Feminist Self-Defense Philosophy

by Cunt Incognita … she=he

I did a workshop on Feminist Self-Defense on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, November 25th, and was later asked to write one or two pages on the philosophy of this practice.

Feminist self-defense is a collective process of self-empowerment. One workshop/training session is not enough.

Introducing a random googled link on what someone has written on Gendered Violence.


I am an individual feminist activist – a 35-year-old, white, childless, able-bodied, Scandinavian woman – who was invited to do a workshop on feminist self defense for the event called “Feminists will arrive at 3 o’clock”, in Tallinn, Estonia.

The background to this form of organizing, as I have come to understand it, has its roots in women getting together in consciousness raising groups in the 70’s in Canada and the U.S, sharing experiences, and skills in how to defend themselves from everyday mental, verbal and physical assault. Groups of women focusing on understanding and figuring out how to break with the gendered violence coming their way from acquaintances, friends, lovers, relatives, strangers, as well as from their own internalized limiting ideas of how they ‘should’ behave, and think, and feel in relation to the role given to them as ‘woman’Not speak ‘too’ loud. Not act ‘too’ proud. Not take space. To self-sacrificingly care for the needs of others, preferably guessing what’s wanted and wished for without anyone having to say out loud what’s expected of them. – Small groups of women coming together, supporting one another in talking and behaving as loud and proud as they feel like, taking space on their own terms – in spite of the external and internal forces acting against it.

40 years later the concept is still the same: A group of women (or women and trans, or just trans) deciding to train together for a certain period, maybe 6 months or a year, and depending on the wishes of the individuals in the group, meeting 1-4 times per month, 2-3 hours each time. Each group make up their own way of how to organize their trainings.

It can be difficult finding persons interested in really committing to this type of practice, so after having some open trainings, where it’s possible to try it out and see what it feels like, the groups usually close once there are enough persons willing to dedicate their time to this form of collective self-empowerment. The idea with having closed groups, is to create an atmosphere of trust and intimacy, making it easier to share experiences with the others. It is not a rule [there are no rules – there’s only tradition and habit], but I would say that less than 4 persons in a group makes it difficult to play games, so I would put that as a minimum of participants for having fun and functional trainings.

The groups are self-organized and strive towards some form of non-hierarchic practice. The responsibility of creating exercises and guiding the others through them, is a task shared by all participants of the group, each time two different persons prepare the training together, according to their own wishes and needs. Sometimes a training is more focused on discussion, other times it can be more physical. The only thing that is a permanent part of the structure is the go-round in the beginning and end of the trainings, where everybody is sitting in a circle, and each one gets a turn to speak and share whatever thoughts, feelings and experiences are currently alive in them, without interruption from the others.

Other reoccurring elements in the practice is Role-Play, Physical Games and Exercises. Coming up with ideas for exercises, is a great way of empowering anyone participating in this type of group to get in touch with their inner creativity and trust that what is important for one person can be beneficial and rewarding for others too.

Around Europe, and in other parts of the world, there are different ways of organizing, and different levels of information-sharing outside the groups. Some groups have leaders, specific persons, training the others. There are adult trainers practicing with children. There are also groups training in a self-organized fashion in schools. Some go and speak publicly on national television about what they do. Some groups train secretly. The trainings can go by many different names: Feminist self defense, Wendo, Wenlido. My own idea and practice around the issue of information is that any practical exercise is okay to talk about outside the group, while the personal stories are not talked about with others. There are many reasons for keeping the information secret. Women participating in groups have been known to face ridicule by male spouses. There have also been cases of women sharing physical self-defense skills with their male partners, and later having these techniques used against them. I’ve also heard of trainers having their property destroyed, some bikes burnt, by a community hostile to their practice. I myself have faced ridicule, massively defensive reactions, and have been denied training space by the community I’m in, based on that the practice would not be ‘fair’ against men, if the trainings don’t allow the participation of men as well. The idea of not including men, is not there to ‘make them into the enemy’, or about being ‘against’ them. I wish for men to deal with their own role-jail of machismo and unemotionality. The feminist self defense groups are there as a marginal space for persons facing a certain type of reality, hopefully finding the space there, to realize themselves and trying out different ways of relating to themselves and one another. It’s important though, for these groups to maintain an awareness, that power-relations and violence exist and need to be dealt with within all spaces. I’ve heard of sexualized assault occurring within a women only group, and this setting off the usual mechanisms of denial and splitting the community into ‘for’ and ‘against’ the perpetrator. In the first group I took part in, internal power-relations were not discussed, and I ended up having a pretty damaging experience where I was told I should seek therapy by the other participants. Class and different backgrounds, as well as different expectations on how to interact socially, was a big part of that conflict – but instead of talking it through as a political fight, it was pushed into the ‘private’/’personal’ sphere, and I ended up leaving the group, as the ‘odd one out’.

It’s important to actively seek ways to talk about the power-relations existing. In India there is a higher awareness of the differences, and the importance of tools for dealing with them constructively, and the network there has introduced Nonviolent Communication (nvc) as a part of their training.

I leave it up to each group to organize in whatever way that makes sense to them in their specific context. In relation to the question of information-sharing outside the groups and networks, I choose a high level of openness, since I wish for more women/trans to tap into the power that can be found in this form of organizing in a daily existence too often focused on mere survival.

For more information on feminist self-defense: https://sosiaalikeskus.wordpress.com/feminist-self-defense/

If you have specific questions in relation to trainings available in Europe write directly to: milla.ahola at gmail dot com


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