I’m sure you’ve heard it: Squeeze your car keys between your fingers when you’re walking around alone at night or through a dark parking garage. That way, presto! Should someone attack you, you have an effective weapon at the ready.
But do you really?
Almost certainly not, according to Ellen Snortland and her colleagues at IMPACT Personal Safety, all of whom are leading experts in self-defense. I consider taking IMPACT classes one of the most valuable gifts I’ve given myself. Another gift? Sitting down with Ellen in the studio recently for a Girl Boner Radio chat.
Ellen is a lawyer, author, filmmaker, and writing teacher. As a public intellectual regarding gender justice, she’s been a speaker, U.N. Press Corps-credentialed journalist and delegate for major United Nations World Conferences, including the Women’s conference in Beijing and Conference Against Racism in South Africa, and the Commission on the Status of Women in New York City. Ellen’s breakout book is Beauty Bites Beast, and her award-winning documentary of the same name has screened around the world.
Together we explored the life-changing event that spurred her activism, common myths about female strength and self-defense, ways self-defense training can bolster your sex life and relationships and more! Dr. Megan Fleming also chimed in, with important thoughts for a listener who fears his girlfriend’s sex-positive fervor has gone too far, leading to crossed boundaries.
Stream the full episode on Apple Podcasts, iHeartRadio, Spotify or below! Read on for a few highlights.
Highlights from Sexual Empowerment & Self-Defense: A Girl Boner Radio chat with Ellen Snortland
The terrifying event that led to Ellen’s advocacy
AUGUST: You had an experience that changed the course of your life as far as becoming such an advocate for self defense and for women really embracing their own strength. Could you take us to that experience?
ELLEN: Sure. I lived in a big, big craftsman house in a really sketchy neighborhood. My husband and I came home at midnight in two separate cars. He pulled in and then I pulled in behind him in this long driveway and all of a sudden he’s knocking on my window and he says, “Stay in the car. I think somebody’s broken into the house.” Now it’s midnight. And so I froze and he went into the house…. So then I shook myself up and I said, what kind of partner am I to let my sweet husband, who doesn’t have any skills whatsoever except maybe high school wrestling—what is he gonna do? Wrestle somebody?
So I followed him in and as I crossed the threshold, a man in a ski mask was coming up the basement stairs, met me at the door, held up a knife and was ready to plunge it into me. I froze and then a little voice said, “Do something. Do it now.” And I screamed so loudly, the man dropped his knife, grabbed his ears and ran like hell…so, the next day I was going to work—I was a segment producer at the time for a very large production company—and I went in and I was just stunned that I was able to scream and I went to every single person and I said, “Do you know how to defend yourself?”
We had about 40 people on staff and I kid you not, August. Every single man said, “Yeah, I think I could.” And some of them were clearly lying. And 100% of the women said, “Oh God, no. I can’t even believe you screamed. And I went, Wow, that’s weird. That is very weird. So being the voracious reader than I am, I started to try to figure out if there was a book written about why human females feel so defenseless and why we continue to raise girls to think somebody is going to rescue them. It’s like, “No, they’re not going to rescue you.” Or they might, but you can’t depend on that. That’s bullshit. And statistically, it’s completely bullshit. So why do we keep clinging to this romantic notion that somebody is going to rescue us? So I wrote Beauty Bites Beast.
Common myths about self-defense
AUGUST: What’s one of the biggest myths that you hear about women and self-defense?
AUGUST: That if you’re small, you can’t defend yourself? How do you reply?
ELLEN: Size. That if you’re small, you can’t defend yourself. And how do you reply? Well, I say, Okay. Let’s say you’re walking down the street and you encounter a growling snarling dog. First of all, what do you do? If you’ve been educated, you back away. You don’t look at it in the eye. You don’t run. You respect the boundary because that’s what the growling and snarling is. It’s setting a boundary: “Watch out. There’s going to be danger, possibly.” Right? So there’s integrity in that… What you don’t do is you don’t check to see if it’s male or female. It’s irrelevant, right? As is the size. Because if it’s a chihuahua, you’re still not going to pick up a growling snarling chihuahua because that chihuahua’s going to go for your face when you pick it up…
Size and gender are irrelevant…if you regard yourself as consequential, and we basically raise girls to consider themselves inconsequential. I was not taught how to deliver consequences. I was taught to be nice, no matter what: Be polite. Be nice. Well, that’s great. I’m really good at it and I’m really glad I am. I can be nice under the most excruciating circumstances. However, I need to work on some other things like boundaries and saying, “You know what, you’re too close back up,” which is very simple, yet it is a command.
