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What’s So Offensive About Self-Defense? An analysis of gender, embodiment and privilege

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Abstract:

Women’s self-defense classes are often touted as the ultimate form of empowerment for women. Beyond effective and practical physical maneuvers to defend oneself, such classes often lay claim to empowering women in other ways. Learning to take up space, practicing a commanding voice, and sustaining eye contact are additional ways women can learn to undo the inhibitions of gender. Using a participant-observation method, I analyze three separate self-defense courses, where I find that such empowerment rests primarily on class (but also race and sexuality) privilege and entitlements. One course was geared toward male students, one toward female students and a third was female-only fitness and self-defense combination. Women who come to “reclaim their power” in self-defense classes tend to do so from a firm position of class privilege such that their embodied capital legitimates the learning of new forms of power. Following Bourdieu, I note how the removal of the need for physicality from their habitus is what marks them as class privileged to begin with. Rather than a “physical feminism”, as existing literature claims for such classes, the explicit goal of these classes is to develop an automatic physical response to a myriad of different threats. It is the direct opposite of what some feminists might call “consciousness raising”, in that it seeks to transform the body into an unthinking machine, capable of split-second reactions. The effect is that the social order is more stabilized than it is unhinged.
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Association:
Name: Pacific Sociological Association Annual Meeting
URL:
http://www.pacificsoc.org


Citation:
URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p707958_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Cupo, Dimitra. "What’s So Offensive About Self-Defense? An analysis of gender, embodiment and privilege" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Pacific Sociological Association Annual Meeting, Marriott Downtown Waterfront, Portland, Oregon, Mar 27, 2014 <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p707958_index.html>

APA Citation:

Cupo, D. , 2014-03-27 "What’s So Offensive About Self-Defense? An analysis of gender, embodiment and privilege" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Pacific Sociological Association Annual Meeting, Marriott Downtown Waterfront, Portland, Oregon <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p707958_index.html

Publication Type: Research-in-progress presentation
Review Method: Peer Reviewed
Abstract: Women’s self-defense classes are often touted as the ultimate form of empowerment for women. Beyond effective and practical physical maneuvers to defend oneself, such classes often lay claim to empowering women in other ways. Learning to take up space, practicing a commanding voice, and sustaining eye contact are additional ways women can learn to undo the inhibitions of gender. Using a participant-observation method, I analyze three separate self-defense courses, where I find that such empowerment rests primarily on class (but also race and sexuality) privilege and entitlements. One course was geared toward male students, one toward female students and a third was female-only fitness and self-defense combination. Women who come to “reclaim their power” in self-defense classes tend to do so from a firm position of class privilege such that their embodied capital legitimates the learning of new forms of power. Following Bourdieu, I note how the removal of the need for physicality from their habitus is what marks them as class privileged to begin with. Rather than a “physical feminism”, as existing literature claims for such classes, the explicit goal of these classes is to develop an automatic physical response to a myriad of different threats. It is the direct opposite of what some feminists might call “consciousness raising”, in that it seeks to transform the body into an unthinking machine, capable of split-second reactions. The effect is that the social order is more stabilized than it is unhinged.


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