• Molly Lee


I’d heard about the free WomenStrength self-defense class offered by the Portland Police Department and tucked it away in my mind as something I should do with my teenage daughter. And then that horrifying rape hit the news, the passed-out girl by the dumpster, the star swimmer whose father said he shouldn’t pay too steep a price for only “20 minutes of action”, and I decided to put it off no longer. This is a scary world in which to have a 16-year-old daughter. I decided that she needed some tools to defend herself, and that I would get some for myself, too.

So we looked at our schedules and signed up for the introductory class, which was held in a church multi-purpose room out in Rockwood. The class is offered all over town all year long, and each class includes three 3-hour sessions. Taking it was one of the best decisions I’ve made as a parent.

Although the class is offered by the police department, it’s completely staffed by volunteers. Our class of about 35 people had 6 teachers. And the teachers we had were amazing, badasses of the first degree. I was awed by their kindness, generosity and strength. There was a good spread of ages in the class, women as old as 60, as young as 13, and several other mother-daughter pairs. They weren’t teaching us to struggle- they were teaching us to fight, to make a lot of noise, to use the element of surprise to get away. We broke into small groups to practice techniques I can’t tell you about, because they told us, “What happens in WomenStrength stays in WomenStrength.” I can tell you that they also addressed a woman’s right to control over her own body. They talked about abuse within relationships, how to stand up for what you really need and want from a man, even what to do if a creepy guy starts talking to you on the bus. It was amazing, a breath of fresh air in a world that tells women they have to be polite and agreeable.

The class was good for my relationship with my daughter, too, bringing us closer and giving us a chance to talk about what we believed about the rights of women. I’m so glad we took the class. I want you to take it, and take it with your daughter, if you have one. With tears in my eyes, I told the instructors on the last night that it does take a village to raise a child, and I thanked them fervently for being part of my village.

Womenstrength welcomes all people who identify as women. Classes are open to ages 13 and above. Young women under 16 need to be accompanied by a participating adult. Younger people may also be interested in our sister program, GirlStrength, which offers classes from 10-17 years of age.


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