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In claiming the status of victim and by assigning
all blame to others, a person can achieve moral
superiority while simultaneously disowning any responsibility
 for one's behavior and its outcome. The victims 'merely'
seek justice and fairness. If they become violent, it is only
 as a last resort, in self-defense. The victim stance is a powerful
one. The victim is always  morally right, neither responsible
nor accountable, and forever entitled to sympathy.
                                                   Ofer Zur, Ph.D

Agendas, biases and the cult of victimhood

On this page:
Dangerous misconceptions | Misinformation | Unrealistic expectations | Anger based | Sports based martial arts | Cult of victimization | Personal Responsibility vs. Blame | Further Resources

I have a saying: One of the nice things about promoting victimhood is that you will always have job security. That's because if you don't teach people how to not be victims, you'll always have a never ending stream of victims to keep you in business.

When it comes to the business of promoting victimhood, there  are a lot of people who will always have a job.

Unfortunately, many agenda-driven misconceptions have become so ingrained in women's self-defense that one cannot reasonably discuss personal safety without also addressing these agendas. And why they don't work for keeping you safe from rape and violence.

Mostly because Many of these groups can do all kinds of things for you after you've been raped or abused, but they're seriously weak on keeping you out of those situations in the first place. That's what we do.

It's also what puts us at odds with so many of these programs. We're not about your empowerment, self-worth or building your self-confidence ... we're more concerned with keeping you out of a body bag. See with us, someone trying to kill you is not hyperbole. Odds are, we've personally experienced more violence than you have; and seen and stopped a whole lot more beyond that. And yes, deaths were involved

Personally knowing how traumatic violence is, we're really big on avoidance; whether that is for the first time or repeat performances.  Instead of helping you cope with the trauma of having been raped, we're oriented on helping you not be raped at all.

In short, our goal is to reduce the need of victim assistance, by reducing the number of victims. A lot of these organizations are for increasing the victims' power and by extension, their own funding. Because the more victims you have, the more funding your organization gets.

Are you beginning to see why we don't get along?

Quite frankly, we don't even like the term 'women's self-defense.' That's because these days, it's nearly impossible to get a clear picture of the actual problem -- much less a reasonable and working solution the average person can use. 

Let's take rape for example. In seeking to warn about the perils of rape, you can hear advocates loudly declaring "that all men are potential rapists." Not too long ago, in Women's Self-Defense circles a common slogan was: A woman should have the right to walk naked into a biker bar and not be molested(1). The problems that we find  with most of these agendas is that they are very strongly oriented on the "victim's rights" and far less on responsibilities keeping out of dangerous situation in the first place.

Dangerous misconceptions
The simple fact is much of what currently taught as women's self-defense is flawed for several critical reasons.

  1. It is dangerous misinformation on the causes and provocations of violence.
  2.  Many programs have shifted their focus from personal safety to pop psychology (i.e. instead of teaching how to be safe, they'll 'empower' you).
  3. While insisting on "rights," it abrogates responsibility.
  4. It demands that OTHER people engage in self-control, self-restraint, not giving into one's impulses, selfish desires and not exploiting opportunity -- not the person who puts herself into a dangerous situation.
  5. It appeals to and promotes an unfounded confidence that increases the likelihood of a person actively going into dangerous situations.
  6. It actively -- if unwittingly -- encourages  aggression, fighting and promotes attitudes and behaviors likely to provoke an attack.
  7. The physical moves are largely based on ineffective sport fighting tactics (sports martial arts), not effective self-defense strategies.

To start with, most of what is being taught is not self-defense. It is fighting. It is attempting to go toe-to-to with a larger, stronger opponent in a vain attempt to beat the hell out of him. Using this strategy, you hope you can do it before he gets pissed and does it right back to you. Sorry, folks, size and strength do matter in a fight UNLESS you know how to compensate -- which these training programs don't(2).Worse yet, it is encouraging behaviors, beliefs and mindsets that are proven to make the student's  life more difficult, if not provoke more violence towards her.

