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Using High Heels for Self-Defense? Sounds Great … In Theory

In 2013, Avital Zeisler created and began to teach a self-defense style called the Soteria Method; named after the Greek goddess of safety, Zeisler’s fighting style encourages participants to learn how to run in a pair of high heels, practice basic evasive maneuvers and grapples, as well as offensive tactics including the use of a high heel as a weapon. This short video from Insider shows what the Soteria Method looks like in action.

Pretty cool, right? I think so, too — and I have a black belt in Uechi Ryu karate, which uses different sorts of techniques, but I can still recognize the practical applications of these ones. A lot of the methods in the video look like they’d be helpful to anyone dealing with a mugging. In fact, that’s the main type of crime against which I think these methods would work — a mugging by a stranger.

Zeisler spoke to the New York Times a few months back about her self-defense course, as did a few of her competitors — sounds like high-heel self-defense classes have become a bit of a trend. The part of the story that gave me pause, however, is that almost all of the Times quotes focus on how the women taking these classes want to defend themselves from rape.

The Times story mentions that Zeisler is a survivor of rape– at age 19, by her boyfriend. However, most of the story focuses on descriptions of defense against stranger rape rather than by a partner. Here’s one such quote from Lori Hartman Gervasi, author of Fight Like A Girl… And Win:

… they’re not standing there thinking ‘Oh no, I’m being grabbed by some jerk and dragged by my hair to his car and I’m in heels of all things!’ Instead, this woman should know many options for getting out of this ordeal. Like stuffing her thumb in his eye and using those high heels to rake down his shin, then kick him in the groin.

As a very young kid, I internalized that stranger rape — much like what Gervasi describes in her vivid scenario above — would be something I’d need to seriously worry about as an adult woman. Even in elementary school, I begged my parents to let me take karate until they finally relented. Eventually, I earned my black belt in my late teens. I didn’t tell anyone precisely why I was so determined to study karate, but the reason I wanted to take those classes was because I was scared about my small stature and thought that it would make me a target for, well, all those rapists supposedly lurking in dark alleyways.

What I didn’t know back then is that it’s statistically more common for a rapist to be someone you already know — and that all of my self-defense training would not be particularly useful when it came to recognizing gas-lighting, emotional manipulation, and unexpected sexual assault by trusted peers.

Still, I can’t speak highly enough of my own experiences learning self-defense. Even though I learned for the “wrong” reasons, I’m still glad I learned — and it sounds like Zeisler’s class would be a valuable tool, especially for anyone who’s worried about muggings (although while we’re talking about statistics, you’re far more likely to be mugged if you’re elderly or if you look shy). I just don’t feel great about people advocating that anyone take self-defense in order to prevent rape, because it perpetuates a lot of unfortunate misinformation … and yet it’s a myth that I seem to see perpetuated everywhere. Let’s not do that again here, shall we?

(via Insider)

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Maddy Myers, journalist and arts critic, has written for the Boston Phoenix, Paste Magazine, MIT Technology Review, and tons more. She is a host on a videogame podcast called Isometric (relay.fm/isometric), and she plays the keytar in a band called the Robot Knights (robotknights.com).