AUGUST: I really feel that the confidence that we get from self-defense training makes us more capable of experiencing pleasure.
ELLEN: Absolutely. And that’s universal too, by the way. You know, people don’t like being subjugated or considered to be less. They really don’t. And it doesn’t matter what culture you come up in, it doesn’t work. It’s not sustainable. And by keeping women helpless, by keeping them dependent, we’re keeping an unsustainable, rigid set of fictional rules in place.
The importance of role-playing self-protection and consent
AUGUST: One of the most powerful things that I experienced in the IMPACT class, that I wasn’t really expecting to be so powerful, were the role play exercises. We practiced working our consent muscles…using that kind of self-advocacy. How important do you feel self defenses for consent and boundary setting?
ELLEN: Like within relationships, it’s integral. And what is really important to me is practicing when it’s not actually happening. We have fire drills when there’s no fire happening. We have drills for earthquakes when no earthquake is happening. Because when you’re under stress, when your adrenaline and cortisol are spiking and you’re in fight or flight or freeze mode, you’re not going to come up with good ideas because those chemicals are not about the intellect.
It’s about your body moving into action to see what’s going to have you survive. The brain science lately, and I can’t cite anybody in particular, says that rehearsals are just as important as the actual thing and they help you deal escalate and to manage your adrenaline when it’s actually happening. So that’s why those exercises are so important.
AUGUST: I remember talking in [an IMPACT] class about some of the techniques that we are taught will work, but don’t. One was to carry your keys between your hand or carry mace. As you said, that fight, flight, freeze, when you’re in that survival mode, your hands will be shaking… You might not be able to grab your keys much less, you know, stab someone in the eye with it. So I think it’s really important, those exercises… The brain can’t tell the difference between a real attack or fake, whether it’s verbal or physical.
ELLEN: Yeah. And Mother Nature wants us to survive. So imagine the kind of energy it’s taken for women to tamp down what Mother Nature wants her to do and to hand over the keys, basically, to her own car. It just breaks my heart, because we are fully capable, potentially dangerous mammals.
And that’s why I use animals [as examples] so much, because the lion doesn’t go, “Oh, you know what? Oh, let’s wait until Daddy Lion gets home…” It’s absurd… And yet we relate to human genders like they’re immutable, that they are rigid and they’re not… I grew up being called a tomboy, which I resented. I’m me. I’m not any Tom and I’m not a boy.
Women’s strength on the big screen
AUGUST: Ever since taking [IMPACT] classes, I see violent scene so differently. You act out what you would do and half the time I’m just like, “She would be able to do something!” Even if it’s a trained FBI agent [character], they will have her just like fall to the floor… And that’s why I think your film, one of the reasons, it’s so important… Would you tell us a little more about the film?
ELLEN: Basically I unravel [and] unpack a lot of myths about women and self-defense. I kind of lightly followed a few individuals, but really, in my mind as a filmmaker, I made the protagonist women’s self defense itself, because at first I was invited to a factory in Mexico to train women there because the man I knew from Landmark had read my book and he contacted me and he said, “I’m tall, I’m blonde, I’m privileged. I had never realized just how scary it must be to walk around in a woman’s body. And I read your book and I will never be able to unsee that again. And the women who worked for me in this factory, I can see that they’re afraid of me…I am just a big mush-bunny, and that’s not okay with me. Would you come down and teach them how to defend themselves?”
AUGUST: What a great ally.
ELLEN: That’s beautiful, isn’t that? And so I thought the movie was going to be about that. And I went, Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, wait a second. If I make a movie about these women in a Mexican factory, people will be able to go, “Oh, well that’s not me. I’m not in Mexico. Such a macho, violent culture.” There is not one culture that doesn’t have misogyny and violence against women. Even the really great countries, when you get alcohol and you get domestic stuff going, there’s violence… We have this epidemic of violence against women and children. And as far as we can tell, the only way to stop it is to have someone in the family stop and say, “No, that’s it. We don’t do that here. Stop the cycle cycle.”
