in a shrubbery. Arguing the toss now about how those were bad calls ignores the fact that those bad calls were in a very real sense survival strategies, and that they quite obviously worked because we’re still here to bitch about them. That kind of thinking is not only unfair to us; it’s also futile. We don’t have a time machine. We can’t go back and fix ourselves. But we’re here now, and we can work with that.

I’m reminded of  my favourite bit in An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. Chris Hadfield decided when he was 9 that he wanted to be an astronaut, even though at the time it seemed impossible because Canada didn’t have a space agency. He didn’t let that deter him:

There was only one option, I decided. I had to imagine what an astronaut might do if he were 9 years old, then do the exact same thing. I could get started immediately. Would an astronaut eat his vegetables or have potato chips instead? Sleep in late or get up early to read a book?

I can’t fix my teenage life. I can’t time-travel to my school, beat the everloving shit out of a few guys, crucify a couple of teachers, take myself home, scream at my mother until her ears bleed, and then move my teenage self to a place where she can grow up without having to deal with all of that ever again. That’s not doable. But I can imagine what an Anna who didn’t spend three years of her life dodging perverts and trying not to get beaten up might do if she were 42 years old, then do the exact same thing. I can get started immediately.

That seems like the best strategy for right here, right now. And here and now are all I’ve got.