Life

Empowered by Instinct: How Self-Defense Reshapes Women’s Lives in France

Women’s self-defense classes have grown in popularity over the past decade. In France, due to frequent safety accidents on subways and streets, as well as domestic violence, women are paying more and more attention to their own safety.

“Near the business district of La Défense, several men surrounded me in broad daylight and said they wanted to get to know me. I waved my hands to refuse, but they were unwilling to leave. They even tried to grab my arm and touch me. hair. I quickened my pace and tried to leave, but they kept following me. Finally, I escaped into a shopping mall and escaped. Although they did not cause any substantial harm to me, this experience made me realize You know how fragile you are.” This past experience from ten years ago was one of the reasons why Severina entered the Krav Maga class.

At the Jean Talbot Sports Center in the 5th arrondissement of Paris, a women’s Krav Maga class has just begun. “Knees up, heels close to buttocks!” Severina, wearing a fighting uniform, commanded loudly. Krav Maga is a combat art originated from Israel. Its original meaning in Hebrew is “close combat”. Severina, 38, has reached the level of third-degree black belt and has been promoted from a student to an instructor of the European Krav Maga Association. On a Saturday morning, Severina stood in front of the ring, surrounded by more than 20 students who wanted to learn how to protect themselves. Only a few minutes into the class, beads of sweat were already forming on their foreheads. Severina turned up the volume of the speakers and used music to encourage the students to complete squats, burpees, push-ups and other warm-up exercises. The museum was filled with the smell of new plastic and sweat. The sweat on the palms of the students left imprints on the ground, and shouts of exhaustion and excitement came one after another.

“Kick harder, harder! Don’t worry about hurting me!” Lisa, who was wearing chest and crotch protective gear, shouted while preparing for the next dodge. She has brown hair and looks almost 30 years old. A pair of eyes are vaguely visible under the helmet. Her boxing gloves danced up and down in the air as her defensive stance changed.

| A life of “micro-discrimination” |

Lisa lives in Paris and has experienced countless “micro-discriminations” in her daily life, which became one of the reasons why she signed up for Krav Maga classes a year ago. When students are asked what drives them to take such courses, “metro” is one of the most frequent words in the answers. “Thieves, drunkards…there are all kinds of people in the subway, and riding the subway is always scary,” Lisa explained.

Women often feel vulnerable when facing men; and in public places at night, women seem to be in a situation of being “hunted”; even at home, they may encounter violence. These are the reasons why students learn self-defense techniques. Lisa shared her story: “My ex-boyfriend was an alcoholic. Every time he got drunk, I would rush him home. I would put him in a taxi, but he would never leave. I knew, like, People like him will be violent to me sooner or later. But I also think this seems normal because I grew up in this environment. My father can’t handle his negative emotions and often beats me. Slap. If I didn’t obey, he would smash his fist against the wall to scare me.”

Lisa realized that her whole life she had been “waiting for the punch to drop” and decided to learn self-defense. She was a sales customer service employee. During a year-end review, she had a disagreement with her supervisor. Lisa doesn’t like conflict, especially with men, so she chooses to escape and swallow her grievances. She said: “He made a rude gesture and I felt extremely insulted. But I was speechless and my whole body was shaking violently. I said to myself, I can’t go on like this.”

| Men are strong, women are weak |

Women come to Krav Maga classes to learn techniques such as knee strikes, crotch kicks, and arm locks in order to be able to fight back in the event of violence. Krav Maga was originally a military combat art, but Severina taught these classes in the hope that women would not be helpless if attacked. “We are not superheroes, and we should not risk our lives. If you have the chance to escape, run away quickly. The most important thing is to ensure your own safety. If you cannot escape, take self-defense measures.” Severina explained. “If someone grabs our wrist on the street, we don’t necessarily have to break the bridge of their nose,” Lisa added.

Sociologist Aurelia Leon said: “For people who have been trapped in the ‘female’ role since childhood, using the body for self-defense is a transgressive behavior. Patriarchy divides society into two parts: on the one hand Girls are taught to overly restrict their behavior to the point where it becomes difficult for them to protect themselves, while boys are constantly encouraged to engage in aggressive behavior. ‘Strong’ is attributed to men, while women are labeled ‘weak’.”

