VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Women should not have to modify their behaviors, patterns or appearance to make themselves feel more safe, says a Vancouver-based self-defence martial arts instructor.
Meesha Dewar-McClelland is the lead instructor of women’s classes and director of administration at Elements Academy of Martial Arts.
She says she’s seen a spike in emails and outreach since last month’s high-profile disappearance of two women, who remain missing.
“It could be related to what’s happening locally and just anxieties that women are feeling,” she says, adding it’s mostly women reaching out for classes.
“I think they’re probably fairly normal concerns that are just seeing a peak right now,” Dewar-McClelland guesses.
She teaches a style related to Jiu Jitsu, which when well-employed can be favourable for short or smaller-statured people.
“We really focus on self-defence for all ages and any gender about being able to apply practical self-defence regardless of size or strength,” she says.
Dewar-McClelland says women often give her a look of recognition when they hear that tid-bit.
“Recognition that we will be greatly overpowered by a possible attacker and so when it comes to confidence, even just hearing someone tell you that size and strength doesn’t have to be the biggest factor in defending yourself, starts to shift their mindset.”
But martial arts isn’t all about fighting. One teaching that women are given in Dewar-McClelland’s classes is a reminder to trust their gut instinct, and get away from the situation as quickly as you can.
“No one’s going to prioritize your safety the same way you will … I really do think that we are all born with the gut instinct to alert us to trouble and unfortunately as we move through life … what we lose is not that gut instinct but the trust in listening to it,” she says.
Dewar-McClelland sees that “gut feeling” as an early-detection system that lets us get out of a bad situation even without martial arts training.
“Self-defence starts with your body alerting you that something is a little bit off, warning you that you might be entering into a dangerous situation or that you might be vulnerable to something happening and it’s so important that we listen to that.”
Meanwhile, Coquitlam RCMP have come under fire from a Vancouver-based advocate for women who says the Mounties dismissed the concerns and lived experiences of a lot of women in the way they tried to dispel misinformation online over the weekend.
The head of Battered Women’s Support Society says police minimized the level of violence already happening to women and failed to recognize their legitimate fears or how much women have had to modify their own behaviors to feel safe.
“In this instance [the RCMP] have missed a big part of what I think is an important piece of what they can be doing as an organization that exists to promote public safety. They should not ignore the reality that there is sufficient amounts of stranger sexualized violence,” says executive director Angela Marie MacDougall.
“I personally don’t think that means we have to modify our behavior in terms of how we dress, what time of day we choose to go out, you know, our natural patterns. We should still be living our full lives,” adds Dewar-McClelland.
-With files from Lisa Steacy, Nikitha Martins, and Renee Bernard