The Young Women's Self-Defense Initiative

  • by: Kendall Pearson Sallay
  • recipient: The California Superintendent of Public Instruction and High School Administrators

To California residents (and people out of state with ties to California),

It is often stated by public educators that high school is preparation for college. According to (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), women on college campuses are four times more likely to be raped than girls and women in different stages of life. In order to better prepare young women for these unjust, gender-based dangers, we propose offering regular female-oriented self-defense courses on high school campuses that would fulfill other mandatory physical education requirements. Such classes could equip young women with the knowledge and skills to physically fight back against a male-initiated physical or sexual attack. Too many young women fall victim to the violence of boys and men. It is time we expound upon the usual advice we give our girls of "don't go out alone." It is time we tell them how to take action and agency over their own bodies. Their lives may one day depend on it.

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Year after year, young women and girls fall victim to the violence of boys and men. Recent cases include the gang rape of a 15-year-old female student from Richmond High School, the suspected gang rape of a 17-year- old high school female who attended a party with De Anza College athletes, the murder of Amber Dubois, a 14-year-old high school female from Escondido who was kidnapped on her way to school, and most recently the rape and murder of Chelsea King, a 17-year-old Poway High School senior. Yet, we continually fail to provide our female students with the information, skills and tools necessary to potentially stop physical and sexual attacks. Simply telling young women "not to go out alone" isn't enough, and for many, it isn't a realistic request.

Despite the social and political advancements of females in the past half-century, American culture (namely film, TV, music, the media and even parents and educators) remains quite explicit in its polarized expectations for young women and men; in many ways, our culture paints a picture of a sweet, tame, and ever-attractive femininity and another picture of a masculinity that is out of control, aggressive, assertive, and largely centered around violence, sports, and the objectification of women. It is no wonder then that when certain men lash out, their anger and violence are often directed at women -- the perceived weaker party and the perpetually easy target. On paper, the problem is simple: we raise our boys to fight and we raise our girls to be docile.

Obviously, not all young men are violent, aggressive human beings, and not all young women are passive and complacent. But the fact remains that the widespread established dynamic between men and women is one of power. And overwhelmingly, it is the male that wields the physical power, partially because we have taught him how.

As a female college student, I am painfully aware of the statistic provided by (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) that one in six American women will be raped in her lifetime, and that college females are four times more likely to be raped. If high school is preparation for college, shouldn't we be offering our young women the opportunity to prepare themselves for the unjust, gender-based dangers that lie ahead of them not only in college, but throughout the rest of their lives?

My proposal, backed by the undersigned California residents and students, both male and female, is this: to create optional female-oriented self-defense courses that take the place of other mandatory physical education classes on high school campuses. Offer them every semester of every year, and use the classes to teach students fighting/defense techniques that would specifically help them if faced with a male attacker.

If we, as a culture, insist on raising our boys to fight through our movies, TV, music and media, it is high time that we raise our girls to physically fight back in defense. This effort, combined with other equally crucial efforts to educate male students on the importance of taking full responsibility for their interactions with women, can help bring an end to the cycle of violence that occurs between the genders during childhood, high school, college, and beyond.

With your mothers, grandmothers, wives, girlfriends, daughters, sisters, nieces, aunts, and female friends in mind and heart, please join us in taking the first step toward enacting The Young Women's Self-Defense Initiative on your high school campus. Consider this initiative and the associated monetary costs an investment in the safer futures of California's young women. Their lives may one day depend on it.

With deepest gratitude, we thank you for your consideration.
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