Women’s predicament is a paradox that Leon calls “a hell of a choice.” She noted, “Patriarchy requires women to protect themselves but does not give them the necessary abilities to do so, thus assigning men as ‘natural guardians.’ However, these so-called guardians are often the perpetrators.” According to The French Ministry of the Interior’s 2021 crime data report shows that 86% of suspects suspected of intentional injury are male, and 87% of these crimes occur within the family.

| Discover danger |

Edward, a 51-year-old university professor, was sitting in the stands of the sports center, waiting for his daughter Clarice, who was taking a women’s self-defense course, to finish class. Later, they will also participate in a mixed-gender self-defense class together. “In August 2015, the shooting incident on the Thalys high-speed train woke me up.” Edward said, “If this happened to me, I would not be able to protect my family. This made me want to learn self-defense skills. idea.”

Edward and Clarice were both wearing black sweatpants and loose white T-shirts. They had bright eyes, slim bodies, and similar temperaments. Before the high-speed train incident, Edward believed that “only masculine men would practice fighting techniques.” And he doesn’t think he is such a man, and he also feels that his physique is not suitable for practicing fighting. However, now he has changed his mind and is unwilling to do nothing but “suffer” when danger occurs, so he signed up for Krav Maga classes. During the course, he found that many parents were training with their children, so he persuaded Clarice, who was still in third grade at the time, to join the class. “After coming here, I feel like Wonder Woman. In class, all my unhappiness can be released. Girls can also hit people!” Clarice said excitedly.

From 2015 to 2016, multiple terrorist attacks occurred in Europe, which made Edward feel very uneasy and even became overly sensitive. He said: “If someone yells at me on the street, it will sound like an alarm bell in my heart.” Therefore, he is willing to act as his daughter’s “sandbag” in Krav Maga class, just hoping that her daughter will get into trouble. Be able to cope with it. Now Clarice is calm and calm when things happen, it is hard for people to believe that she is only 17 years old. Recently, she and her friends saw a drunk man blocking a woman at the subway station. “I walked over and said, ‘Hey, hello, long time no see!’ I dispelled the drunk man’s evil thoughts with just one sentence.”

Many students say that helping other women in public spaces is one of the reasons they started practicing self-defense. Laiya, who is 1.55 meters tall and weighs less than 60 kilograms, said that the classroom environment of women’s self-defense makes her feel at ease, “I want to learn fighting skills, but I don’t want to practice with men, and I don’t want to be the object of their ridicule. “In the women’s self-defense class, the students not only enhanced their self-confidence, but also established friendships. “I know that after taking these courses, I won’t become ‘Wonder Woman,’ but at least I won’t deny myself anymore,” Leia said. “The fear never completely goes away,” Clarisse said. After practicing Krav Maga, her eyesight became sharper, and she would immediately notice any danger in the environment. All the students agreed that after learning self-defense, they gained new strength and no longer feel afraid in public places because they are women, and this strength will always stay with them.

| Self-defense: the source of women’s liberation |

“I learned how to use my punches here, and my voice became louder. Now I speak up and know how to stand up to others when necessary. These are very useful skills. I am about to enter medical school. Women were a minority there,” Clarisse said. Whenever the boys find out that Clarice is learning self-defense, they always look surprised. But Clarice is not bothered by this. On the contrary, she is proud of being able to break the rules. “Hey! You brought a gym bag today, are you going to practice self-defense again? Then I understand, I can’t mess with you today.” 50-year-old Sonia once heard a male colleague say this. She yelled in front of all her colleagues: “Actually, you shouldn’t mess with me at any time, and the same goes for everyone else!” Sonia has been practicing Krav Maga for ten years, and she knows very well how this skill brings The changes she brought about. Most obviously, she is now acutely aware of sexism and provocation, and able to deal with it skillfully. Over the years of practicing self-defense, her posture and shape have changed, and some people may even ask her if she has grown taller. She responded calmly: “I think I just occupied the position that a woman should have in public space.”

On that Saturday morning, Sonia came to class fully armed. Her firm attitude made the beginners worried, worried that they would be defeated by her. “When I meet a man coming from the opposite direction on a narrow sidewalk, I no longer lean against the wall to give way.” Sonia laughs. “Of course, this is just a metaphor. I still remain polite, I am not a A warlike person.” After ten years of fighting practice, she was finally able to fight back against evil intentions. “When I was a child, people always said that girls who sweat during fights were not beautiful,” Sonia recalled. “Now, after learning Krav Maga, I can often scare bad guys into stunned silence. I am very proud of this.”

“When we discover that we can use our bodies to protect ourselves, this experience is not only a physical change, but also a spiritual leap. It represents our ability to fight for important people and things.” Leon concluded, “Women often feel liberated by mastering self-defense skills, whether in their relationships, in the workplace, or at home.”

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