Not All Women Are Damsels in Distress

Hero Joseph Lozito says he was glad to protect defenseless women from the NYC stabber. But we’re not so helpless, Joe

This week, Philly native Joseph Lozito garnered fame and praise for stopping the knife-wielding killer who went on a stabbing spree in the Big Apple last weekend. From his hospital bed, Lozito told the media, “I’m glad he picked me. There were a lot of women and children on the train who couldn’t defend themselves.”

Gee, thanks for saving all the lives of the helpless women, Joe. I bet nobody else on that train could have survived without you.

Oh, please. OK, I’ll give him that children on the train—and maybe some of the women—couldn’t have defended themselves quite the way this 6-foot-2, tattooed bruiser of a man did, but surely there were other men who couldn’t have defended themselves, either. It’s not that I think what Lozito did wasn’t heroic, or even that I feel like he meant anything when he said the women and children couldn’t defend themselves, but, the idea that women are all defenseless and need constant protection bugs me. And it should bug you, too.

As women, we have options—certainly many of us have taken advantage of self-defense classes. In college, I took a self-defense class for women. I’m not saying it made me Superwoman, or even that it made me brave enough to intercede in a killing spree the way Lozito (sort of, by way of chance) did, but it did make me more aware of my surroundings and confident in my own abilities. In a city like Philadelphia where violence is a common byproduct of urban life, women especially can’t afford to be without self-defense knowledge.

“Self-defense is an absolute necessity,” says Phil Migliarese, co-owner of Balance Studios, which teaches various versions of the Brazilian martial art Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in its studios in Center City and the Northeast. “[Gracie Jiu-Jitsu] is a martial art that focuses on smaller people, and a perfect martial art [for women].”

Migliarese, who got involved in women’s self-defense training 20 years ago as a “dummy” for classes, says he’s found a big want—and a bigger need—for self-defense classes in Philly.

“I have known three people from my course [in Philadelphia] that have had to use it and have survived attacks and abductions because of the mindset,” he says. “There was a woman abducted, taken to a secondary location, and she lived.”

Sharon Bonewicz, who holds seminars for women’s self-defense using Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and via the “Fight Like a Girl” program, says she sees a similar need among Philly women.

“Women’s self-defense seminars bring about awareness and consciousness of sexual assault that happens every day in a city like Philadelphia,” Bonewicz says. “I grew up here in Philly and have lived everywhere, so I know. People think that just because you live or work in a nice area that crime does not exist or feel a false sense of security. Crimes against women happen in broad daylight in the middle of a parking lot these days in the suburbs.”

What Balance Studios and Bonewicz’s seminars do is a good thing. The busy urban working woman who is also a mom or a board member or an avid yogi with an active social life (or all of the above) can’t be under the watchful eye of a knight in shining armor 24/7. It’s unrealistic and, frankly, naïve to assume our male counterparts will be the ones to keep us safe. You can’t ever be too safe, nor can you be safe enough.

“Taking a women’s self-defense course like mine will open your eyes to crime against women and teach you some life-saving skills,” Bonewicz explains. “Crime against women is different than a crime against a man, usually, because for a woman, her body is involved.”

So, to all the Joseph Lozitos of the world: we’re thankful that you’re taking on the valiant task of strong-arming away violence. But we can do just as well on our own—really, what other choice do we have?

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