Guest Post

The therapeutic value of feminist self-defense, part 2 (Guest post)

For Part 1, see here.

by Grayson Hunt

Philosopher Susan Brison’s story of resistance and recovery after a violent sexual assault reveals the therapeutic significance of anger learned through self-defense training. Ten years after her attack, Brison wrote _Aftermath: Violence and the Remaking of a Self_, describing the effect sexual violence had on her capacity to think and feel at home in the world. Brison spoke of the incredible difficulty she had in learning how to be angry at the man who sexually assaulted her and attempted to kill her (an attack she calls her “attempted sexual murder”). Rediscovering that anger became a matter of re-learning how to defend her body. Physical self-defense courses taught Brison how to resent what had happened to her. Here is a quote:

“One might think it would be easier, and it certainly would be more appropriate, for victims of violence to blame their assailants…. I was stunned to discover that the other women in my rape survivor’s support group were, like me, unable to feel anger toward their assailants, and I was surprised to learn later that this was not unusual. It was not until after I had taken a self-defense course that I was able to get angry with the man who had almost killed me.”

Ultimately, Brison recounts that she was able to break the double bind of self-blame and powerlessness by performing a kind of self-empowered bodily existence. “We had to learn to feel entitled to occupy space, to defend ourselves,” Brison recounts in reference to her self-defense training, adding that, “the hardest thing for most of the women in my class to do was simply to yell ‘No!’.” The ability to refuse another person’s claim upon one’s body by yelling “No” was re-learned through talk therapy and self-defense training, taught alongside kicks and punches.

Brison’s account demonstrates the therapeutic value of feminist self-defense training. It (re)instills in survivors a sense of entitlement to occupy space in the world. Linking self-defense training to recovery and therapy also creates a positive feedback loop. Having more empowered female and feminine bodies in the world communicates the value of women’s lives and livelihood. When we measure the value of self-defense training merely by its ability to prevent an attack, we lose sight of the therapeutic and political value feminist self-defense training can have.

Resting bike face
Resting bike face


Grayson Hunt is a professor of philosophy at Western Kentucky University and an avid cyclist.


4 thoughts on “The therapeutic value of feminist self-defense, part 2 (Guest post)

  1. I love this. I had never thought of self-defense classes as a sort of reclaiming of power. I’ve avoided self-defense classes specifically because I don’t want to buy into the whole idea that it is my job to protect myself from rape – but I might reconsider after reading this.

    I also love the “resting bike face” pic! LOL!

  2. Love this too. Thanks for sharing your experiences and thoughts with the blog and our community of readers. I’ve struggled to explain some of the changes I’ve noticed in myself since training in martial arts. This helps. And I also love resting bike face!

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