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.


3 thoughts on “Women & Self-defence? No can do.

  1. I provide this excerpt for ease and clarity to my comment, i.e., 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.”

    Isn’t this the issue you are trying to convey that we can’t appeal to women, all women unless we make it generic to all women which is impossible (even toward men too) and that to make it appealing to a certain type of woman also breaks down because even narrowing the field down from “All WOMEN” to “Certain TYPES of women” also results in a generic model vs. unique to the needs of each woman?

    I think that except in rare cases, for either or men or women, that self-defense is a vendor product driven by sales according to supply and DEMAND based on ego self-soothing self-stroking needs rather than reality where those who work in such professions such as police, etc., in violence based environments will end up failing to provide reality based realistic training and practices.

    True self-defense for most is possible just not realistic wouldn’t you think? In my personal view I gave up teaching self-defense because I came to realize that what was, is and could be taught requires one to narrow down to maybe one to three people who truly need something and those who do already get that training through their work training such as, again, police and military, etc.

    Am I full of it or does this make any sense? Don’t expect me to truly get it but maybe it will help me understand things a bit more by your response, if you are of a mind to respond.


  2. p.s. isn’t this all true even when women take programs from women, i.e., the individuality vs. group dynamic in teaching more than one, etc.?


  3. To be honest, I’m not sure I’m really following you.

    There is an issue that anything mass-marketed won’t meet the exact needs of each and every individual – and when the subject is this critical, that becomes a serious issue. What I’m talking about here, though, isn’t really that. It’s the fact that a lot of stuff marketed to Women assumes that said Women are members of a fairly brainless herd with a narrow set of likes, dislikes, and needs. It’s a type of “othering”, I guess, or it feels very much like it. Similar to those guys who “can’t talk to Women” because they’re completely oblivious to the fact that each woman is actually a *person*.


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