The Self Defense Paradox

I considered writing an editorial about the failure of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault to include empowerment self defense in their recommendations. Turns out I already wrote most of it in an editorial that appeared in my local paper over a year ago. 

Helping Women Overcome the "Self Defense Paradox" -- Daily Hampshire Gazette, Wednesday December 26, 2012

I want to commend the Gazette on last week’s series addressing gender-based and sexual violence on our local campuses. Kristin Palpini’s piece on consent education (Wednesday) skillfully manages the many complex realities of this issue. Her intelligent writing about the definition of “rape” and “consent,” and inclusion of concrete steps bystanders— male and female — can take to interrupt sexual assault is not only good journalism, it is an educational service to our community.

However, I must take issue with the implication that prevention-education efforts which focus on active steps women can take to increase their own safety are misinformed and ineffective.

For the past 25 years, I have been honored to participate in a grassroots feminist movement of prevention education. Sometimes called “social-justice empowerment-based self-defense,” this movement is firmly grounded in the reality that most gender-based violence is perpetrated by men known to their victims. Instruction is provided in the context of what I call the “self-defense paradox.”

Testimony to the White House White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault

On February 20, 2014, I had the opportunity to give testimony to the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. It was a thrill to hear Bea Hanson's voice again and remember her from anti-violence organizing work in Brooklyn, NY when I was a student and leader at the Center for Anti-Violence Education

This is what I said: 

My name Is Lynne Marie Wanamaker. I am an advocate for personal safety education as an important component of prevention. I teach empowerment-based self defense and have been active in this field for over 25 years. I am a co-author of the professional core competencies for instructors teaching that methodology through our national certifying body.

Is self-defense victim-blaming?

The smartass part of me says, "Not if you do it right." 

The professional part of me points to the National Women's Martial Arts Federation empowerment-model (in which I was certified) and the professional Core Competencies (which I co-authored.) 

But my colleague Susan Schorn--author of Smile at Strangers and the Bitchslap column at McSweeneys--goes to the mat on this topic in a gorgeous, impassioned long-form essay at The Hairpin. I'm proud to have been part of the conversation leading up to this great piece and to be quoted throughout on my thoughts about self-defense.