There’s a conversational set piece that happens so routinely in the self-defence world that it’s become a trope. It goes as follows:
- Someone posts a self-defence video showing a woman defending against a man. The techniques shown are appalling and likely to get women injured or killed.
- People jeer at the video, pointing out its uselessness.
- One or more men decide to make sexually explicit comments about the woman in the video.
- One or more women speak out against that kind of behaviour, objecting to it in general but particularly in that setting.
- One or more men speak up to defend the guys who made those comments. They’re good guys, they’re just joking, etc. The rest ignore the conversation or contribute only mocking remarks.
- The conflict becomes polarised. On one side, a small number of guys staunchly defending the honour and intentions of the guys who made the remarks. On the other side, a greater number of women trying to explain how that’s not the issue at hand; the problem is that this kind of behaviour is interwoven with the attitude underlying the bulk of violence against women.
- Eventually everyone becomes exhausted and leaves, or the thread degenerates so badly that it gets pulled down.
- Nobody wins, nobody changes their mind, and nothing gets better.
- We do it all over again.
I’ve been involved in this kind of conversation so often that by now I can run both sides of it. I’ve exhausted myself with it. I’ve watched other women exhaust themselves with it. I’m now starting to think that we, the women speaking out, are dead wrong. We’ve been trying to convince those guys to try and act as if they believed women to be deserving of respect and consideration. We shouldn’t. We should encourage them to express their views about women precisely as they are.
I want all the men who look at a small woman failing to defend herself from a large guy and think of her as a hole to fuck to say so. I want all the instructors who believe that this behaviour is ok to stand up publicly and defend those men. I don’t want those guys to learn to pretend to be decent human beings: I want them to unleash their inner asshole for everyone to see. I want it all out there: loud, clear, blatant, as graphic as they can make it, because it’s such a red flag that it will hopefully keep women away from those guys, those clubs, those instructors.
Avoidance, when it’s an option, is the best self-defence option there is. If an environment is toxic or dangerous we should do our best to stay out of it – that’s the lesson and all of the lesson. There’s no small print stating “unless it’s a self-defence seminar, in which case you should ignore your instincts and observations and put up with alllllll the crap”. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise does not have your best interest in mind and should be avoided, too.
If women turned away from every self-defence club or forum that fosters their objectification, that would undoubtedly make them miss out on training under some very capable instructors. Capable, however, doesn’t necessarily correlate with “clued up”. I’m not sure if an instructor who fails to understand the nature of the most common problems women face has any business teaching them self-defence. How can they provide valid solutions if they don’t grasp the questions?
And there’s more. How would these instructors react if the problems escalated? If I can’t trust someone to back me up when someone is making unwarranted sexual remarks right in front of them, can I trust them to believe me and support me if that same person purposefully slips a hand in my no-no area while we’re training? Would they back me up if I didn’t want to train with someone because of a thousand small-but-not-insignificant misbehaviors I’ve noticed? If their theory teaches me to trust my intuition and set boundaries, and their practice teaches me that doing so is either futile or carries heavy social costs, what lesson would I be learning?