Denise Li, Opinions

Am I Not Feminist Enough? – Denise Li

Denise Li was forced to ask herself this hard question when she found herself agreeing with – and not opposing – the newly crowned Miss USA’s remarks that all women should learn self-defence to ward off attacks by men.


This is something I’ve been asking myself lately, following the Isla Vista shootings and, most recently, the newly crowned Miss USA’s remarks during the Q&A segment that women should be equipped with the skills to defend themselves against sexual assault should it happen to them.

Immediately after the Isla Vista killings, the Twitter hastags #NotAllMen and #YesAllWomen were used to ignite a fiery debate about misogyny, putting into the spotlight the problem of violence against women,and the propogation of a culture that treats women as the entitlement of men. I’ve read a lot of articles pertaining to this so far, and I’ve been extremely heartened by the fact that a lot of male feminists have stood up to be counted, with many of them acknowledging that men have an active role to play in the fight for fair and equal treatment of women.

At the most recent Miss USA pageant that took place a couple of days ago, Miss Nevada Nia Sanchez was asked about sexual assault on college campuses and this is what she said:

I believe that some colleges may potentially be afraid of having a bad reputation and that would be a reason it could be swept under the rug, because they don’t want that to come out into the public. But I think more awareness is very important so women can learn how to protect themselves. Myself, as a fourth-degree black belt (in taekwondo), I learned from a young age that you need to be confident and be able to defend yourself. And I think that’s something that we should start to really implement for a lot of women.

These remarks sparked a furore on Twitter:


… and so on.

As a card-carrying femininst myself, I am, frankly, quite bewildered. I could see nothing wrong with what Sanchez said. And, in fact, as a student of martial arts, I am in full agreement.

I can see where the feminists are coming from though: They think remarks like these Sanchez’s dilutes the message that “men shouldn’t rape”. It is probably the same crowd of people who disagreed vehemently when Mia Freedman suggested that women shouldn’t drink too much as it poses a risk to their safety. Again, I see nothing wrong with Freedman’s views.

So all of this has led me to think long and hard about this: Am I just not feminist enough?

And I think the easy answer is this: I am a feminist at heart, and I don’t think being a feminist is mutually exclusive to my stance that all women should learn to pick up some basic self-defence skills, and here’s why:

We’re not living in Utopia.

In an ideal world, all men would respect women and their boundaries. They would not force themselves on women and know when no means NO. In the meantime, isn’t it more realistic to come to the terms with the fact that rape happens more frequently than we’d like to admit? When we shove any suggestion that women should learn to protect themselves under the category of “victim blaming”, we are overlooking about what can be done about the problem NOW.

Being equipped with basic self-defence skills means a higher chance of surviving an attack. It means feeling a teensy bit less vulnerable if you’re walking home alone at night. Knowing a martial art can be immensely empowering for women because it makes them acutely aware of the fact that THEY DON’T HAVE TO BE VICTIMS. More lives can be saved if women took proactive steps to protect themselves.

How can I not be on board with that?

I’ll still be joining the chorus of voices against rape culture and victim blaming. The tide is turning against violence against women and I am not without hope that one day, all women would be able to walk the streets at night without fear, or attend a party without considering the possibility that their drinks could be spiked with roofies. Until that day comes, I am going to be holding a key between my fingers and mentally rehearsing defensive techniques in my head when I walk on a deserted street. Despite what some feminists think of that, it’s the smartest thing to do.

About the Author: Denise Li is a founder of Material World and a freelance writer-editor. Before that, she spent a few years in the Features section of CLEO and Cosmopolitan Singapore. She considers Chiang Mai her spiritual home and makes it a point to head there for a yearly pilgrimage. She’s also a fitness buff and enjoys boxing, running and the occasional yoga session. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseLiTweets.

[If You Like This, You Might Also Like]

Stop Kicking Up a Fuss About Makeup Already

Are Women Being Too Sensitive?


2 thoughts on “Am I Not Feminist Enough? – Denise Li

  1. How about those women who don’t have the luxury of time or money to take up regular martial arts classes; who are physically disabled or simply not fit enough for classes; or who are not comfortable learning self-defence? Children are also attacked – should we make martial arts classes compulsory from kindergarten?
    If someone is attacked and she doesn’t know any self-defence techniques, is it her fault for being a victim? Perhaps you want to think through the logical extreme of your opinions.
    PS I say this as someone who has a martial arts background too.


    • I don’t recall the author ever blaming a victim, so I’m not even sure why you asked that question.
      Women should learn self-defense for the same reason I had to, and to echo the author: we don’t live in a utopia. We never will. It’s never going to happen. You probably shouldn’t wear the wrong colors on the south side of Chicago; I shouldn’t have been mugged and bullied numerous times as just a child, but it happened. But I did something about it, I took self-defense classes. I was happy to take control. I still got bullied and I was still mugged, but I was able to stand my ground. People can be assholes and part of living on this planet is having to come to terms with that.


Comments are closed.