At anti-Trump rallies around the country, a popular chant often reverberates among the crowd: “When Muslim lives are under attack, what do we do? Stand up. Fight back.”
A new video series called Self Defense Starter Kit is hoping to allow Muslim women to do just that, empowering them with self-defense techniques. The series — produced by directors Robie Flores and Ali Withers — was created in responses to the spike in documented hate crimes after the election of President Donald Trump.
Though portions of the video series can be useful to women of all backgrounds, the main focus of the series is empowering Muslim women. The Self Defense Starter Kit videos feature two Muslim women instructors and cover topics exclusive to the community, like what to do if an attacker grabs your hijab.
Flores and Withers were inspired to create the series after they noticed apprehension among women in their community in response to Trump’s impending presidency. The directors saw that women were becoming increasingly concerned about their safety, especially given that Trump was elected based on a platform that targeted marginalized groups.
“We had been dealing with this for a year and a half already,” Flores says. “What will four more years look like? We couldn’t afford to not be prepared. But we genuinely didn’t know how to properly face these situations we encounter very often, much less what to do when they escalate and turn violent.”
“So why self-defense? Why the hell not?”
The pair reached out to Women’s Initiative for Self Empowerment (WISE), a self-defense school for Muslim women by Muslim women based in New York City, for their expertise. Two women from WISE, founder Rana Abdelhamid and chief instructor Maryam Aziz, star in the tutorials — and their bold personalities make the instructional videos shine.
“So why self-defense?” Abdelhamid says in one of the videos. She pauses, snaps her fingers and then answers her own question. “Why the hell not?”
Self-defense, as Abdelhamid goes on to explain, is “mad empowering,” allowing women to feel secure and confident in the power of their own body. But, Abdelhamid says, in an ideal world women wouldn’t need self-defense because biases like sexism, racism and xenophobia wouldn’t exist to threaten women.
“All this shit’s gotta go!” Abdelhamid exclaims in the video, laughing. “Then, we wouldn’t need self defense classes and I’d be chillin’.”
Flores says the creators and instructors were intentional in making the tone of the videos light, bringing infectious personality to the topic of trauma and violence. Flores and Withers say they drew inspiration from the style, tone and approachability of videos by YouTube makeup stars when dreaming up the style of the videos.
“All we want is for women to realize how powerful they are.”
“We wanted to make these videos feel as easy and mesmerizing as makeup tutorials are to us.” Flores says. “They’re so fast and easy to watch, and that’s what we wanted with these videos. Like, ‘Oh cool, blocking an attacker is actually totally doable. I can disable someone by jabbing up at their nose with just my palm? I can totally do that!'”
Withers emphasizes, however, the videos are a mere starting point. While she hopes the tutorials will allow women to feel more confident in threatening interactions, she also adds that women must seek out more opportunities in their own communities to strengthen these basic skills.
“We hope that people who are watching also practice,” Withers says. “Build your muscle memory so you don’t freeze up. The Self Defense Starter Kit is exactly that — a starter toolkit. There are great classes and resources out there if you want to learn more.”
Though response to the project has been overwhelmingly positive and undeniably heartening, Flores and Withers wish the series didn’t have to exist. Self-defense, after all, is just a band-aid response to the larger problem of violence and harassment.
But, Flores says, if this is the social environment women have to deal with, then the pair want to support them in reclaiming their strength.
“All we want is for women to realize how powerful they are,” Flores says. “We need our presence and our voices now more than ever.”