Editorials — January 27, 2015 12:43 — 1 Comment

Women Against Street Harassment: Moving Through Fear with Jordan Giarratano

Three months ago, I was tasked with writing a special edition of Women Against Street Harassment, one that spoke specifically to men. I’d been spending more time than I wanted to fielding rape threats and nasty remarks from men who weren’t happy with the column’s past iterations, and I could feel myself entering a bitter, polemical space. I was determined to make the men’s issue happen, I just didn’t know where to begin.

Enter Jordan Giarratano, owner and operator of Fighting Chance Seattle, a community martial arts dojo based in Ballard. My editor introduced Giarratano as a women’s self-defense expert and all-around good person to know. Out of habit, I had my reservations. When I met Giarratano, what I expected to be a fairly cut-and-dry conversation about self-defense evolved into an incredibly nuanced discussion about feminism and rape culture, and it was then I knew Jordan Giarratano was the ally I’d been waiting for.


Piper Daniels: Tell me about the evolution of Fighting Chance Seattle.

Jordan Giarratano: October 2011 is when we officially opened the doors. We started with two classes a week, and now I teach eleven classes a week. Two years ago we started our self-defense for women workshops, which happen twice a month.

PD: What percentage of your students are women?

JG: Currently about eighty percent, which was an accident. I didn’t intend to start a school made predominantly of women. I just did what I wanted to do and accidentally created a safe space. Maybe that’s what happens when someone raised by a single mom starts a kickboxing school.

PD: In your work as a sensei, do you find there are any consistent correlations between confidence and gender?

JG: The funny thing about training women is that they are significantly easier to teach martial arts to than men. The difference is that almost every guy who gets hit hard for the first time throws a little hissy fit, and he’ll either get it back together or he won’t, but women will take like eight seconds to cry and they come right back on the floor ready to kill.

PD: What would you say is the biggest misconception about women’s self-defense?

JG: It tends to be a double-sided coin. There are self-defense schools that will come in and say, don’t walk alone, don’t go out and drink at night, don’t walk to your car by yourself. Live in this community of fear where you don’t get to be a regular person. Anybody who can teach that with a straight face has their own set of problems. The flipside of that is to say that you shouldn’t take any self-defense because it will not address the larger issue of the culture of violence and rape towards women. Which means we need to be having a different conversation. In the last year-and-a-half, we’ve really started going hard in our classes about activism and how to talk to people around you about rape culture. I think if you don’t aggressively go after rape culture, then you’re just exploiting the fears of women by offering them a pseudo martial arts experience.

PD: That’s a really good point. What else would you say separates your self-defense workshops from the others?

JG: In teaching a self-defense class, if you throw your assistant on the floor and manhandle her, you’re going to trigger the trauma that brought people to self-defense in the first place. At best, you’re subtly sending the signal that as the stronger person, it’s okay to manipulate the other person, and that’s not helpful to the overall self-defense conversation. We work very hard to actually break it down in class and say, okay, we’re going into the part of the class that involves actual physical contact. Every single self-defense class I’ve taught has utilized a female co-instructor or teaching assistant. It’s my female teaching assistants and me, so you have the choice. I start the class by saying, the most important thing about self-defense is recognizing that you have value, that you matter. We say, your body is your own and you’re in charge of it, so you tell us what you feel comfortable doing.

PD: It’s probably not so unusual for someone to claim that feminism is an inherent part of women’s self-defense, but I like that you’ve incorporated not only the philosophical tenets of feminism, but also feminism as it pertains to the body.

JG: Well, I’m not a genius. I’ve not cracked the code on anything. I’m taking the very good instruction I’ve had and combining it with reading stuff that women like yourself have written. I also surround myself with women in this class, and their experiences matter, ultimately informing the class’s future iterations. If all men knew the stories I know that were told to me by all these women, they’d be like, there is a fucking epidemic of violence against women right now! Fuck ebola, we have an actual epidemic in this country! One half of the population is being obliterated. For me personally, a disproportionate number of women I’ve known, loved, or dated have been raped.

