Teaching a 5-Year-Old Girl Karate to Prevent Rape

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Yesterday, Caroline composed an excellent roundup of advice from parents on how to counsel very young children on the basics of consent to prep them for the more explicit talks about sex, partying, and rape when they’re older. Another email we received from a parent particularly struck me, however, because its self-defense theme overlaps with a note from an adult discussion of rape we had back in October, specifically from a woman who underscored “the historical significance of self defense in feminism from the ‘70s and ‘80s.” Here’s our note from Mike:

Thank you to Juleyka and her husband for the way they’re raising their sons and the important lessons they’re teaching them about consent. As the father of a daughter, though, I feel there is more to be done than just teaching boys to be better to women. From Brock Turner’s actions, to the statements from his father, and the horrific sentencing, it’s obvious to me that all men and boys are not being taught the same things about how we should value women and girls in our society.

That’s why my wife and I have had our daughter studying Karate since the age of 5.

Actually, we all study Karate together. The dojo is run by a very strong woman, who teaches us all about how we carry ourselves, awareness of our surroundings, and mild/medium/hot responses to threats.

This is not about hating men, or instilling fear in our daughter. It’s about how we need to be aware that there are dangers out there, and we need to be prepared for them. It’s the same reason she is learning how to swim.

I don’t feel a gun would be the answer for her future safety. A gun can be taken from you. What my daughter is learning can’t be taken from her.

The power of NO is something both genders need to learn and respect. But, we are also teaching our daughter that if NO isn’t sufficient, then NO and a good joint lock probably will be.

When she is old enough we will then talk about the role of drugs and alcohol in safety. But since she’s only ten, neither my wife or I are ready for that can of worms as yet.