Myths & Lies: How the Women’s Self Defense Industry Exploits Women

Kelly Herron’s life changed forever in 2017. While stopped at a public restroom during her run, a man hiding in a bathroom stall attacked and tried to rape her. Kelly fought back.

And she won.

Just weeks before, Kelly took a self defense class through her job. But her success fending off the attacker wasn’t due to a women’s self defense class, because women’s self defense doesn’t exist.

Where did the women’s self defense business come from?

Take a browse through social media and it’s obvious women’s self defense is big business. From pepper spray to self defense classes, tasers to spikes you lace in your shoe strings, the ads are incessant.

Women’s self defense was initially a way for martial arts schools to get women involved in training. Martial arts in general are traditionally male-dominated. Now, there are lots of reasons, and many up for debate. But debate what you will, most schools are primarily male.

What spawned the thought of getting women involved? I suppose we can debate that too. But my guess is it wasn’t gender equality.

Do you know what the biggest business is for most martial arts schools? Kids. 

And who do you think makes up the largest percentage of parents taking their kids to class? Moms, or dads?

So there, sitting in a chair twice per week waiting on little Johnny, was an untapped market.

Now, what about pepper spray, tasers, and all those gimmicky self defense tools (like the lace-in spikes)? Well, that’s pure American entrepreneurship…

Combined with a bit of sexism.

Women apparently can’t take care of themselves without pink pepper spray, stun guns, and other items. Based on advertising, women are too weak to use real self defense skills, and pink is actually some kind of super-power-charger.

We can list pages of reasons women’s self defense exploded. But they all come down to one thing- women are a big business market. 

The problem is, many- if not most- women’s self defense businesses are misleading at best, and a complete farce at worst.

When it comes to women protecting themselves, the self defense industry spews three big lies.

1. Women need a different kind of self defense– different techniques– than men. 

That kind of thinking comes easy because when we think about self defense, we think about a fist fight. While that’s partially true since self defense often involves fighting, a bar fight is not the same as a fight for your life. 

True self defense is you versus someone with an advantage over you. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or woman. Criminals use every means available to gain an edge  for themselves. That means targeting someone smaller, weaker, unaware, older, younger… whatever gives them the best chance of getting away with it. 

2. Women need feel-good techniques to build their confidence. 

These are techniques that look nice, are easy to learn, and work fantastic in a controlled class. But as soon as you try them under stress, you find out they’re useless. 

They look something like this.

They have one purpose, and it’s not helping women protect themselves. They’re meant to make women feel they got their money’s worth. But they’re not effective in real life. In fact, learning individual techniques takes hundreds of reps. There are better ways to teach self defense in a short time frame.

Women are much better served– and gain more real confidence– by learning effective strategies for self defense rather than diluted techniques that instill a false sense of confidence. 

3. Women can’t protect themselves without gadgets and gimmicks. 

True, weapons give you an advantage in a fight. But you don’t need special high dollar gimmicks. A rock, stick, soup can, or even your cell phone will do just fine.

Pushing gadgets instills the idea women must put faith in things rather than their own abilities. 

Would you rather stake your life on a gadget you may or may not have when you need it (or that may or may not work)? Or know you could pick up any item in the moment and turn it into a viable improvised weapon?

Women’s self defense myths sell better than the secrets they won’t tell you.

No, not secret techniques or methods that put a bigger man on his knees in mere seconds. These secrets are the kind most businesses won’t even mention (I guess they’re THAT secret).

So what are they?

• Fighting a bigger guy is hard, no matter how skilled you are.

• A hardened criminal doesn’t care if you say “no.”

• Flashing pepper spray or yelling “I have pepper spray” is not a deterrent. 

• If you’re attacked, you will get hurt in the process. Maybe even hit, stabbed, or shot.

• Hitting a couple of times and running is NOT the best option for survival.

• Techniques almost never work in real life like you practice in class.

• You must consider what you’d do if your attacker is someone you know, not just a stranger.

• The most successful self defense isn’t fighting, but something called “soft skills.”

So you want to take a self defense class? What should you look for? 

If women are learning life-saving skills, does it really matter why women’s self defense exists?

Yes, and no.


A woman attends a class or buys a product that offers a legitimate chance of surviving violence, and

She’s given the information to make a sound purchasing decision,

Then absolutely, there’s value in the product or class she invests in.

But don’t limit your search to “women’s self defense.” The only thing that really turns self defense into women’s self defense is that women are more likely to be preyed upon in certain ways. 

Once the attack begins, good self defense is good self defense whether you’re a man or woman.

And while physical fighting skills are needed, a proper self defense class teaches more than fighting, like…

• Basic awareness training, understanding body language, and knowledge of attacker’s traps.

• Avoidance skills like de-escalation techniques, and knowledge of when de-escalation wont’ work. Also, how NOT to escalate a situation. 

• The two general categories of attacks, and how each apply to and affect women.

• Boundary setting, the different types of boundaries, why boundaries are important for self defense.

• Psychological skills and drills to help prevent freezing under stress.

• Discussions on the legal issues of self defense, the different types of force, and clarity on when you can or can’t use higher levels of force.

• How attacks and violence really happens. It’s not from a static, standing-face-to-face neutral position. But most classes teach techniques based on just that scenario.

• And last, physical fighting skills that are not “adapted for women.” The literal translation for that phrase is, “watered down so you feel good about yourself.” That’s not empowerment, it’s misleading. 

Fighting skills should be based on principles allowing a minimal sets skills to be used in maximum scenarios. In other words, skills that work in a wide variety of attacks with little need for extended practice. 

A final word about self defense for women.

While everyone benefits from self defense, women don’t need women’s self defense. At least not in its current state.

The marketing madness pervading the industry today is not about empowering women. It’s about making money. In fact, I’d say that pushing the idea women need gimmicks to survive an attack belittles womens’ true abilities, flying in the face of the empowerment companies claim to support.

So next time you see an ad for a women self defense service, take a closer look at what agenda they’re actually pushing.

Are you looking for a women’s self defense class? One where you get all the info we just mentioned? Over 3000 women have graduated our Common Sense Defense since 2007. Is it right for you? Click here to find out.

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