Interview with Wendy L. Rouse on HER OWN HERO, The Origins of the Women's Self-Defense Movement
Note to readers: As the coach of The Ultimate Black Belt Test, I'm encouraging martial arts teachers to expand their knowledge, not only of the physical arts they teach, but of the history and philosophy of the work they promote. "Knowledge is self-defense" is a common theme of my work --and in the spirit of that, I'd like to introduce you to someone I think we should all get to know. --Tom Callos
On my ever-towering reading list of books, you will now find this gem, "Her Own Hero," by California author and historian Wendy L. Rouse. Ms. Wendy has her Ph.D. in History from University Of California, Davis, holds an M.A. in Public History and Archaeology from Sacramento State University, has her B.A. in History from Sacramento State University, and is a lifelong martial arts practitioner to boot.
You can find the book, with some very informative and favorable reviews at NYU Press' website, here. Here's a review from BitchMedia's website, and see what people had to say about it on GoodReads, here. And of course, here's the link to buy it on Amazon.
Finding the subject matter irresistible, I reached out to Wendy Rouse and asked her the following 3 questions, which she graciously answered:
Question 1: Wendy, what can you tell us about the book and why you wrote it?
Wendy Rouse: "Although I am a historian by training and have studied martial arts for most of my life, the thought of writing a history of women’s self-defense never really crossed my mind. Young women like me who practiced martial arts were taught that our teachers were the first generation of women to break into the male-dominated domain. We learned that women’s self-defense grew out of second-wave feminism in the 1960s and 1970s.
When I was researching my Ph.D. dissertation on immigration in the early twentieth century I came across an image in a newspaper from over hundred years ago that depicted a woman using jiu-jitsu to fight off an attacker. This picture challenged everything that I thought I knew about the history of women in martial arts and women’s self-defense. I had to know more. I saved the article and began pursing the research from there. The image that first inspired me to write the book is now the book cover.
Her Own Hero: The Origins of the Women’s Self-Defense Movement describes the emergence of a women's self-defense movement paralleling the women’s suffrage movement in the early 1900s. First-wave feminists sought to raise awareness about the sexual harassment and violence that women faced on the street, at work, and in the home. Advocates of self-defense insisted that all women should learn boxing or jiu-jitsu not only to protect themselves physically but to empower themselves psychologically for the political battles that lay ahead. Women expressed a newfound sense of empowerment through their physical training in self-defense that helped them resist harassment, assault, sexism, and disfranchisement. Women’s self-defense figuratively and literally challenged the power structure that prevented women from exercising their full rights as citizens and human beings."
Question 2: Would you tell us about your martial arts experience?
Wendy Rouse: "I started training in Shotokan Karate when I was ten years old. I studied that for ten years earning the rank of Shodan. In college, I began training in Uechi-Ryu karate and continued practicing for over fifteen years earning the rank of Yondan. During that time, I also began teaching women's self-defense seminars. In the last few years, I have dabbled in a variety of other types of martial arts including Krav Maga and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu."
Question 3: What do you think about the state of the state of women's self-defense in today's world?
Wendy Rouse: "There is an upsurge in interest in women's self-defense in the present era. A new generation of women is discovering that self-defense courses can be a form of physical and personal empowerment. There are specific courses today known as Empowerment Self-Defense that have roots in the feminist self-defense courses of previous generations. These courses focus on teaching women a wide range of verbal, physical and psychological self-defense strategies. Women in these courses learn that they have the ability and, in fact, the right to protect themselves. But in the end Empowerment Self-Defense courses focus on holding the perpetrator responsible and recognize the work that we all must do as a society to dismantle sexism and rape culture in order to end violence against women."
Thank you to Wendy L. Rouse for the interview. Here's a link to her Facebook page if you would like to connect with her.