Choosing an Empowering Self-Defense Class
AUGUST: How can somebody know that a self defense class is an ideal one? A really empowering impactful one?
ELLEN: Well, first of all, I would not do a self defense class if they didn’t have at least one female lead instructor because she knows thesocialization. I have such trouble saying that word socialization that we have to deal with. It’s not just a matter of learning how to hit. It’s undoing centuries, millennia, of conditioning that you don’t give men commands. You don’t say no. You’re nice no matter what. That’s some really embedded crap. It’s embedded and our survival has depended on it. So it’s not just some kind of dumb willy-nilly thing… A lot of women have watched what’s gone on and they’ve figured out that the best way to get by, and the best way to survive, is to comply—a serious coping mechanism that you just can’t undo immediately. So I would look for a female co-instructor at the very least, and ideally the woman is the lead instructor and the man is there to be her partner.
AUGUST: And still people apologize. I know I did.
ELLEN: Yeah. “Oh, I’m sorry! Wait a second. I just paid hundreds of dollars to have this training and I’m apologizing.” It’s like, whoa. Look how deep that is.
AUGUST: You learn so much about yourself and conditioning that you’ve experienced for sure.
ELLEN: And it’s not an individual’s fault. It’s culturally dictated. It’s not a personal flaw. It’s just what we’ve observed and taken in and continue to perpetuate until we break it.
AUGUST: Do you have any suggestions for someone who doesn’t have access to such a class? Maybe there isn’t one in their small town or they don’t have enough budget for it. Are there things that you can learn on your own?
ELLEN: Yeah. See, my movie that sounds like shameless self promotion, which by the way, is a taboo for women… It’s not a self-defense learning movie. However, you will see things that you don’t see in movies. And that’s how we learn to use fists… When I teach kids, they’re already using fists [in ways] that will break their little hands. So we have to have them unlearn fists and teach them eye strikes and heal palms instead, because though that won’t break anything.
My movie too will inspire people to go, “Okay, what am I going to do in my community to bring in self defense?” Because I did it as a tool to have people go, “Okay, I need this”. And then people are so creative and so entrepreneurial, they’ll figure it out.
Stream the full Girl Boner Radio episode up above or on your favorite podcast app.
Ellen Snortland says
I had such a GREAT time with August. And I am remiss in not plugging Empowerment Self-Defense Global which is something I am involved with, as is IMPACT Personal Safety. They can be reached at: http://www.esdglobalselfdefense.org. They will help guide people to empowerment self-defense providers.
August McLaughlin says
Thank you, Ellen! I so appreciate you.
Aurora Jean Alexander says
That was a fascinating episode, August. I know plenty of women who tell me they’re unable to defend themselves. But I know one of them fought for her little daughter. Even though she was completely untrained, she still ripped the guy to shreds. Women CAN fight from natural instinct to defend themselves or loved ones.
As for me… I’m the exception as you know. With decades of Martial Arts training I’m afraid, the guy attacking me will deserve what he gets…
Seriously… there are days I thank God I’m middle aged now, and not a major target to harassment anymore… which doesn’t mean I won’t help watching it…
Daryl Smith says
I’d like to ask any of the readers of this story if they’ve ever actually read Beauty Bites Beast, written by the interviewee in the post? I’ve read some of it, it’s about the most ridiculous, I think hate motivated book I’ve ever read. I stopped about 40% in. It was often about how evil men are, and how they are to blame for just about every evil in the world. Its also a ridiculous chest thump for the weaker sex. It’s a typical liberal bash of men, though if memory serves it’s more about all men rather than just white men. I suspect if read the whole book, I could glean as much truth if I read the satanic bible. So liberal feminists, you’d probably like it!
So a refute. Women, you can thank your lucky stars that you have men to protect you! Among the many things I noticed about the book was a complete lack of gratitude toward any men other than the few sad feminist men who support the feminist movement, especially the … I’ll refrain from expressing a more apt description of them, the men who allow themselves to be pummeled by women in various feminist self defense classes, giving women a false sense of security about themselves.
