A woman can never be as strong as a man could be; physical safety starts with physical strength

Read the title carefully. This is not a post about whether there exists a woman that “could” beat a man, in some way. Of course there is. A big woman, a small man…. but even then, research is not in her favor.

This post is strictly a discussion of the inequalities apparent when discussing differences in physical strength between men and women.  I do not aim to discuss extremes found in either gender, or gender anomalies (transgender etc) which are beyond my educational level to discuss thoroughly. Hormones, mindset, genetics….all play a role. But for this post, think of the greater majority. The general perspective. Since it is the one that applies most often. Not always. Most.

Ok, keep reading.

When I was a correctional officer for the State of Vermont, I worked in a men’s facility. During our correctional training academy, we did one week of training in physical defense tactics, such as blocking techniques, pressure points, joint manipulations and edged weapons defense.

The tactics work well, when you can do them well. But the training we received, and the “tests” we had to pass that said we were “certified” in those tactics and could use them, was kind of a joke.

There was little chance I would actually be able to use them in the right way, at the right time; unless I practiced them constantly. Which I didn’t.  I worked 8 hours a day minimum, plus mandatory overtime, had a second job, and was a single parent.

I learned some useful things though. Like; when ordering an inmate to kneel, always have them face away from you and cross their feet. This makes it harder for them to whip around, stand up and fuck you up.

This is assuming of course, that they kneel to begin with.

Realistically, it was unlikely I would be able to man-handle an angry, scared and vengeful man (even a small one) with “special techniques”. I would have to know them so well, they would be an automatic response I could rely on when attacked. Being attacked is a high stress situation, that can erupt randomly and progress quickly in violence.

What was my actual strategy in the end, working day in and day out among men that could choose, at any time, to hurt me?

Well I thought about it. As a petite women, strong relative to my size, but not strong compared to a man, attempting the take-down techniques, and even a lot of the defense techniques (which required close proximity to the attacker), would have been far too dangerous for me, and frankly speaking, stupid. I didn’t practice them enough, and I knew how fast stuff could go down.

One officer managed a whole unit. These units would house anywhere from 30-60 guys, with cells on tiers, and a large common room. The inmates were allowed to move freely from their cells, to the common room. My officers desk was on a platform facing the two tiers of cells, designed in a way that you could view all cells at all times from the vantage point of the officers desk. Since this was a medium security facility, most of the inmates spent their time alternating between their rooms and the day room. Back and forth all day long. Technically, the doors of the cells had to stay closed all the time, but realistically that was rarely the case. A few doors of the cells would be open at any one time. A lot of time was spent either threatening punishment for not closing a door, or making rounds to close doors myself. Supervisors were required to give you crap, if doors were open, and there was a limit to how much crap you could give an inmate before they would start throwing other kinds of “fits”. Shit flows downhill, was never more apparent then when working in a prison. Inmates could make your life as hard as you made theirs. It was a constant, tedious game. You can imagine what would happen day in and day out. There was always a door or two open at any given time, except on lock-down.

My overall plan, in the event of true danger to my person, was to run to a cell and lock myself in rather than attempting to defend myself with some physical “tactic”.

The cells could only be opened from the outside with a key. I had that key attached to me, and I could wait it out, locked safely on the other side with a bathroom and a bed. True, there might be another inmate inside, but the chances of an inmate really wishing you harm, in that facility, were truly minimal (which is not the case in other types of facilities).

Most of the inmates posed no serious physical threat to me. I was not regularly in danger. But the potential for danger was always there. The great majority of inmates would never want to risk life in prison for assaulting an officer. Most of the time I was safe. Most of the time the inmates wouldn’t risk the charges, even if they wanted to. Even if they pretended they wanted to (which is another story).

But sometimes, just sometimes, it was possible. And that possible, was what I needed a plan for. One that realistically gave me a high chance of avoiding injury and surviving.

I could run away and live another day.

I was way more sure I could think about getting to a cell faster and slam the door before he could get me, than I was sure I could take an angry and bigger-than-me man down using a infrequently-practiced skill.

In a high stress and dangerous situation, your cognitive functioning changes.

Relying on self defense tactics that are not ingrained and trained, to be automatic, is putting the cart before the horse. The effectiveness of a special tactic is dependent on your baseline physical strength and fitness ESPECIALLY in a stressful situation where you don’t have much time to think and react.  How many women have actually fought a man who really was intent on hurting them and won? An elbow from a woman, even a well-timed one, is not a match for male size and strength.

You need better options; like pepper spray and just maybe the ability to shove weight (his) and run away.

Think about it.

Get in the gym, and get strong. You increase your chances of staying safe, and improve your baseline physical fitness, which is where physical autonomy and safety, start.

Survival is built into our nervous system through evolution, but reaction time under stress is not. Reaction time is your ability to think, respond and do something (like that perfectly timed tactic you can’t quite remember). You can practice a groin kick once a week, and fail to do it when it matters because of the way the brain responds to stress when you are in danger. Much less, if you aren’t fit to begin with.

Skill without strength, or strength and skill?

The second is what would actually work in a man vs woman situation.

Strength, and learning how to develop it, lay the foundation for expression of skill.

Get physically strong first. This means you will maintain a higher level of baseline physical fitness, and in turn increase your chances to think, and act in your own favor, and use a self-defense technique, if the time comes.

Want to stay safe? Start with being strong.

And what about if one day all the cell doors were closed, and an inmate decided today was my bad day anyway? Well in that case, I was protected by the law to use whatever tactics necessary to defend myself. And I would have done just that.

But smarter is always safer, either way.

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  1. If you haven’t already read it, Tim Larkin (the creator of Target Focus Training) wrote a brilliant book called, “Survive the Unthinkable: A Total Guide to Women’s Self Protection” in which he talks about some of the things you mention here, and how most self-defence programs for women are useless when faced with a real psychopath. He also stresses the importance of getting out of the victim mindset and really trusting your gut when you sense danger because that instinct is a real thing and shouldn’t be ignored!

    Love all your stuff.