The "W" Word: Warrior by Lyn Bates
In the last issue, I solicited readers' opinions on a number of topics regarding women and self-protection with firearms. The responses so far have been numerous and fascinating. Let's start by looking at a particularly interesting question: how do women feel about the word Warrior?
As a quick bit of background, many instructors of self-defense, whether gun- or martial arts-related, think that their job is to turn their (women) students into warriors. They find this task extremely difficult, and wonder why. Let's see if we can find out.
The word Warrior has both positive and negative connotations. Here are some of the good ones: A warrior is someone who lives to a strict code of honor, who seeks freedom, who is both physically and mentally tough, who is on a constant journey to find his or her power and use it for the good of the community, who lives by high ethical standards of honor, loyalty and duty (and is prepared to die in the service of those standards), who dedicates his entire being to what he believes in, who thinks he can, even when everyone thinks it can't be done, who leads, not follows; who is fearless, not timid, who has courage and integrity, who is walking the hero's path, who is trained to serve and protect the vulnerable and innocent from predators.
Wow, who wouldn't want to be like that? Where do I sign up?
But there are negative implications to that word, too. Here are just a few: A warrior is someone who seeks violence, who wants to fight, who is engaged in or experienced in warfare, who looks for trouble, who employs their combat skills frequently, whose thoughts and actions are all about victory, who has more interest in his enemies than in his friends, who totally focuses himself on the arts of battle, who is aggressive, who actively chooses to fight or at least puts themselves in a position where they know they may have to fight, who is a camo-clad, face-painted, dirty soldier type skulking through the bush, who has been initiated in a physical fight in which their life is truly at risk at the hands of an enemy.
Hmmm, that doesn't sound so desirable, does it? Can I get my name off the sign up list?
One of the problems with the W word is that, when someone uses it, intending only the positive aspects, listeners will often supply the negative interpretations from their own mindset. So, when an instructor, explicitly or implicitly, says to a student, "I want to show you how to become a warrior," the reaction is likely to be "Sorry, that's not what I want to be."
The reverse can also happen. When a student says, "I don't think of myself as a warrior," meaning the negative aspects, the instructor may think that the student isn't really committed to self-defense, when in truth she is completely prepared, mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Let's look at what being a warrior means to some of the people who sent me email, starting with those who don't like the term…
"Warrior? No, but I have a pretty strong self-image as just a crusty old gal who doesn't accept intrusions from others. I think for me "strong," "self-possessed," the image of one capable person, able to stand alone and do what has to be done is my self-image. Warrior has overtones of aggression that doesn't fit my persona."
"I don't think of myself as a warrior -- perhaps a survivor or just as self-reliant. And I find a great deal of the "warrior" essays to be macho-posturing and off-putting, at least for everyday citizen carrying in self-defense. I am not trying to take on the world; I'm out to protect my piece of it. I'm not a solider. I'm not a cop. I'm not Charles Bronson."
"That’s a word I hate. It’s pervaded with the little boy machismo of the movies. What exactly is a warrior, anyway? The historical ones were basically murderous thugs."
"I don't think of myself as warrior. I am a peaceful person and would try to avoid confrontations by any means possible."
"I don't know about the word warrior. I just want to be smart and do the right thing."
"Some of the law enforcement trainers on the 'warrior' ethic get under my skin. For police and soldiers, it is more appropriate."
"The warrior idea isn't the way to go. Most women think of Zena-type Amazon women fighting their way through life when you speak of warriors."
"I do not think of myself a warrior. That term brings the image of an American Indian in a TV western, not applicable."
"I don't consider myself a warrior, no. I am simply willing to do whatever it takes to not become another statistic."
"I do not consider myself a warrior, I don't think I would like to be considered a warrior, it makes it sound aggressive. I do consider myself comfortable around guns, willing to learn and an advocate for the 2nd amendment."
"I don't think of myself as a warrior. I would think of my self more as the protector of home and hearth. I wouldn't be the one charging out to battle but, should the battle more to me, I look at myself is the last line of defense of my property and family."
Now let's look at women who have a more positive take on the W word as it applies to them.
"Yes, I am a warrior, I am proud of my Scottish ancestors. I believe strongly that there is a daily battle between right and wrong in both the tangible and spiritual world. Survival requires a warrior mind set."
