Through history, women have come a long way for equality. From the Women’s Suffrage and fighting for the right to vote to Kamala Harris being the first female Vice President in US history, we have a lot to celebrate. However, we still have much to advocate for. According to the CDC, “nearly 1 in 5 women have experienced completed or attempted rape during their lifetime” (https://www.cdc.gov/injury/features/sexual-violence/index.html). This demonstrates how vulnerable women still are to violence and unwanted advancements. Because of this, me and other members from the HCUWB chapter decided to attend a women’s self defense class hosted by the University of Oregon Women’s Self-Defense team. These are the top takeaways I learned from that class:
- Body language is crucial in telling others how we are feeling
One way people interact with each other is through body language. We can tell whether someone is uncomfortable by the way they cross their arms, become frozen, unable to move, or keep to themselves and seem to be small. They display body language where they cover themselves or shrink themselves to fade with the rest of the crowd. They want to be hidden from any prying eyes and keep to themselves. On the contrary, we can also tell when someone is confident through their body language. They tend to have strong posture, stand upright and tall, have eye contact and a puffed up chest. People with confidence like to show openness and take up more space. They aren’t afraid to assert themselves and stand out from the crowd. From a close friend to a complete stranger, body language is a great way to know how a person truly feels regardless of what they say. Displaying confident body language can be a helpful tool to ward off perpetrators.
- Some warning cues that you want to avoid are …
If the other party keeps persisting with their wants after you have said or displayed discomfort, then that’s a breach of overstepping your boundaries. Persistence demonstrates that they only want to hear what they want rather than hear what you want.
Expressions of sexual entitlement
This is when the other party believes that they deserve sexual favors from you even when you don’t want to provide any. People who possess sexual entitlement often believe that others owe them sexual favors in exchange for attention, aggressiveness or simply existing. Coercing into any sexual acts, from kissing or touching to sex itself, are examples of sexual entitlement.
Need for power and control
This is when a person thrives when they are in a position where they have complete control and power of the situation. Whether that is through physical, emotional or financial means, the person will find a way to ensure they have authority over others.
Expression of anger
This is when someone directs anger and negative emotions in another’s presence for no reason. Examples of this can be both direct and indirect. Direct by yelling, putting you down, or even hitting. Indirect by getting even, holding a grudge, or having a mean and cold disposition.
Acceptance of interpersonal violence
Interpersonal violence is when people use physical power or force against others on purpose. This may be through physical, sexual, or psychological (emotional violence) means and can also involve neglect or deprivation of what the other party wants or needs. So when one displays acceptance of interpersonal violence, they normalize this type of behavior which harms others in the process.
- Set up boundaries and establish them
An important lesson that really stuck with me was that saying no to something that you are uncomfortable with is okay and 100% valid. Your boundaries are up to you and it’s okay to point out if someone has crossed that line. A strategy to establish and practice asserting boundaries is applying the “Broken Records Technique.” This technique is used when someone is trying to persuade you constantly even after you say no. Rather than listen to and respect what you have to say, they only want to get their way and don’t want to hear your opinion or voice. Because of this, the Broken Records Technique makes you repeat your “no” statement until they give up or leave you alone. An example of this is say a person approaches you and wants your number. You don’t feel comfortable and you say “no, I don’t want to give my number.” This person still pursues you and keeps asking for it. Instead of giving in and giving your phone number or explaining why you don’t give out your phone number, keep repeating the phrase “I don’t want to give my number.” The person asking for your number will eventually stop, seeing that there is no way they’ll obtain it and therefore doesn’t see any point in continuing the conversation. They’ll eventually drop it and you will have your boundaries respected.
Another lesson about establishing boundaries is that you need to be confident and assertive. Remember that your body language is key in showing your confidence. If someone is coercing you into something that you aren’t comfortable with, make yourself big and show body language through a puffed chest, direct eye contact, yelling or raising your voice. This indicates that your internal fear will transform into anger and will translate that you shouldn’t be messed with all the while still making the point to the other party that you are uncomfortable with the situation. Establishing your boundaries can be difficult at first, but once you do, it is so empowering to know that you are the one in control.
- Verbal skills first, physical skills next
Going into this self-defense class, I expected only physical defense skills to be presented for situations of being attacked. However, the majority of the class focused on verbal skills, demonstrating how to stop or defer the unwanted advances before they have a chance to occur. This is what really made this workshop stand out from other defense classes that I have been to. They showed how to stand up for yourself and to ensure that your voice is heard and clear to others. This workshop demonstrated to practice self-love and to realize your worth. To put the cherry on top of the cake, they also focused on physical skills and had a defense instructor come and present different defensive attacks. If the other party demonstrated aggression or unwanted conflict, the instructor explained to go into a stance and have hands up and open. This allows you to “take space” and show that you are still confident and not afraid to back down or submit to what the other party wants. However at the same time, hands open demonstrates that you don’t want to initiate conflict. It shows that “hey, I will fight if I need to but I don’t want to. This is my physical space so don’t touch or go near it.” The instructor also taught us defensive fighting moves such as a distracting hand-palm to the face or using your legs to maintain distance between you and your opposer. This demonstrated that you know your physical space and how to fight for it but also ensuring that you don’t provoke or jump into the other party’s physical space.
From this women’s self-defense class, I’ve learned so much and experienced various takeaways. The biggest one for me personally is to define your boundaries and to stay true to yourself. If others don’t respect your time and energy that you give, fight back through confidence and taking up space. Because according to Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”
To find more information on self-defense or physical/sexual abuse, visit these links below