Her Own Hero: The Origins of the Women’s Self-Defense Movement
The surprising roots of the self-defense movement and the history of women’s empowerment.
At the turn of the twentieth century, women famously organized to demand greater social and political freedoms like gaining the right to vote. However, few realize that the Progressive Era also witnessed the birth of the women’s self-defense movement.
Some women were inspired to take up boxing and jiu-jitsu for very personal reasons that ranged from protecting themselves from attacks by strangers on the street to rejecting gendered notions about feminine weakness and empowering themselves as their own protectors.
Through self-defense training, women debunked patriarchal myths about inherent feminine weakness, creating a new image of women as powerful and self-reliant. Although their individual motivations may have varied, their collective action echoed through the twentieth century, demanding emancipation from the constrictions that prevented women from exercising their full rights as citizens and human beings.
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