The Culture of Self Defense

Susie Kahlich
4 min readMay 7

Violence against women is universal but self defense is cultural

Fort Lahore, Lahore Pakistan | Photo by Susie Kahlich © 2023

I’m currently in Lahore, Pakistan for a series of talks and workshops, and to develop our partnerships for Pretty Deadly Self Defense.

Yesterday, in a group discussion, we were discussing using the voice in self defense. One woman told a story of how she was the only woman at a bus stop, and the men kept closing in and crowding her, tugging at her clothes and generally harassing her until she screamed, “STOP TOUCH ME, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!” and the men back off.

In Berlin, we recommend women use the exact same words when being confronted with similar circumstances, although we usually teach it as a response to invasive stares: “what is wrong with you?” The difference is that we strongly recommend to NOT scream; rather, keep the voice calm and steady.

It was fascinating to me that here in Pakistan women can say loudly, “what is wrong with you?” and everyone will suspect that, if a woman is being loud towards a man she doesn’t know, a guy is probably harassing her and she needs help. Being loud here is unusual for women, because women in Southeast Asia are encouraged to be demure.

In Europe and North America, though, if a woman is loud towards a man she doesn’t know, she’s accused of being angry or crazy, while the man is presumed innocent.

European and North American women are encouraged to be confident. But loudly confident is perceived as either clownish (Cardi B) or unhappy (Greta Thunberg). Loud is angry, crazy, demanding, harsh. It’s pretty complicated, actually, to figure out exactly what note of confidence is the right note, e.g., the one that men are comfortable with, and can even be proud of, but never embarrassed by.

That doesn’t mean women have it better in Southeast Asia. They do not. You can be loud if you need to, and harassers will back off. People will even come to help. But not if that harasser is your family member or husband; being loud in those circumstances can damage a family name and get you killed. In this part of the world, they’re called honour killings.

In my part of the world, they’re called crimes of passion.

Susie Kahlich

CEO of SINGE | Founder of Pretty Deadly Self Defense @ | Former producer of art podcast Artipoeus: art you can hear @