Abby Drwecki


This article is an investigation of women’s self-defense courses in post-communist Poland. I focus on WenDo, a women’s self-defense seminar which is based on feminist principles and which seeks to empower women through changes in body culture: i.e. their physical capabilities, posture, demeanor and vocalizations when in a position of interpersonal threat or danger. Through an ethnographic study of this self-defense method, I show how WenDo’s pedagogy is designed to lead to these changes. In addition, I question whether WenDo can be conceptualized as a form of women’s empowerment which is disconnected from an organized feminist movement and is based on individualized self-improvement. Although most WenDo organizers and instructors are self-identifying feminists, most participants are wary of feminism and are invested in identities which privilege traditional femininity and domesticity. Therefore, WenDo limits its engagement with feminism in two ways: first, the pedagogy of empowerment in WenDo seminars emphasizes the strengths and limitations of women as an essentialized category. Secondly, the recommendations of WenDo generally focus on the danger women face from strangers on the street as opposed to violence within the family faced by a greater number of women. Despite these limitations, widespread participation of women in WenDo may constitute a culturally appropriate way of addressing women’s status in an environment that is largely hostile to feminist organization.

Author Biography

Abby Drwecki, PhD Candidate, Indiana University