PD: It’s interesting that you should characterize rape and rape culture as an epidemic. I completely agree with you. And I am so often mystified by people who are capable of denying its existence.

JG: I think there are men who don’t consider what they’re doing rape, and that’s a huge problem. You can’t get into conversations with guys who have not yet recognized or understood the depths of this. What do you do when you have in your history a night where you had sex with someone when they were really fucking wasted and you shouldn’t have and knew you shouldn’t have? Do you wake up one morning and go to the police station and turn yourself in? Do you make atonement? Do you call that person? Obviously, reaching out to the person you victimized is not the best way to go. Do you spend your money on therapy or donate to the Seattle Rape Crisis Center? Right now, there’s no compensatory dialogue. There have to be ways to try and make peace, but people would rather live in denial and justify their behavior. If you did make a mistake and got drunk when you were twenty and acted like a bro, does acknowledging that to yourself brand you a rapist, or does that mean you fucked up and you should figure it out, change it, make peace with it? That is a very hard conversation and not one I’ve seen anybody having.

PD: I can honestly say that I’ve never considered the idea of bro atonement. I can’t in good conscience say yes, getting a girl wasted is rape lite and that kind of incident should be more easily forgiven. But I do think there should be a conversation about what atonement might look like for those who would seek it. Particularly when our justice system conveys the message that there’s nothing to atone for in the first place.

JG: I think any rape should be punished, but the question is, how do you prosecute something so deep in the past? Until we start acknowledging our histories, we can’t move forward. There’s no such thing as evil. There are only people who’ve had different amounts of fucked up things happen to them. There is a continuum that ranges from people who are totally healthy and well-adjusted to people who are totally fucked from jump street, and every one of us is somewhere on that scale. And when we live in a culture that labels people as evil, that stops the conversation of how do we take care of and protect one another?

PD: What I really loved when looking over your website is that in your self-defense workshops, fear is recognized as a core element that is just as worthy of study as movement and technique.

JG: My self-defense is based on what I call “the flow chart of very bad choices.” Your life just became get raped or survive getting raped. Anything that’s not acknowledging one of those two things is not a realistic approach to that situation. There are no magic techniques. The first two things you try are probably not going to work. What you need to do is learn how to fight, how to become a vicious scrapper who never gives up.

PD: In your opinion, what is the most important thing for a woman who is being attacked to remember?

JG: In the case where an actual physical attack is happening, the single most important thing you can do is fight back immediately, loudly, and violently. In my class I can say, statistically this is your best chance of getting away, but ultimately your intuition is going to tell you what the right choice is and you have to trust it. The thing about fighting back immediately is you’re going to be attacked by someone who’s already objectified you. That’s why I don’t recommend talking your way out of it—because you’re not talking to anyone who’s listening.

PD: I have this really terrible habit of watching a TV show called I Survived, which features victims’ first-hand accounts of surviving violence. I’ve noticed that many of the women escape because they are able to humanize themselves to the rapist, but I’ve never met anyone for whom this worked in real life.

JG: I’m not going to say it’s impossible. We believe this narrative that we’re all selfish people out to get our own and we’re all against each other, which is the biggest pile of bullshit. We are all empathetic creatures. We are all creatures of love. We are soft in the middle, we have no claws, we can’t run very fast. We should’ve been eaten by lions and we got out of that, not because we could outrun them but because we could work together, communicate, and help each other. That is the nature of our species and it is exactly who we are today. And someone who is able to rape and hurt another person has shut off or lost the sympathetic parts of himself if he ever had that to begin with, so who are you communicating with when you’re humanizing yourself? Imagine staring down at a lion and saying, I have kids! That’s not a thing. That’s why the word “predator” is a good word. I don’t like “enemy,” I don’t like “attacker,” I like “predator.” Predator is a word that implies they’re out to get you and they’re out to pick off the weakest of the herd.

PD: It seems like your roles as brother, sensei, and friend have given you intimate knowledge about how street harassment looks for women. How does that knowledge compare to your own reality as you move through the world?

