I predict that in my lifetime not knowing self-defense will become like illiteracy was 100 or so years ago.
If you line up the arguments for teaching everyone self-defense and the arguments against, side by side, the arguments in favor are much stronger. Sometime back in the 1990’s my former stepmother (who is an internationally known civil rights lawyer and can be seen eating cookies in a Michael Moore movie) and I were discussing sexual politics, date rape, and behavioral norms. I said something on the order of, “The solution is to teach everyone self-defense.”
Now, at that time, the apocalypse was a distant unlikelihood, Buffy had not yet staked a single vampire, nerds were still nerds, and nobody even knew how zombies were created.
There was no internet, no youtube, nobody had a video cell phone, no Rory Miller, no Devi Protect, and no Gift of Fear. There were Wimin’s self-defense classes at that time, like IMPACT which started in 1985, along with loud whistles, mace, and permanent ink spray.
But there wasn’t to my knowledge anyone explaining in plain legal language, the way they regularly do on cop shows today, the importance of Intent, Means, Opportunity, and Preclusion. Outside of castle law, back then, the “right to self-defense” was down right murky. The difference between predator violence and social violence was unexplored territory in the popular imagination. There was also no popular critique of terms like victim and victimizer, they were as irony-free in normal conversation as “bread & butter.”
At the time I was practicing martial arts and dance about 8 hours a day and since I didn’t believe in cars, I was riding my bicycle or my skateboard everywhere.
My former stepmother’s response to my suggestion that everyone learn self-defense was memorable, “Women will never be equal to men in physical strength, and besides it is totally impractical.”
I knew then that she was wrong, but I didn’t have the arguments or the examples to prove my point. If self-defense was the equivalent of becoming a skillful martial artist practicing for hours everyday, she might have had a point. But it turns out that self-defense is really much more like a form of literacy. It is a way of thinking about and seeing the world. Surely it involves martial arts skills to some degree, but it is a mistake to think that self-defense skills require you to be superior in any physical sense.
The arguments for teaching these skills to everyone before they reach puberty are getting stronger as the list of topics that should be included in a basic self-defense education grows: Good guy modeling, monkey dance awareness, personal responsibility, emotional bio-chemistry, the nature of autonomy, cultural and social “othering,” citizenship, talking to the authorities, the cultural and historical links between fighting, dancing and improvisation, etc, etc, etc...
Thinking back on her comments that day, it is striking how similar the old arguments against teaching women how to read are to the arguments against teaching women self-defense.
In fact, I would like to caution anyone who uses the “totally impractical” argument to look back at all the people who were later face-palmed by inspired people who didn’t seem to notice that impracticality was an obstacle.