The rest of this page will be dedicated to supporting these six contentions. Footnotes at the bottom of the page cite sources, references and resources.

Unrealistic expectations
In our time we have been told by radical women's self defense instructors - not once, but on several occasions - that a woman should have the right to walk naked into a biker bar and not be molested.

When faced with such a blatant lack of common sense, the average person tends to blink, mutter something about "well in a perfect world..." and rapidly change the subject. What is equally confusing to the normal person, however, is the moral outrage and incredible anger of those who advocate such  extreme ideals. Such advocates  are honestly and self-righteously furious that the biker bar fantasy doesn't exist in the real world. These people see nothing unrealistic about their expectations of how the world should behave towards them. Unfortunately, this is just one of many extreme ideological dogmas that serve to fuel their anger at men, relationships,  the legal system and society in general. In fact, one can postulate that these unrealistic expectations -- and the world failing to meet them -- are a constant source for much of their anger.

These unrealistic expectations aren't about making the world a better place. They are about the individual reinforcing a dissatisfied personality (3) and a nihilistic world view. Let's use  the "walking naked in a biker bar" idea as an example to explain this important concept.

1). This kind of thinking demands the rest of world conform to their expectations. They are insisting that bikers - a very distinct subculture with its own standards, behaviors and codes - suddenly cease to operate along their cultural lines and "respect" the individual enough to allow her to engage in this behavior. The basic idea is that it is society that has to do all the work and change its beliefs, not them.

2) They negate the freedom and individuality of others while insisting on their own. This can be summed up by simply saying: While they have the right to walk naked through a biker bar, a biker doesn't have the right to say anything about it.

3) It is about what they want, not what other people want, feel or need. There is no attempt or desire to compromise, negotiate or work out a equitable settlement where other people's ways of thinking, behavior or needs are factored in. There is no acceptance of other cultural standards or belief systems. Anyone who does not behave in the manner they desire is in the wrong.

The long and short of it is these "expectations" are extremely selfish and narrow in focus. In light of this, it is no wonder that the world refuses to conform to what these people want -- which in turn fuels their anger.

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Anger based
There is an old Latin saying "Even a fly has it's spleen (anger)"

Basing one's life on anger is not exactly a winning strategy. It is in fact a very self-limiting behavior. While it may be all-consuming to the individual's awareness, simply stated, the rest of the world doesn't much care. Survival in this modern world requires the ability to negotiate and compromise  with others so everyone can get what they need. It is a form of economy where everyone can get what they need, if not what they want.

Anger, tends to ignore this reality and lock the person inside his or her head. This isolates the individual and hampers that person's ability to effectively negotiate and compromise with others. Empathy requires you to step outside of your "box" and see issues from the other person's point of view and empathy is a critical component of effective people skills.

Furthermore, people tend to shy away from angry individuals. This creates a form of social isolation where you will be surrounded by like-minded people. This goes beyond "like attracts like" and moves into "the only people who will tolerate that behavior are the same kind." In other words you will find yourself surrounded by angry, selfish and violent people.

In fact, one can easily liken them to an intellectual version of a temper tantrum that a small child throws

Such radical - and unrealistic - ideas are, unfortunately, often a cornerstone in both the ideology and curriculum of many current women's self-defense programs. They seem to train for the day when they will attempt  the biker bar trick. And, if they were to try this foolhardy action and were to receive a negative response -- protected by a shield of self-righteous anger -- they believe could successfully fight their way out. It should come as no surprise that often these programs encourage rage and anger as the source of their student's self-defense. (And then they wonder why most people aren't interested in attending such programs and the ones that they attract have unrealistic expectations.) 

Simply stated, many of these programs are borderline cults. In our opinion, encouraging rage and physical aggression as the source for "self-defense" is an extremely dangerous concept. Such behavior is more likely to provoke an attack than prevent one.

