Sam Lehman-Wilzig
Sam Lehman-Wilzig
Prof. Sam: Academic Pundit

An effective solution to violence against women: emPOWERment

Israel is in the throes of a wave of (mostly) domestic violence against women. Great Britain is in shock over a brutal murder – with massive female demonstrations this past week all over the country. Even Australia has joined the protest wave – against sexual violence. What to do? Over the years, several solutions have been offered but most are akin to using band-aids to stem hemorrhaging from an amputated limb. However, there is one long-term solution that offers significant (albeit not total) succor: female emPOWERment in the physical sense of the word.

To begin with, let’s look at some policy proposals that tend to get bandied about, each with good intentions and some with a small measure of efficacy. First, the police: beefed-up patrols, especially at night, in areas that women tend to frequent. Second, increased budgets for social workers and other professionals who deal with domestic violence. Third, stricter judicial enforcement of violence against women, with increased jail time for perpetrators. Fourth, more shelters for female victims of domestic attacks. Fifth and finally, male sensitivity education in the schools (and other institutions such as jails) — what it means “to be a real man”.

Notwithstanding all these, at the real “venue” of such anti-woman violence, and at the exact moment of attack – whether sexual or some other power-play induced rage — women are mostly by themselves in that instant (or longer). The real solution lies right there, and it involves a buzzword that gets bandied about too much and too often without any real substance: “empowerment”.

That usually tends to have an economic and professional connotation: breaking the glass ceiling, inexpensive child-care to free women to have real, satisfying jobs, and the like. All well and good — indeed, very important. But for sexual and other violence against women, we need to return to the original meaning of “empowerment” with the accent on power.

What I am about to suggest is not a complete panacea, but it offers multiple vectors in significantly reducing such violence. It might seem simplistic but bear with me.

In short: legislation mandating the teaching of self-defense to all girls from the first grade onwards. Israel invented “krav-magah” — the all-purpose self-defense tactic to deal with different violent scenarios. Indeed, it is taught to female combat soldiers in the IDF, but one doesn’t have to be a soldier-fighter to learn it. Using the “phys-ed” period that already exists in most schools, or simply making it a required once-a-week class for girls would be a real game-changer down the line.

Why? First and obviously foremost, women with such a skill would be able to physically ward off almost all male attackers. It is quite rare for women to be attacked by an entire gang. Moreover, there are few guns in the hands of Israelis (except, unfortunately, for the Arab sector), so that violence against women is almost entirely a matter of fists, knives and other “handy” objects. Indeed, one-on-one victimization is always the “standard” operating procedure if at home, and also the vast majority of the time in public spaces.

Second, and probably no less important — especially beyond the problem of outright violence — is that teaching self-defense also boosts self-esteem. This is critical in the home with abusive husbands, whose wives tend to be put down incessantly, thus opening themselves up for “easy bullying”, gaslighting, and far worse. But it is also important in two other areas of life: school and the “office”.

In the classroom (beyond elementary school), girls tend to let “the guys” hold forth in class, not to mention self-channeling themselves into less rewarding disciplines – the ongoing “why aren’t more girls in STEM fields?” conundrum. Greater self-confidence regarding self-defense transfers quite readily into more self-confidence in other spheres where girls have to “compete” with boys.

Later in life, most women enter the workforce. Social psychology studies show almost universally that women generally tend to have less confidence than their professional male counterparts; certainly, their “talking style” (e.g., more apologetic speech) reinforces the appearance of low self-esteem. It’s not that a professional woman with a self-defense skill will “attack” men; rather, their inner confidence then gets projected outwards as self-confidence and strength.

Third, Israeli sports have always been a predominantly male matter. Whether for Judaic cultural reasons (“Jewish girls don’t do such things”) or simple Israeli macho considerations, girls have far fewer athletic and physical fitness outlets. Learning krav-magah from a very early age would be a boon for girls’ physical health, and probably set many of them to branch out to other areas of sports — here too a boost to self-confidence and the joy of living (the endorphin rush).

The bottom line (figuratively and literally: minimal cost) — and the central goal of such a policy — is to equalize the physical power relationship between the sexes. All other solutions are to be welcomed, but a truly realistic view of social reality leads us ineluctably to the conclusion that they will not really solve the problem in any comprehensive fashion. Providing young girls with the lifesaving (and lifetime) skill of being able to defend themselves against physical violence is the only effective answer to what is, and always has been, a deep-rooted social scourge.

About the Author
Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig (PhD in Government, 1976; Harvard U) taught at Bar-Ilan University (1977-2017), serving as: Head of the Journalism Division (1991-1996); Political Studies Department Chairman (2004-2007); and School of Communication Chairman (2014-2016). He was also Chair of the Israel Political Science Association (1997-1999). He has published three books and 60 scholarly articles on Israeli Politics; New Media & Journalism; Political Communication; the Jewish Political Tradition; the Information Society. For more information and other publications (academic and popular), see:
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