The American man has protected the American woman since before the founding of this country. We have fought its battles. We have been in the jungles and beaches, fighting hand to hand at times. Even prior to that, the knights and warriors of Christendom fought and protected the maidens fair. I served as a Wayne County Sheriffs deputy, part of the reserve unit, a volunteer force which I entered just after 9-11. My part in the war on terror. Among the many things we did was supported border security, working at the entry points from Canada, searching vehicles and entrants, even investigating suspicious persons who may have been surveilling the border looking for weaknesses. We worked many hours, many shifts. How many women served in this volunteer force? Two, out of about 100.
When the army falls, what happens the females of that society? Well, what happened to the Soviet women as the Germans marched through Russia in WWII? What happened to the German women when the Red-Army rolled through? What’s likely to happen to American women should the American army every be defeated, and our enemies roll through our territory. Should this ever occur, pray our conquers are honorable Christian men.
When a woman fights back against an attacker, and the attacker flees, is it really the woman he is fleeing from? Is it not more likely he is fleeing from discovery and incarceration from the male dominated, well- funded and organized authorities?
The best way for a woman to be safe? Being protected by a man. This is really the only way women are truly safe. Now a woman may not have a good man around in the short term, and this is where self-defense can fill the gap. Maybe a woman may never want or hardly ever have a good man around, but make no mistake, men protect you. In the greater scheme of things, this is why you are safe.
Men are, and a man is, nearly always more physically capable than a woman. Don’t believe me? Why do no women compete in professional athletics against men? Does one think the public would not pay big money to watch such a woman compete at the highest levels? It’s because they can’t! You don’t see women enter the ring in combat against men, for the obvious reason they would lose. You really think you wouldn’t see these spectacles happen if the women could win?
A pal of mine relayed a conversation with a female MMA fighter he was acquainted with, a woman certainly better trained a way more capable than any graduate of these padded attacker self-defense classes. In her words, she loved MMA because she “loved the feeling of another girls jaw breaking under her fist.” So I have a pal who a serious lifter, benches free weights 450. This girl is big, is 170 pounds or so. Somehow the subject of fighting my friend came up. What was the response of this girl, who worked out at his gym? “You’d kill me,” was her response. “I couldn’t do anything against you.” She knew my pal wasn’t an MMA fighter, but she also knew, from her vast experience and even with her own training, she’d have no chance to overcome that kind of strength.
Not that she’d have anything to fear. My pal is gentlemen who protects women. He walks his dates to their cars even when they object.
Also, women, when your out and wearing something somewhat revealing, and a man is checking you out or makes a comment about you. First off, you may be inviting it by your clothing, but secondly, just take it for what it probably is, a compliment. It’s probably not a prelude to an attack, and a man certainly has a right to express an appreciation of your beauty, though he may be stupid for being attracted to you just because of your outside appearance. A man being attracted to a woman is how we ultimately marry and reproduce.
Men in general don’t keep women down, and docile and afraid. It’s not true that all women walk around afraid of men. My wife was never afraid of men, even prior to having some self-defense training. Matter of fact she recounted dropping a man with a hit to the balls prior to my meeting her. It does not bother me being married to a woman capable of kicking butt, matter of fact I kind of like it. I’ve known some very fearless Christian women in the course of my life, women whose confidence was in the Lord. It is true though that the Lord put men over women, by making man the head. A society, a family runs best when men or man leads. For what it’s worth, the Godliest, Christ follower I ever knew was a woman.
Another minor point on self-defense training, you can’t simulate the real stress that comes from being under fire in the field. Most soldiers or cops will tell you that. It’s not that trainings are not useful, but don’t think training is the same as being under fire in the field. It’s not. I trained a lot with my gun. I qualified yearly on the gun range. I’m a good shot, or at least I was. We trained and shot many scenarios. I never had to actually fire my gun. I still don’t know for sure how I’d do if I actually had to shoot it in the field.
If one is against violence to children, one should be pro-life. There is nothing more violent than murder, and nothing worse done to children that what is done to the unborn at abortion clinics.
I defy anyone who has an alternative opinion to prove me wrong or refute my facts or opinions. I really hope someday liberal feminists will realize that most men aren’t out to get them, at least as far as I can tell.
Jesus is Lord!
Happy Ramadan to my Muslim friends, some of whom I consider family!
Daryl Smith says
If anyone is actually reading this, some might find this funny considering my comments yesterday. I was pillow talking with my beloved this morning and she was discussing some of how her day went yesterday. She won a sizable payout at one of the casino’s yesterday. For the record I don’t condone particularly gambling, but my wife likes to do it. I think we need regulation in place that will prevent those with a gambling problem from overspending, but that is another post.