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Sports based martial arts
Speaking as an ex-streetfighter with entirely too many fights in my past, I must say that most of what I have seen taught as "Women's Self-defense" wouldn't work to keep a man from getting his ass kicked in a fight.

Which should really make a woman stop and think twice about how effectively it would work for her. The reason for this comment is not to in any way imply that a woman cannot effectively defend herself. That is not true at all. However, what I am saying is that woman cannot effectively defend herself fighting a) like a man and b) using a sports style martial art.

My reasoning for saying this has nothing to do with gender and has everything to do with the physics of a sport style martial art. Such systems do not work to protect men from the full on assaults of other men. Therefore, why is it assumed that it would work for a woman?

Unfortunately, most WSD instructors are not aware of the difference between sport style "fighting" and combat. Therefore what they are teaching is what they were taught, which is basically a sports system. Yes it is augmented by a bad attitude, but bad attitudes are not exclusive to women. An attacking man has one too. Now I am not saying that this can't work. It can and does, bad technique when mixed with a bad attitude does carry the day in many a physical confrontation, and not just in rapes, but in many fights. However, just as often they result in crushing defeat when there is some kind of compensating factor such as size and strength between opponents. This works with men when they fight and it also applies to conflicts between men and women.

If you are going to "go up against a man" make sure what you are learning isn't a martial sport done with an aggressive attitude, because that often fails when facing a larger stronger opponent as such systems are designed for speed and point generating, not power delivery.

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Cult of victimization
Unfortunately, the issue goes deeper than just encouraging rage as the source of self-defense. It is strongly rooted in the idea of victimhood.

Sandra Bartky states in her book Femininity and Domination: Studies in the Phenomenology of Oppression that "Feminist consciousness is the consciousness of come to see oneself as a victim"  (pg 15). Nowhere is this assumption of  gender victimization stronger than in the areas of rape, domestic violence and women's self-defense.   The self-definition of victimhood, in all of its myriad forms,  is a foundation for a majority of women's self-defense programs -- where it is actively encouraged and nurtured.

We feel that the "victim" mindset has no place in ensuring your personal safety.

Simply stated, victimhood -- in any  manifestation-- is dysfunctional. Remember "dysfunctional" literally means: It doesn't work. When it comes to finding a strategy, you want something that works to prevent you from being raped. Victimhood justifies your actions after you have failed this first task.

By starting out with the assumption that a woman is a victim  these sort of self-defense advocates create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead of encouraging healthy change,  (e.g. assertiveness as opposed to aggression, social skills instead of anger, personal responsibility as opposed to blame and empathy instead of emphasis on self) such programs often enable the tenets of victimhood and combine them with anger, self-righteousness and the ability to physically assault someone. Such programs often  encourage existing dysfunctional, aggressive and selfish behaviors in women by giving them confidence that their physical skills will protect them from the backlash of said behaviors. We will go so far to say that these programs seek to create a "super-victim" who is seeking revenge -- not prevention.

What you get is not an effective or functional way deter violence from occurring.

In fact, the resulting over-confidence, aggression and  lack of social skills put the woman more at risk. Not only will she be stigmatized by the majority of non-violent people, but she is now  aggressively risking infuriating  a truly violent and hostile male. Such a man might not just stop at raping her. He is in fact,  more likely to engage in beating and murder. Unfortunately, her ostracizition  from the mainstream of society  will more than likely put her into a "fringe social area"  -- where these kind of predators lurk!

In our minds, the ideology of victimization is a dead end street. It is predicated on the assumption that you have already lost and have no power. You the reader must make a decision right now, and that is: Are you willing to take responsibility for your actions and, by acknowledging that you do have a degree of power and control over what happens to you, prevent yourself from being sexually assaulted?

