The Problem With Women Only Classes

This is probably going to be an unpopular opinion, but hear me out. I have a problem with women only classes. Firearms class, self defense class, or martial arts, it doesn't matter. These women only classes do a disservice to women and leave us at a disadvantage when it comes to our personal safety.


As a women who has experienced my fair share of uncomfortable encounters at work or with male friends, I 100% support the Me Too movement. It is about time women felt empowered to speak up and say we will not accept this anymore. This is a hard subject to talk about, and I have honestly written many thoughts and sentences, just to delete them and rewrite them trying to find the right tone. But I feel strongly about women's personal protection, so I feel compelled to try.

I consider myself beyond fortunate to never have experienced a violent and/or forceful rape up to this point. Having said that, I have been coerced into having sex. I have been backed into a corner and felt up by a male coworker. Guys have grabbed and threatened me at bars for rejecting their advances. I even had a close male friend who liked to “teach me self defense” whenever we had too much to drink together. These “self defense” lessons were mostly him pinning me down and laying on top of me, hands touching anywhere and everywhere, while I tried to get away. The encounters with friends are the worst, and sadly the easiest to explain away.

Why Personal Protection is Important

My stories are common and fairly tame compared to what many women experience. I personally cannot imagine the trauma of being raped and what it takes to move forward after that. But our stories are why it is so important to learn real self defense. Learning how to protect yourself prior to anything happening can help ensure your safety.

Women who learn self defense have less fear and anxiety, more confidence, higher self-esteems, and a higher sense of self-efficacy. They report being more comfortable in social interactions with acquaintances, strangers, and intimate partners. Women who get self defense training feel stronger and have more confidence in their bodies. Learning to protect themselves can also help victims of sexual assault regain some confidence and begin to heal.

The Benefits of Women Only Classes

It is important to acknowledge the potential benefits to women only classes. Some women, especially those who have experienced some sort of trauma, may be uncomfortable in a class with men. This can be especially true of classes that require any close proximity or touching by participants. Mock scenarios could trigger a panic response or PTSD symptoms. In cases such as this, women only training is better than no training at all.

Additionally, some men find it necessary to go out of their way to "help" their female classmates. Think along the lines of "I'm a man, so obviously I know more about X subject than this little lady".  While this certainly can be useful, most people are not skilled enough to actually assist others, simply regurgitating their bad information. This can be a distraction, and has the possibility of making students uncomfortable or at least propagating incorrect data. Women-only classes remove this issue. This can result in a more effective learning environment, especially for beginners -Editor's Note

The Problem with Women Only Classes

So why do I think women only classes put women at a disadvantage? It boils down to equality in aggression. According to a study by Professor Carol Gilligan at Harvard University, women have a biological predisposition to playing nice. Instead of the need for self preservation, women generally have a need to find an inclusive solution that meets everyone's needs. They don't want to be seen as unpleasant, impolite, or not agreeable. This leads to a delay in taking decisive self defense actions during times of danger.

This predisposition to niceness is at the heart of my concerns about women only classes. For example, I signed up for a Krav Maga class recently and loved it at first. Then I started noticing there was a tendency for the women in class to be pair up together. During practice most were timid and may as well have been playing patty-cake as opposed to learning self defense. Meanwhile the men in class were aggressively going after each other. If I had been in a class with only women I probably would have never been aware of the difference in the levels of aggression.

Take Advantage of Co-Ed Classes

Men make up half the population so avoiding them is impossible. Instead women can chose to learn from men. Being in a class with men allows you to see firsthand the levels of aggression they display during training. Take that and multiply it to imagine the level of aggression if they were trying to actually cause serious harm.

Male instructors or classmates may be reluctant to have a woman fully participate in a hands on type of class. This is one of the few negatives of the #MeToo movement. To get the most out of training, it is important that women expressly state their desire to fully participate in the class. Then you have to be willing to follow through with that--bumps, bruises, accidental boob grabs, and all. This is especially true of any class that includes grappling or escape scenarios such as Shivworks ECQC.


The purpose of training is to prepare us should something bad happen. Yes it can be a little scary going mano-a-mano with someone twice your size and 10 times as strong. But if you are training at extremely muted levels how prepared can you really be? I don't know about you, but I like my life and want to keep it. One of my favorite sayings is “I came into this world kicking and screaming, covered in someone else's blood, and I'm not afraid to go out the same way”. Sometimes the only thing between you and a horrible tragedy is your willingness and ability to fight back. Don't let your fear if training with the big boys put you at a disadvantage should you ever have to fight one.

About Tammy Bartels 48 Articles
Tammy is a certified firearms and OC instructor and the Training Department Manager for the largest firearms training department in the Midwest. She is a Well Armed Woman chapter leader and is committed to helping others become safe and efficient firearms.

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