Bad idea?

I recently had a conversation with a retired police officer about teaching girls self-defense. He – yes, it was a male - approached me at a book signing for Taking Flight For Girls Going Places, and prefaced his comment with a “please don’t take this the wrong way.” Yeah, so anyway, this man wanted to let me know that he thought teaching girls self-defense was a bad idea.

“How do you figure?” I asked, masking my annoyance with a much-practiced head tilt and smile, my eyes open wide. Okay, well the eyes may have given it away, but whatever.

He responded with an authority which made my head spin (okay, eyes roll): “It is actually unlikely that a girl would be able to protect herself, given her physical standing.” He went on to proclaim that teaching girls and young women self-defensive skills actually gives them an unrealistic sense of confidence in their ability to defend themselves in the face of danger, an outcome he believed “unlikely.” Furthermore, he said girls and young women who are trained to protect themselves actually put themselves in more danger because when they believe they can protect themselves, they take more risks.

Wait, what?

What are we supposed to do, nothing? Hope for the best? Lock ourselves in the safety of our parents cocoon for the rest of our lives? Seriously, dude? Have you seen the statistics of female abuse?

Apparently this man was clueless. He has no idea - and why would he? - what it’s like to be a female in today’s world:

· to be forced to anticipate unwanted, unsolicited attention at every corner

· to face danger in ordinary events, like going to class or taking a jog

· the annoyance, at best, of having to think about our safety every minute of the day instead of just going about our business

· that we must learn safety strategies that can help us not only prevent and avoid threats, minimize harm done, and fight back like a champ, but also that we must work to build our confidence so that we can meet any challenge to the best of our ability

But the truth is, as much as any male might realize the dangers females face every day, they cannot begin to truly understand the extent of our concerns. Like our dread about simply walking past a group of construction workers on the sidewalk. Or being on an elevator with a strange man. Or hearing your doorbell ring unexpectedly. Or turning down a date with someone who is less than humble. I could go on, but you catch the drift. There are scenarios females face every single day that most men could never even imagine. Well, unless perhaps they are the perpetrators, that is. Even unintentional…culprits, none-the-less.

So, anyway, I explained to Officer Umbrage that although Taking Flight For Girls Going Places was not all about fighting, it does cover practical self-defensive moves anyone could learn, regardless of gender. Head tilt, without the smile. I explained that the safety book and Girls Going Places programs seek to help females prevent, avoid, and minimize dangers rather than fight, whenever possible. “Anyone, in their right mind would prefer that - even a girl,” I winked. He seemed to agree with that one.

I probably should have left it at that but I couldn’t resist the urge to emphasize that females are not powerless in the face of danger. And that, in many situations, they are no more powerless than a male. Yeah, some dangers offer equal opportunity alarm.

So, after a little more agreeing to disagree, he went on his way. And happily, I continued to greet parents and grandparents who were relieved and grateful that there is a tool which could help keep their girls safe. As much as Sergeant Keep-Em-Powerless threw me off, I was lifted by the encouragement and enthusiasm of the people who would rather empower others than keep them defenseless and vulnerable.

Believing that girls and young women should not learn to prevent, avoid, and defend against threats is just plain ridiculous. Females do and should learn self-protection and defense just as they do and should learn how to do their own banking. It’s their life - they need to take responsibility for it and do whatever necessary to value, nurture, and protect it.

The more we know about the dangers we may face, the more prepared we can be. But having an awareness of something does not translate into solution. You must take it further. You need to know the various solutions necessary to handle the possible threats. For without solution, you will be stuck in fear. And who can reach their full potential when they are consumed in fear?

The #MeToo movement was a great consciousness-building event, but will it change anything? Yes, it has helped people to feel they are not alone, and that is important. But unless the awareness is accompanied with changes across the board, the #MeToo club will only continue, with new members proclaiming their victimhood. And, amongst the many policy and sociological changes we must implement, we must promote equality and empowerment in every way and educate females with the safety principles and self-defense knowledge they will need to cope with the dangers around them.

So it behooves you to learn as much about your safety as possible. Be your own private security. Go over it again and again like a mantra. Plan your defenses. Practice. Teach your friends. Pass this knowledge on to others! Spread the word! Do whatever you can to be safe in this world. No matter what others say, empower yourself with whatever is going to push you forward, whether it’s about your finances or your safety. It matters.




Kathy Greene Lahey, LMSW, AC, is the author of Taking Flight For Girls Going Places, a preventive tool to help independence-bound girls stay safe, confident, and empowered. Check out the safety blog for girls and one “for the moms” on

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