"I do think of myself as a warrior now. I always imagined that I was when I was young and felt vulnerable to abuse and harm, but it was a false wanting to have people think I was."
"Yes, I do think of myself as a warrior. After I started carrying, I started having “warrior dreams” in which I have to save my family. They’re very detailed and I’m never frightened. I feel strong, secure and prepared."
"I don't yet think of myself as a warrior because I don't see myself as that strong, but I love that image so I will definitely work on becoming a warrior."
"I only realized I was a 'warrior' a few years ago when I heard some author talking about the differences in types of humans dealing with the issue of using force (war, self defense, etc.) The warrior description turned on that proverbial light in my mind. I do not think the description of 'warrior' comports and unfeminine deportment. It is a state of mind."
"I do consider myself a warrior, but it took a long time to accept that label."
"Yes, I suppose I do. I guess I think of myself more as a strong women who will do "what I have to do" to take care of, and protect myself and my family. And if that is the definition of a warrior then yes I am."
"I learned in the early stages of my police career and training. I did not turn away from the gun or results of killing someone. I became a warrior in my mind and in my heart. I do think of myself as a warrior, even at the age of 48. I will always be a warrior at heart."
The women who think of themselves as warriors are either people who had a strong familial role model leading them in that direction, or who became involved in defensive issues at the professional level as adults (teaching martial arts, police, military), or who gradually became comfortable with the label after it had been applied to them by others.
They did not start out wanting to be warriors. Of all the women responding to my survey, only one wanted to be a warrior as a child, and she admitted, with adult insight, that all she had really wanted was for other people to think of her as a warrior, not to actually be one.
Although the verdict on the W word is split among women, those on the negative side are extremely strong in their opinions, while those who have accepted it have generally done so reluctantly, conditionally, slowly, and without initial intent or desire.
Most men have a very different experience with the "warrior" concept. Has any little boy not longed to be a warrior? From super heroes to video games, movies and books, boys are surrounded by warrior images that foster that desire. In adulthood, some men become real warriors by joining the military, while others, involved in the more mundane pursuits of business or physical activity, still cling to some form of the word, happily calling themselves "road warriors" or "weekend warriors."
I won't debate whether it is nature or nurture, but the result is that the emotional reaction to the word "warrior" is very different for men and women. In general (there are always exceptions, of course), men like it, women don't.
Instructors, take note. Trying to turn women into warriors is a waste of time. The W word has nothing to do with skill or willingness to use force in self-defense. "Being a warrior" is neither necessary nor sufficient for self-defense. It would be best to banish this word from our thoughts and our vocabulary, for most self-defense classes.
There are other images that will work much better with women: Defender. Guardian. Protector. (Protectoress? Nah.) Steward. Sentinel. Survivor. There are good adjectives, too: Self-possessed. Self-reliant. Competent. Prepared. Strong. Confident. Capable. Alert. Aware. Cognizant. Self-directed. Educated. Secure.
One of my correspondents said it best:
"I like to describe myself as the last line of defense of my home and family. If there are other means to deal with a threat, those are the means I will utilize. When there are no options and there is still a threat, I refuse to allow myself and my family to be defenseless victims. By starting out with this mindset initially, the whole issue of guns and self defense is easier for most women to handle. You see yourself in less of a proactive role and more of a reactive role, having your back up against the wall and being forced to take action. Now, the nice thing is I am just calling myself the nice, feminine Last Line of Defense of my Home and not the nasty Warrior word.
But, in the end, what matters is my thinking. You don't have to be called a warrior to be one. I can be just as prepared for attack in my apron cooking dinner as in camo low-crawling across the kitchen floor. I can't change the fact that I am a woman and I don't want to but I can be an example of a new kind of warrior, you know, the one wearing Channel #5."
The responses to my other questions about women's attitudes toward self-protection were so interesting that I couldn't possibly do justice to them in a single article. So, next issue, I'll present other topics, including the process to reach the willingness to use a gun in self-defense, and the difference between men and women in this regard. If you'd like to contribute your opinions, just send email to me.
This article first appeared n the Jul-Aug-2006 issue of Women&Guns magazine. Copyright © 2006 Lyn Bates