Why Do Women Hesitate to Learn Self-Defense?


A few months ago, my daughters and I took a two hour class on self-defense.

I wanted my eldest daughter to take the class since she’s going to college next year. I’m not sure why, but she was incredibly upset we pushed her into taking this class. I didn’t want to take the class either, but my husband pushed me, explaining that I should learn the skills and set a good example for our girls.  Fortunately, our youngest daughter is already a black belt in karate. Not surprisingly, she was the only one out of us three who was actually excited to take the class.

You could definitely feel the lack of enthusiasm from two of us.

Why the Disinterest?

My daughter and I arranged this self-defense class for an entire club at her high school that’s dedicated to female empowerment and helping women in third world countries (UN’s Girl Up). Almost 30 girls signed up to attend, but when it came time to take the class, no one showed up. It was only my daughters and I taking the class.


Why is it that, in my experience, young females don’t want to learn self-defense? Why was I, or even my daughter, so hesitant to take the class?

woman no

I know some people don’t enjoy the physical activity, but that isn’t the case for me or my girls.

I think the biggest reason is simply the fallacy of “it won’t happen to me.” No woman ever believes that they would put themselves in any kind of situation that would endanger their safety. “I would never be so stupid to walk through campus alone at night” or “no one will ever hurt me.”

Could it be that women might think that taking the class is accepting the possibility that they could be attacked?

It might be that women are hesitant to admit that they could be a victim. No one wants to think that they could be vulnerable to others. Women may also believe they have the mental and physical fortitude to get away during an attack.

women karate female fight self-defense

Possible Reasons for a Lack of Interest

So why didn’t any of the girls show up for the class? Why are young women hesitating on self-defense classes? The following are a few myths I’ve found to be often true:

  • Fear – Women may be concerned about their abilities in the class. They may be concerned about their size, weight, age, level of fitness, body image, etc. Their lack of knowledge and ability in martial arts may bother them.
  • Denial – Too many have the “nothing will happen to me” mentality.
  • Older women may have their doubts that they would be someone’s selected victim.
  • Many believe that what they already know (simply kicking a man in groin) will be enough to get away.
  • Women feel like carrying mace or pepper spray should be enough.
  • They think their husbands or boyfriends will be around to protect them.
  • Some simply feel that because of the physical dominance most men have over women, knowing self-defense won’t do any good since they won’t be “strong enough” to fight off an attacker.
  • Many blame a lack of time or money to take a class.
  • Some believe they shouldn’t have to learn how to fight off an attacker or rapist, but that there should be more of a focus on teaching people not to hurt others.

Statistics show that most women know their attacker. For those in college, “About 85 to 90 percent of sexual assaults reported by college women are perpetrated by someone known to the victim; about half occur on a date.” (nij.gov) We women need to be more cautious in situations involving alcohol or with people we don’t know well. Some women are victims of circumstance, but far more are hurt by someone they know.

Important Things to Know

After taking the two hour self-defense class, I’ve learned a few key points:

  • Prevention is #1. Avoid getting into a situation where you would need to defend yourself.
  • How you carry yourself and present yourself to the world is important. Avoid appearing timid, shy, and scared if in unsettling situations.
  • Be able to recognize and avoid dangerous people, places, and situations. Maintain your distance from unknown people.
  • Always be aware of your surroundings. Find the location of the nearest exits if you’re inside or well-lit places with people if you’re out at night.
  • If you are threatened or attacked with a weapon, recognize a situation for what it is. Your life is more important than any jewelry, your purse, or car. Know when to cooperate with an attacker and when to fight.
  • If you carry Mace or pepper spray, practice using it! Buy an extra spray so that you can practice opening it,  understand the possibility of blow back into your eyes, and how far the spray shoots.
  • Anything can become a weapon if you need one. Don’t be afraid to use your fingernails, a pen, a shoe, anything on hand to protect yourself. Our instructor educated us on other self-defense tools like tactical pens (Amazon link) and kubatons (Amazon link) that you can carry and defend yourself with.
female pondering sad

As it has been a few months since taking the class, I really don’t remember most of what was taught. Of course, this falls into the “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it” category. There are a few tidbits of knowledge that I retained, as well as one key physical move, but that’s about it.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I am glad my daughters and I took the class. I think it’s essential for women of all ages and skill levels to learn to protect themselves. What surprises me is that self-defense is not taught in middle school or high school gym class. If self-defense was taught in school, girls (and boys) would be able to practice the skills throughout the years, gaining knowledge and experience, and most importantly, being able to remember what they’re taught. Learning the material in one or two days is great, but it’s hard to retain anything from just a few hours of class.

Yes, it’s unfortunate that in our society today we need to learn how to protect ourselves. However, knowing how to protect yourself is a key skill anyone should have.

I’m curious about your experiences with self-defense classes. Did you enjoy them? Do you remember anything from the class? Were you hesitant to take the class? Feel free to jot me a line and let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!

Happy Travels!


sources: functionalselfdefense.org, combativecorner.wordpress.com, actdefense.net, nij.gov

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