Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Empowering Women: Practicing Self-Defense, Learning Deterrence

Parents, don't trust the world to guard your daughters.

My heroes are Pippi Longstocking, her current Avatar, Lisbeth Salander (of The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo), and Beatrix Kiddo (from the Kill Bill movies). I want to grow old like an aging Pippi, wearing outrageous clothes, doing whatever I want, and nobody is ever going to push me around again. Its been 26 years since I was last physically assaulted, by an elderly innkeeper at the Gletschergarten Hotel, in Saas-Fe, Switzerland, and I'm damned if I'm ever going to feel that scared, small, and mad mad mad again.

So, now, I'm at boot camp in the jungle of Costa Rica, with my 140-pound Anatolian Shepherd, Kandor, along with about 10 other people, mostly women. We are going to learn to "deploy" our guard dogs when bad guys attack us. Our trainers are from the Canadian Special Forces, and they are dressed in camouflage, carrying large guns with live ammo, and hunting knives. For two days, we practice being mugged by one or two or three mock bad guys at a time, in the woods or in an abandoned hotel, on the beach, or in the dark. The agitators attack us, and we release our killing machines, our dogs. These dogs are similar to the one that helped to find Bin Laden, the war dogs featured in the Foreign Policy Magazine Article, War Dog .

How do women train themselves not to be victims? How can we be gentle and strong at the same time? In 1998, my daughters and I took a month long "model mugging" course, where we learned to fight big men dressed up in Michelin rubber suits. We learned to fight with our whole bodies and spirits. In 1991, some friends took my daughters and me up to an abandoned tree farm with a truck full of pumpkins and guns, ranging from Glocks to AK-47s. I learned to blow up pumpkins, and it felt wonderful!

Neither of my daughters has been assaulted. Is this the result of training, good luck, or is it just a matter of time? Most women will be assaulted, sexually, physically, or verbally, in their lifetimes. How do we create strong women who resist attack, without scaring the hell out of them or making them violent?

Stieg Larsson's trilogy was originally called Men Who Hate Women, and he is correct, there are lots of them out there. While I deplore violence, and have written about the absurdity of nuclear deterrence, I am still captive to the paradox, that to be happy I must feel secure, and as a tiny and aging woman, I just don't. So I protect myself, with dogs, pepper spray, electronics, and all sorts of things; I sleep better at night knowing I am not an easy target. Like Pippi, I will never seek out a confrontation, and my pleasures are peaceful and friendly. I practice deterrence, by walking around with a very big dog wearing a heavy metal collar. But don't mess with me!

I think that all women need training in self-protection, be it model mugging, martial arts, shooting or guard dogs, because violence against women is a real and present danger, and it will never go away. Working with a horse can even train women to be powerful. If you can control and subdue a frightened or angry 1200 pound horse, using a stud chain, whip, or whatever it takes, you learn your power. Riding lessons can be rape prevention lessons as well. Parents: Don't trust the world to guard your daughters. Teach them to think defensively, and be prepared to fight for themselves. In my little village in Costa Rica, I am known as The Lady with the Dog, and that is just fine with me. Make my day!