JG: I’m gigantic and tattooed and look like I always want to hit somebody so nobody ever harasses me ever. But the thing that kills me is the women who I spend time with are riding buses alone and coming home with these horror stories and there’s nothing I can do. And then when I’m out with that same person, no one looks at us twice.

I used to work in a Seattle bar. I tended bar for seven years, and I was the only employee, which meant I would be required to duck in and out of the kitchen. It was a neighborhood bar so I knew most of my customers. On numerous occasions there would be a male and a female customer, and the three of us would be having a sensible, normal conversation. Then I’d go make a sandwich, come back, somewhere toward the end of the night the guy would leave, and the woman would say, why didn’t you stop him? And I would say, stop him from doing what? And the woman would say, every time you went back in the kitchen, he lowered his voice and said something really creepy. And I’d be like, no, that guy? That guy’s real nice. I’m not calling you a liar, but I’m just saying that seems nuts to me. But that’s the reality. I had it happen on multiple occasions where the minute I turned my back, the man there would say something really fucked up and offensive. And that’s how it happens. All the dudes around you who you think are good dudes? Chances are, a number of your friends suck. And it’s important to cultivate your good friends and dump the bad ones. There’s so much room for guys to police each other and dictate behavioral norms. There should be zero tolerance about that. The indifference of good men is what allows our gender to have the reputation we have.

PD: What strategies would be effective for men who want to hold themselves and others accountable when it comes to street harassment?

JG: One of the big things that really helped me was, I once used the word “bitch” in a negative way and the person I was with said, I don’t think you realize that your words don’t match your values. I don’t think you understand what you’re actually conveying, and I wanted to tell you this as your friend because if you say this in front of someone who’s not your friend, they’re going to think a lot less of you. If you’re with a guy who’s harassing someone on the street, call him out on it immediately. If you’re peers, and you’re not close, just say, that’s fucked up dude, you should not talk like that, and I’m not hanging out with you if that’s who you are. Done. If it’s someone you care about, do it in a loving way. If you’re friends, you actually have an empathetic conversation. You say, did you seriously just say that? Then you talk about things you learned. You talk about what it feels like to have that kind of thing leveled at you. We’re so terrified of confrontation in this culture that we think everything has to be a knockdown drag-out fight when usually a simple conversation will do. And sometimes just lovingly telling someone, or even criticizing someone, is a good thing to do. I’ve never done anything but thank people when they’ve done that for me, and I’ve experienced the same reaction when I have those kinds of conversations with others. But this has to be a problem that guys step up and solve.

If your approach is, I refuse to be told I’m wrong ever about anything, well yeah, feminists are going to seem militant to you, ‘cause you’re a dick. Stop being a dick and you’re going to find out you learn all kinds of things. Every man should be a feminist. It turns out being a feminist makes you a happier, healthier person who is able to give and receive respect, communicate honestly, and be engaged in better relationships. Everything in my life makes sense in a way it never did before I became a feminist. I can see this is a two-sided problem and we keep approaching it from opposite sides.

Of course, there was that story a little while ago where some guy who called out another guy for street harassment ended up getting stabbed. There are consequences and I would never tell someone, you’ve got to put yourself in the line of fire. It’s tough. But this is the reason I take up a community-based defense approach. We can’t start out with what’s happening live. We can’t start putting down the sand bags when the flood is coming. We have to begin by asking, who are the people close to us who are on the fringe? Who are your really good friends who you can identify and correct now in order to make our community a better, safer place for one another?


For more information on Sensei Jordan Giarratano and Fighting Chance Seattle’s self-defense, activist, and outreach programs, visit: https://www.fightingchanceseattle.com/community/


For more information on Women Against Street Harassment, visit us on

Facebook @ https://www.facebook.com/WomenAgainstStreetHarassment

Twitter @WASH_seattle

Email @ WomenAgainstStreetHarassment@gmail.com



Piper Daniels is a poet, a graduate of the University of Washington MFA program and a wonderful dancer.

One Comment

  1. […] fear. But what about the voice? How can we hold true to our voice, even when we feel fear? In this interview with Sensei Jordan of Fighting Chance Seattle, he mentions that in the self defense […]

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