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Self-Defense and... the Potential of the Female Body

Updated: Aug 14, 2021

Self-Defense Tools and Their Role in Constructing Perceptions of the Potential of the Female Body - Excerpts from a study of how females see the male body as a means to empowerment.

An important aspect of female self-defense is not given much attention in this account, however. A central part of a female self-defense lessons is the study of the fragile points of a male attacker’s body. Rather than emphasize brute strength, female self-defense classes teach women about the areas of a male’s body that can be exploited to cause maximum pain while requiring little force. Although various instructors might provide varying numbers of weak points, some common ones emerge: the eyes, nose, throat, solar plexus, testicles, and knees. These are areas of the body that are the most fragile and thus the most susceptible to pain, even if not they are hit with significant force. Thus, it is essential to the experience of self-defense to not only reimagine the female body as strong and powerful but also the male body as vulnerable.

The example from informant #10 here is a key to addressing this issue. At first, she shared with us the following: “Neither my parents nor the school taught me how to defend myself, and, when it comes to the issue of sex or anything related to it, like the words ‘penis’ or ‘adult video’, most parents here avoid talking about such issues with their children.” Later, she also shared the following: “I remember that one day one of my classmates, a girl, hit a boy’s penis with her leg, and the boy cried because of the pain.” This confusion between the penis and testicles was also detected in some of the other answers from the survey. An exemplary case was the following answer to the question “How or where have you learned about the groin being a man’s weakness?”: “It is the nearest area to the dick, the weakest spot of the male. If you hit the groin, you will hopefully hit his dick (which will cause him a lot of pain).”

What we can learn from this is that, not only do some female self-defense classes do little to demystify the male body as invulnerable, with some even reinforcing this myth, but the lack of proper sexual education further mystifies the male body, providing fertile ground for the perpetuation of the idea that the male body is inherently strong and cannot be defeated.

All the informants who had learned this information in school reported feeling empowered, comfortable, and safe, as well as the absence of a feeling of inferiority in relation to their male counterparts, including in the area of physical strength.3 Perhaps the best and most detailed example of this feeling came from informant #13: “In my biology class in high school, we learned about the human body, and the teacher taught us about a boy’s testicles and that they were the weakest part of his body; the teacher told us (female students) to attack that spot in case of an attack. She told us that ‘It’s a fragile part. It’s also the only organ that is vulnerable but lies outside the body. Hitting that spot will cause the attacker a lot of pain, and he won’t have enough strength to continue attacking you.’ It did make me feel very comfortable. We learned it in a class that included boys, and we no longer felt weak, especially when my teacher said to the boys, ‘Are you listening, my boys? You had better behave yourselves.’”

While self-defense classes tend to point out many vulnerable areas on a male body, it is important to note that, when talking about the knowledge that enabled them to feel empowered, more comfortable, safe, and without a feeling of inferiority towards men, the testicles appeared especially important to women. This is related to the fact that, while the eyes, nose, and so on are vulnerabilities shared by both the female and the male body, the testicles generate an image of a vulnerability attached specifically to males. In addition, many informants shared how they noticed boys and men being extra careful and protective of their groin area in a variety of situations, something that was not observed about other sources of vulnerability.

In another important text, author and self-defense instructor Susan Schorn (2014) takes time to address some of the myths that are told to women to hide, or prevent them from acquiring accurate knowledge about, male vulnerability, which could be shared. The first and second myths she addresses are some of the same ones shared by many of our informants, namely, the assumption that, if you kick the testicles of a male attacker, it will only make him angry and cause him to want to hurt you more. Schorn points to statistical evidence (Tark and Kleck 2014) that shows that the opposite is true and that doing so significantly reduces a woman’s chances of being hurt. The third myth she addresses, namely, “Groin kicks aren’t really that devastating; I’ve seen lots of guys get hit in the balls and it hardly fazed them,” has also affected many of our informants, who thought their strength might not be adequate to injure a man. However, as Schorn points out, this response is disseminated almost universally by men, who, she mockingly notes, “rarely volunteer to demonstrate their own iron balls in a real kicking situation, but confidently assert that men in general can shrug off all kinds of damage to the groin,” to which she adds, “I’ve seen two-year-olds take down grown men via the groin, and toddlers don’t even have any training. I do. I like my odds.”

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