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What is feminist self-defense?

17.02.2021 / Created by CA

By Ikrame Moucharik

In 2012, we formed a feminist awareness group. Our first discussions concerned the violence that we suffer as women. One book particularly nourished our reflections on gender; it’s a practical manual written by Irène Zeilinger and titled "No, it’s no, little self-defence manual for use by all women who are sick of getting pissed off without saying anything." We did a collective reading of this book and these readings were accompanied by role-playing, sharing of experiences and experiences and physical training. This book later served as a guide with other sources to develop our own feminist self-defence workshop.

Women have always defended themselves against violence even if this has sometimes been ignored by official historiography. Some martial arts have even been created by women, such as Wing Chun in China or naginatado in Japan. In Morocco, our ancestors also defended themselves against violence, hence the choice of the name of our collective which comes from Assiouar, a bracelet that could serve as a means of defence. British suffragists later used jujitsu against police violence.

Self-defence proper originated in the late 1960s. The first documented group appeared in Boston. Canadian feminists subsequently adapted martial arts techniques by creating wendo and femdochi. Another feminist self-defence method, seito boei, was created in Austria.

Feminist self-defense takes place in a logic of preventing violence. With feminist self-defense, we learn to know and recognize violence. Know the continuum of violence, deconstruct the myths about rape, point out the received ideas concerning the spaces of aggression and the identity of the aggressors. This is all part of the teachings of feminist self-defense. It also includes emotional, verbal and physical self-defense. But feminist self-defense remains above all a bodily practice with the learning of new body techniques and new techniques of the self. This work on the body includes work on breathing, posture, balance. Work on the voice, the cry and the look. Women collectively learn to take their place, to occupy the street and space in different ways, to recognize and enforce their limits and finally to kick. To turn their fears into anger and their anger into strength. All of this work gives you confidence and determination, but above all it is about unlearning not to fight - unlearning the acquired vulnerability of women.

As Anne-Charlotte Millepied, who conducted a 2-year ethnographic survey of a feminist self-defence group in France, points out, feminist self-defence is the bearer of a feminist project to deconstruct dominant gender norms. This is what sets it apart from martial arts and traditional self-defence. It deconstructs the gender stereotypes that structure our representation and our practices, it makes visible the built body and the paths of thought and action that come from the gendered socialization that builds strong men who can legitimately exercise their strength and vulnerable women. and victims. Feminist self-defence uses the body as a means of resistance to oppression, it leads women to incorporate a combative ethos. In her book "Defending Yourself: A Philosophy of Violence", Elsa Dorlin provides a genealogy of the self-defence of minorities and subalterns. She brings together different struggles that she connects through the concept of self-defence.

The self-defence of colonized, slaves, suffragists, Black Panther or queer self-defence patrols. Dorlin finds in all of them an awareness of domination by the body and by the muscle. For Dorlin, it is important to show that women are capable of exercising violence, no longer representing them as eternal victims and prey. Yet women’s violence has often been hidden, invisible, biologized or psychiatrized. The participation of women in wars or revolutions has been erased. In the book “Thinking about women’s violence” co-edited by Coline Cardi and Geneviève Pruvost, the authors tried to denaturalize and repoliticize women’s violence because to deny women their capacity to exercise violence is to deny their capacity for action and deprive them of the possibility of access to power. With feminist self-defence, women regain their power to act, political awareness and politicization of their bodies. It is an individual experience, a work on oneself and at the same time a transformation and a collective action.

Let us continue together this process of appropriation of our bodies and our lives!