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Thanks Dad, Self-Defense

Updated: Mar 25, 2020

She stands at 6’1”, a lifelong athlete who followed her stint as an Israeli military captain with a role in the Israeli Chief of Police’s private international security team. If Amazon warriors are real, then one is hiding in plain sight outside of Boston in the form of Aia Polansky.

A story about her went viral in the summer of 2019 when out for a jog, a man on the trail flashed her not once but twice.

So far, nothing unusual here.

But where the story veers off from the norm is that Polansky chased down the perv, tackled, pinned him and asked for passersby to call the police. Unfortunately no one stopped to call and the perv squirmed away when Polansky tried to maintain the hold and make the call herself.

As Polansky’s story went viral women were sharing and celebrating her. But amongst the cheering, I noticed some criticizing her actions. Surprisingly, the most pointed criticism came from instructors and students of self-defense. Mostly men, but not all, they enjoyed showing off their cool rationalism (over her “emotional response”) by trotting out conventional self-defense talking points including:

  • Chasing him down exposed her to unknown risks – for example, what if he fought back? What if he had a weapon? What if he had friends?

  • The legal aspect that what she did doesn’t fit within the five elements of self-defense – in particular Avoidance and Imminence as the perv had run away after he flashed her, therefore she was not in any danger.

  • And of course for those infected by the men’s rights activist mindset (which is somehow quite rampant in the self-defense world) that what she did was unreasonable. After all, all he did was show her his dick, it certainly didn’t call for her to assault him. ((( Pearl clutching intensifies )))

  • And of course it all boiled down to their paternal-like concern for her: the risks of her response were too great.

I naively engaged in a couple of these conversations thinking that I could bring a woman’s perspective to the mostly male-driven discussions and share the frustration of the constant sense of being prey. I thought this might be of particular value to the self-defense crowd.

Boy, was I wrong.

If you want a mind-bending mansplaining experience, let me recommend discussing the finer points of women’s self-defense with male self-defense instructors. Now, there are some great guy instructors out there who are willing to listen and don’t think they know it all, but those are the exception not the norm.

All the justifications they made came with a quote from another guy. They didn’t have one woman to cite about this experience. And they had no interest in what I had to say other than to convince me of their arguments.

It was an exercise in futility. But looking back, I’m grateful because they opened my eyes up to something so obvious, yet hidden, like a fish that doesn’t see the water it lives in.

And that is this: most women’s self-defense is what I now call, “Thanks Dad Self-Defense.”

What the men really, really wanted me to see was that what Polansky did was a bad idea. Chasing him down exposed her to unknown risks.

Technically I agreed with them.

But I saw a bigger picture… ‘cause you know, I’ve been walking around female for 40+ years and have dodged more trouble just minding my own business then they could ever imagine.

In sharing how sick to death women are of this shit, one of the most audaciously tone deaf responses pointed me to a podcast, “Self Defense Tips for Young Women.” The recommendation at the earmarks of "listen to this little lady". But I overlooked the clumsy lack of self-awareness of the recommender I gave it a shot.

And you know what?

It was pretty good.

It had some decent information on mindset that only a guy can deliver.

I also liked the no nonsense, “get over how you want the world to be, some people are just bad.”

My own Dad and his chip-off-the-old-block

But ultimately, it wasn’t anything earth-shattering. After listening I was just like, “Thanks, Dad”. There wasn’t anything there I hadn’t already heard from my Dad or my older brothers. From guns to boys, I was lucky to learn from them. I realize not everyone has those relationships, so if you haven’t had those kinds of conversations with men, this episode is a good place to start.

But here’s the thing: women don’t really need to be told that they are prey and that there are bad guys out there. As Chanel Miller (of Brock Turner infamy) writes in her memoir, “Know My Name:

Women are raised to work with dexterity, to keep their nimble fingers ready, their minds alert. It is her job to know how to handle the stream of bombs, how to kindly decline giving her number, how to move a hand from the button of her jeans, to turn down a drink.

Whereas for men, she continues:

You can walk anywhere you want. ….you get to unsubscribe from the videos. You can turn off the feed, you get to see it selectively, I don’t have that option, to decide not to live it. I’m trying to tell you what it’s like for me.

(Of note, I later invited some of the mansplainers to join my “Know My Name” book discussion group. None of them took me up on it.)

So don’t teach self-defense and then expect us to be demure little ladies about it. More dudes need to be straight up afraid the next time they consider a crime against a woman. Or, as Polansky put it:

People were surprised for me acting like that. But that’s not supposed to be abnormal. People should say, “of course that’s what she did” because what he did was completely wrong. And situations like that, when you know something is wrong, do what you want to do if it was your daughter. What would you do? Would you walk by?

The disclaimer – I fully acknowledge the risks related to Polansky’s actions as outlined above. There is a lot of value in taking the more conservative, Thanks Dad Self-Defense approach and just get away. Likely for most women that would be the best thing to do.

But with Polansky’s ability and stature, if not her, who?

If no one, we just let the dick wavers run rampant?


Thanks Dad Self-Defense has its uses, but ultimately women need more.

The best teachers of self-defense I’ve ever known aren’t well-muscled martial artists or former military or cops with flashy technique. In fact, many aren’t officially self-defense instructors at all. I’ve meet some super savvy and street smart people in my Asphalt Anthropology classes. Annette is one woman I’ll never forget. She was a middle aged office worker with no apparent athletic ability. At eight months pregnant and a toddler on her arm, she warded off a potentially violent street robbery strictly by her wits and fast-thinking.

There’s a lot we can learn from that woman.

Annette, Stringfield, Polansky. These are the women we need to hear from.

Because Thanks Dad Self-Defense will keep your world only a certain size. And you know what, for some people that might be OK. Follow that Thanks Dad advice and you’ll probably be in pretty good shape for the rest of your life.

But if you want more, Thanks Dad Self-Defense is just a stepping stone.

Because there is more to know about navigating the world than what the Dads can ever teach you.

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