No. Empowerment Self-Defense (ESD) is definitely for women, but it’s also for LGBTQ and gender non-conforming people. Sometimes it’s even for straight men. Here’s why:
ESD is about ending gender-based violence.
Violence based on gender is an expression of – and reinforcement of -- men’s unequal power over women in society in general. LGBTQ people and gender-nonconforming people are also targeted because we break society’s rules about gender.
Gender-based violence usually shows up in one of these ways:
· harassment (on the street, at work, at school, etc.)
· partner abuse
· sexual assault
· sex trafficking.
No matter if the target is female-identified, male-identified, or another gender, the person committing the violence is usually a man (see page 24). That’s because gender-based violence of any degree is part of a system of oppression – call it sexism, patriarchy, or male supremacy – that keeps women in a less powerful position than men.
Who can take ESD?
The decisions about who is included in ESD programs are based on the above facts, and those of us who teach ESD in the United States and around the world have different guidelines about who participates in our trainings. At DefendYourself in Washington, DC, all our public classes are open to all women, trans people, and gender nonconforming people. We also have some classes open to all LGBTQ and gender-nonconforming people. The only group we rarely offer public programs for is cisgender straight men (that is, men who were called male at birth and still identify that way, and who are straight). We do teach people of all genders when they take a program we’re offering to their group, for example, their workplace or faith group, or when they have another identity (for example as a person with a disability, or an immigrant) that makes them more likely to be targeted. We’ve made that choice because we want to focus on those who are targeted for gender-based violence.
We’re Changing Culture and Systems
We’re not looking at violence as individual acts; we’re changing culture and systems and structures that use violence to keep groups of people down.
Also, folks targeted for gender-based violence are targeted in different ways and with different kinds of violence than the ways, for example, that straight men are targeted.
Our culture and the way we’re raised also affects what strengths we have in standing up for, and protecting, ourselves. The reality of the kinds of violence Defend Yourself addresses in the classroom and the strategies we teach have to do with the skills and strengths of those who face gender-based violence. There are lots of programs that address what cisgender, straight men need. We’re trying to reach the people who need ESD skills: women, LGBTQ, and gender non-conforming people.
Note: There are ESD programs that teach these skills to men no matter their sexual orientation. That’s a reasonable decision to make as well.