Believe us when we say this is not the kind of question you will hear in most women's self-defense classes 4

For a rather startling look into the dynamics of victimization we recommend Albert Bernstein's Emotional Vampires: Dealing With People drain you dry

Personal Responsibility vs. Blame
In his book The Survivor Personality, Al Siebert postulates that modern psychology has headed down a dead end path. He questions the wisdom of focusing on the traits of those who cannot make it through difficult times and traumatic events instead of focusing on the the mental/ emotional traits of those who not only can, but do. In many ways we think the same way about rape and domestic violence...what we're more concerned about is identifying the attitudes, behaviors and environment of women who aren't raped and beaten. They're doing something right not to have that happen to them. And it is those behaviors, attitudes and environments we want to encourage women to find.

As we're not interested in promoting martyrdom, what we don't want to encourage is high risk behavior. Unfortunately, too many WSD programs don't encourage personal growth and change away from dangerous personality traits and behaviors. Instead they  not only tell a person that it is her  right to act however she wants, but then give them violent tools to do so. Although an extreme analogy, this is like saying to gang members "It's okay to be in a gang, and here's a gun in case someone tries to attack you for being in a gang." If you think this is an unfair or unrealistic comparison, ask yourself what  message do comments like "A woman should have the right to walk naked into a biker bar and not be molested" really convey?

True change can only come from within. With lots of work, perseverance and psychological/counseling help, Unfortunately, many of these programs that are out there claiming to "empower women" are in fact, enabling dysfunctions. We say this because: Power does not come without responsibility. You cannot have the benefits of self-determination right up until the moment that your choices blow up in your face and then abandon all  responsibility to hide behind the mantel of victimhood.

 We have have an entire page on the subject of blame vs. responsibility. These are lesson that both the authors of this site have learned the hard way. We mention this because quite often advocates of the poor, downtrodden, abused et all are so outraged about our presentation that they don't recognize the fact that we are talking from personal experience. In other words, we climbed out of the very hells they are claiming to be such experts on. Our attitudes reflect not just what it took to survive, but then to flourish, move on and -- most importantly -- not repeat our mistakes.

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1) Rape and domestic violence advocacy are two of the last bastions where extreme feminist ideology can still be found. By this we don't mean liberal feminism; which is based on enlightenment principles, seeking social equality and fair legal treatment for everyone. (In case you are interested, we agree with these goals and ideas).
Rather  we are referring to the "second wave" or "gender feminists" who consider themselves  oppressed freedom fighters in a war against male domination and an evil patriarchy. In short, it's all men's fault. Whatever their goal is, it is something other than equality for everyone. This extremist ideology strongly influences the "culture" of women's self-defense organizations, their message and what they teach.
The preponderance of fanatics, anger, junk-science, emotionalism, ideology and people willing to promote blatant lies  in order to reveal the TRUTH (or at least their version of it) about rape and domestic violence make it very difficult to talk rationally about these topics. Fabrications, exaggerations and downright lies; like "the rule of thumb" describing the size of a stick a husband could use to beat his wife, or that "domestic violence goes up on SuperBowl Sunday" are well parroted among WSD, crisis centers and academic circles. But these are in fact "urban legends.

In attempting to bring attention to and justify their cause there has been some fast and loose playing with the facts by some advocates. In trying to further their cause, they have oft times undermined it. These and many other "everybody knows it is so" stories and internet hoaxes can be found at these sites for future reference.

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2)This tactical assessment is coming from  a smaller man who has been in 100s of violent situations. I spit a lot of blood learning which strategies don't work against larger and committed opponents. Return to Text


3) Eric Hoffer The True Believer. Return to text.

4) Support for many of the ideas expressed here regarding "second wave" trends in feminist ideology can be found
Who Stole Feminism  Christina Hoff Sommers
The Deep Divide Sherrye Henry
The Mis-measure of Woman Carol Tavris
Anger: The misunderstood emotion Carol Tavris

The specific manifestations of these radical ideologies  in WSD organizations and teachings is largely a matter of, unfortunate, personal experience in our dealings with such groups. The authors of these pages have entirely too much first-hand experience with violence to accept many of the dangerous misconceptions being promoted (e.g. a woman has the right to walk naked into a biker bar and not be harassed) as women's self defense. Return to text

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