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Beyond "No Means No"

A few years ago El Halev, commissioned a study on the efficacy of our adrenaline-based program, IMPACT. One battery of assessment questions asked women to assess how often they find themselves silencing themselves on a day-to-day basis.

Wait. What does that have to do with El HaLev? With self-defense? What does that have to do with the women’s movement?

Well, actually, it has a lot to do with both self-defense and how women see themselves in society. There are numerous reasons why women choose not to speak up when they have an opinion. Sometimes, it is embarrassment. Other times, it's fear.

Unfortunately, sometimes women are not given the opportunity to speak, or are dismissed. The list doesn't end here. To give you a small taste of what I mean, a google search of “interrupting women in business” turned up almost 48 million hits.

Clearly, the women's movement understands the power of "giving voice." We have been doing that in one way or another for at least the past 100 years. Yet, we have still not rid ourselves of the stigma of the loud, obnoxious, hysterical, vocal, "bitchy" angry "feminist."

Are those the only options? Either silence yourself and quietly find your path to wherever you hope to get, or be forever branded as "one of those?"

How do we educate our girls, as well as our boys, that our voices, our opinions, are our most precious of gifts?

This is so much more than teaching "no means no."

It is time to help society understand that the only one who benefits from keeping others silent are the oppressors, the abusers, the perpetrators. Not the student who is afraid to speak out about a professor’s inappropriate behavior. Not the employee afraid to stand up to an abusive boss. Not the child who has been silenced into believing that no one will believe them if they talk about what is happening to them. Not the friend who can’t share what is happening in their life because they are worried about being judged. Not the engineer who is interrupted into silence at a work meeting who sees that this is going to be a problem but no one is going to listen because she is not "one of the guys” and by speaking louder she will be branded.

A woman with a voice is by definition a strong woman."
~ Melinda Gates

For the past 13 years, El HaLev has been teaching women and children to connect to their voices. To stand up and be willing to say, "no, I am not ok with this" or "yes, this is what I want." We believe that this is an integral part of self-defense. Defending yourself!

Every summer, we run camps and we see the same thing over and over. There are the kids who are ok with stating what they want, like, or are willing to do. And many times, we hear them dismissed by the adults around them.

And there are those who have already at 7 or 9 years of age, learned that there is no point in speaking up. El Halev programs marry the idea of your right to live a safe life with the tools needed to negotiate that life. Most of the time, this means using a verbal tool. Stating clearly what you are or are not willing to do. Some of the times, it means using a physical tool, like running or fighting back.

What we do know is that women who know they have the tools to fight back, if necessary, silence themselves less. There is a connection between learning the tools of self-defense and our ability to speak up for ourselves. What is more exciting for us is that now we have the research to back that statement. If you think about it, human females are the only mammals who are not educated to defend themselves. For some reason, we have been convinced that this is for our benefit. I strongly challenge that belief. It is to no one’s benefit that women and children are not taught to defend themselves.

Actually, let me revise that. The only people who benefit from not teaching women and children to defend themselves are the abusers. The only people who benefit from our silence are the abusers. It is time to change this. Every woman, every girl, every person deserves this feeling of advocacy. This connection to voice. Maybe it is time for us to step out of the box a bit and look at the very essentials of what it means to be an empowered person.

Yes, education, vocational and technological training are important. How much more effective would we be if we also invested in giving our kids the tools they need to stand up for themselves, in all situations. Verbal tools for the day-to-day and physical tools for when we need to physically protect ourselves from those who have chosen to deny our rights to a safe and violence-free existence. Clearly, multiple micro-aggressions can be just as damaging as a slap.

And no one would argue that sexual assault is nothing less than a full-blown epidemic, affecting both our girls and our boys, that is destroying millions of lives worldwide every year. All you need to do is look at the most recent research to know this.

Embracing self-defense education as a right is outside-the-box. Somehow it grates uncomfortably with my desire to live in a violence-free world because it means learning how to fight.

But I know that I do not have control over those who wish to deny my right to equality, to having a voice, and to being safe.

I believe that self-defense training, especially Empowerment Self Defense is the key to less violence, and to more equality and more voice.

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