The word “self-defence” usually evokes images of karate chopping ninjas or intense fight scenes (or maybe I just watch too many action movies). But the sad reality is that self-defence must sometimes be used in the midst of dangerous situations — one in particular being sexual assault.
The SFU Women’s Centre will be offering four weeks of self-defence classes for self-identified women from June 17 to July 8. Their website states that “women attending the self-defence program report an increase in self-confidence, as they gain knowledge of being able to defend themselves against a potential attack, as well as confidence in their own abilities.”
Some may lament that women have to go to such lengths in order to protect themselves from sexual assault, and that time should be spent focusing on teaching men how to treat women with respect. While this is certainly true, it is also easier said than done. Further, this does not make knowledge of self-defence any less valuable.
I had the pleasure of attending the Inter-University Conversation on Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Conference at UBC last April. There, I learned about the rape culture pyramid, in which the physical act of sexual assault was at the top of the pyramid, and factors which made sexual assault okay — such as catcalling, misogyny, and rape jokes — formed the pyramid’s base. For decades, people have been contributing to the acceptance of rape culture. These values stem from deeply-rooted patriarchal norms of traditional male privilege and entitlement.
Learning to treat women with respect does not make knowledge of self-defence any less valuable.
Education and awareness of what causes sexual assault is key to stopping it altogether. Institutions like the University of Victoria have established a Men’s Circle where a group of men gather together to listen to facilitators address issues related to rape culture, while also centering on the experiences of sexual assault survivors.
Initiatives like these are a great start, but this education will take time. And within that timeframe, many will sadly still experience sexual assault.
Making people aware of these norms and values is often a difficult task, as it is a hard pill to swallow; nobody wants to believe that they are perpetuating something that is so awful. It’s not easy for somebody to unlearn the attitudes about rape and sexual assault that have been fed to them for years.
These self-defence classes provide self-identified women with a way to stop being the victim of a patriarchal society, to give them a sense of control amidst people who are constantly telling them what to do, how to act and how they should be treated. Until the day when everybody can be educated about the roots of male privilege and rape culture, these classes are a way to fight back, literally and figuratively, against the forces that allow sexual assault to be possible.