Anyway, some of the patrons she was with were expressing concern about her going out to the car by herself and asked if her husband was around or was coming. My wife is not a tall woman, more short but solid. Did she think, “Oh yeah, I better do that. I’m safer with my man?” Nope! Her first thought was “Shoot, someone better not mess with me, they’ll more liable to get their butt kicked and possibly lose their balls.”
Ricoh Juan says
I’ve posted before previously, and as wives have been a topic on this thread, I thought I’d share about the time my wife actually used self-defense on me. It is nothing to dramatic. It’s minor, but real, nonetheless, and relevant to the blog.
It was back in 2009 and we were still fairly newly married without kids yet. We were visiting my dad in Florida and sleeping in his spare bedroom. It was late and we had gone to bed. We were lying together, and my wife was rolled over facing away from me. I was feeling frisky, and I begin to caress her, hoping to get her juices flowing, so to speak.
She was feeling tired and rebuffed my efforts, but I was somewhat undeterred, hoping I could still persuade her. She rather just wanted to go to sleep, but I grasped her sexy, desirable body from behind as she laid, and held fast, my body against hers, my chest against her back.
My penis rose in salute to her, stimulated by my contact with her, and I pressed it into her back, despite her rather weak rebuffs. She seemed half asleep, but I was hard and feeling good, still hoping for a happy ending.
She then reached her petite, feminine hand behind her in the night, and wrapped her fingers around my testicles. She held them fast for a moment, securing them in her grip, as I became more excited in anticipation.
Suddenly I felt pain in my testicles, her small but strong hand quickly squeezed once, compressing and putting pressure on my delicate testicles. She no sooner started squeezing then she stopped, but she still held my testicles lightly in her hand. I could hardly believe what had happened, but immediately rolled over and away from her.
My sweet lovely wife released my balls as I rolled away and rolled on my back facing away from her. She did not move but laid right where she was. She did not inquire about my condition.
While I was not incapacitated, my balls ached from her squeeze. I am not sure how hard it was; it was as I said short. I began to contemplate the fact that my own wife had just squeezed my balls. My balls throbbed and ached off and on through the night as I laid in the bed thinking.
I thought about how strong my wife’s hands were for a female, how she had closed a fairly strong hand gripper in her dainty hands, how should could do full pushups, how she could curl 25 pounds with one arm.
I thought about how easily she had put me in pain, and this caused my dick to throb with desire for much of the night. For some reason, I found what she did to be a terrible turn on. I imagined how easily her hands could destroy the testicles of another male, and I nearly ejaculated. I actually then began to imagine her being the target of a rape, but then I imagined her grabbing and destroying the testicles of her attacker. This actually caused me to ejaculate, and I went to sleep.
The next morning we went to Disney. My balls ached on and off all day, and really for days after that, tender at the touch of my own thighs. I asked my wife about it the next day, and she said she really couldn’t remember very well, but she did recall giving my balls a little squeeze. She said she was half asleep and wasn’t really trying to hurt me.
For quite a while, even still today if I think about it, I felt a little vulnerable in intimacy, with my balls dangling against her skin and by her hands, so easily graspable by her. But also this same vulnerability also leads to increased satisfaction, as my wife wants me, and allows me to have her. She has the power to stop me if she wants to.
Also, it leads to a much safer feeling about my wife. She is the mother of my children, and I don’t want another man to have her, nor do I want her to get pregnant by another man. She has told me a couple of times that if some man tries to rape her and he takes those balls out, she is going to remove them from him.
Now too my point for the board. August indicated that she felt ‘The confidence that we get from self-defense training makes us more capable of experiencing pleasure.’ She can correct me if I am wrong, but I think because she is confident she can beat any unwanted male into broken unconsciousness, she feels freer to be sexually expressive and aggressive, should she so desire.
But from the male perspective, I have found it erotic to be with a strong, capable, potentially dangerous woman. I can’t say that all males feel this way, but I am certain a fair number do. So my advice on the board is many men enjoy a strong confident woman. Women may be able to really spice up their love life if you let your man know you are capable.
Perhaps in the future August can do a segment on men turned on by a woman’s power.