Feminist self–defense was created in the United States in the 1970’s,
when women got together and started sharing experiences of rape and
other structural male violence that women face in our society. The aim
of feminist self–defense is to raise consciousness amongst women of
the recurring mental, verbal, and physical assaults of everyday life
and to teach ways of dealing with this violence.
Feminist self–defense is based on the lived experiences of the women
in each group and uses methods that really work. It suits all women;
neither age nor physical disabilities prevent one from participating.
We develop ways of defending ourselves and strengthen our self-esteem
through role play, physical play and games, and technique practices.
Through vocal and physical practice we learn to respect our body and
also how to use it. We learn to appreciate ourselves. We learn that we
are worth defending.
HOW THE GROUP WORKS: Guidelines
The group is leaderless, and every person’s input is valued equally.
Every training session begins and ends with a talking circle, where
everyone present has an opportunity to share their thoughts, ideas,
and opinions without interruption or valuation.
The women in the group take turns preparing the training sessions, two
women at a time. In this way, everyone receives an equal amount of
space, and each woman is given the opportunity to highlight the issues
most important to her.
Feminist self–defense consists of three major elements:
1. Role play
We learn how to deal with different everyday situations. For instance,
we practice what to do when someone known to us comes too close at a
party or when a man moves his hand to your knee on a bus. One method
is “name it, criticize it, say what you want to happen”. For instance,
you might say, “Your hand is on my thigh. I don’t like having your
hand on my thigh. Take your hand off my thigh”.
2. Physical play
We get in touch with our bodies and learn what they are capable of
doing. This is especially important for girls who have always been
told not to climb trees or play in a “risky” way. Physical play can be
anything from “tag” to wrestling.
3. Technique practices for tricky situations
We learn how to get out of different “holds”, how to defend ourselves,
and how to fight. Men can’t build muscle in their knees, throat, eyes,
or balls, so these are the primary targets. The aim is not to become
involved in an elaborate fight, but to deliver a few hard blows in
order to break free and get away.
After each practice we talk about the feelings and memories that surfaced.
In order to create an atmosphere of trust, we maintain a “vow of
silence”: what is discussed at the trainings remains within the group.
For the same reason, the group closes to new members once it has
enough committed participants.
There is no obligation to participate in every aspect of the
practices, and no need to explain your decision to step out.
to watch out for: METHODS OF DOMINATION
A Norwegian feminist and peace activist, Berit Ås, listed five master
suppression techniques in the 70’s, in order to show the ways in which
one person can gain power over another person.
1. Making invisible
Are certain people talking all the time? Do some people only have eye
contact with each other? Are your suggestions ignored or are others
gazing through their calenders or looking at their phones while you’re
talking? Is someone repeating what you’ve just said and proposing it
as their own suggestion?
Are your suggestions laughed at or made fun of? Are you treated like a
child? Are people saying that they know your suggestions wouldn’t work
“cause it’s already been tried ten years ago”?
3. Withholding information
Does somebody in the group have all the important information? Does
the discussion begin without a presentation of the same information to
all the participants? Are people swapping information without sharing
it with the rest of the group?
4. Double punishment
“Damned if you do, damned if you don’t”
Is everything wrong no matter what you do? Are others saying you’re
not participating if you’re quiet, and that you’re dominant if you’re
5. Heaping blame and putting to shame
Blaming happens through ridicule and double punishment. Blaming is
what is done when people are judging you more for who you are than for
what you do. This technique can be seen at a societal level in the way
women who have been raped feel shame and blame ourselves for what has
been done to us.
SISTERHOOD AND GROUP DYNAMICS
Feelings of infatuation and crushes are common.
The group is a safe place to encounter each other and develop
ourselves. It is a place where women meet: old women and young women;
heteros, lesbians, poly-spirited women, and asexuals; women focused on
couple relations and poly-amorous women; mothers and women without
children. We all have to recognize and face up to the way we relate to
other women. It can be a provocative, irritating, or releasing and
The effects of feminist self–defense are personal as well as societal.
We deal with our own oppression and we also want to make all
oppression more visible and fight against it.
Together we create a sense of solidarity, a place of respite, and a
shelter from the visible external oppression of the male-centered
society in which we live. Discrimination on the job market, degrading
advertisements and men’s violence against women are examples of this
oppression, which in turn creates an invisible internal oppression,
noted in low self-esteem and prejudices against both ourselves and
other women. This self-oppression can be difficult to recognize and
understand, and it is therefore vital that the group functions in a
liberating way. We work with methods that break with the traditional
authoritarian molds and give space to each and every individual’s own
experiences. It is important that everyone feels safe and accepted in
Every woman has a right to decide for herself what her needs are and
what’s best for her.
She has a right to set boundaries according to what she feels.
She has a right to stress her boundaries and stick by them, and she
doesn’t have to explain to anybody why her boundaries are set where