A Self Defense Arsenal

As mentioned in the Introduction, I utilized archived material from The Lantern’s digital archive and The Ohio State University Library archives. I then created metadata for each artifact found to be displayed in this exhibit. I examined 136 artifacts that I found by utilizing key search words such as “self defense." I recorded which form of self-defense they promoted or advertised to see when certain tactics or objects were popular. From this data, several interesting patterns and advice emerged. In this section, you will be able to see what type of weapons and tactics people were suggesting to stay safe. A list of all mentioned weapons and tactics are at the bottom.

Marital Arts wasn’t the only way people were encouraged to defend themselves. 17 artifacts encouraged fighting back if necessary. Although there is overlap in fighting back and martial arts, fighting back did not rely on a specific marital arts discipline and typically described using one’s body to fight off an attacker via kicking, punching, scratching, biting, and occasionally included using self-defense weapons or household objects. 24 articles suggested people take self-defense classes, which aimed to teach people basic defense techniques such as punching in addition to helping people gain confidence to fight back.


Even though it seemed like anything goes for protecting oneself, there was a line drawn when Nick Liberty - an instructor for the Guardian Angels - was fired after telling recruits to use unorthodox defense methods.  The Guardian Angels were a group dedicated to unarmed crime prevention and the chapter at OSU primarily consisted of student volunteers. The ex-instructor told the recruits that he “uses nasal spray bottles, fills them with lighter fluid, and sprays his attackers and lights them” and instructed the “students to modify those techniques by filling the bottleful of water and shooting the attacker in the eyes.” Moreover, he also told students that “they could roll the magazine up, put rubber bands around it, stick nails in the ends and use the device for defense purposes.” Since the Guardian Angels’ entire prerogative was unarmed crime prevention, the self-defense methods Liberty was promoting were frowned upon. Considering the previous advice given to women to use whatever means necessary, it is difficult to say if an individual woman who used these tips to defend herself would be looked at disapprovingly or applauded for her resourcefulness.

Aside from objects for combat, whistles and personal alarms remained steady fixtures within discussions of personal safety. Whistles were promoted by WAR to alert community members that one was in trouble since the 1970s. Fast forward to 2022, OSU partnered with the company She’s Birdie to distribute personal alarms that can reach 130 decibels and include flashing strobe light to “deter attackers.” Even though She’s Birdie markets itself as a “personal safety alarm made for women, by women,” OSU promotes these alarms for all students not just women.

Fighting back and marital arts aren’t the only strategy being suggested. 

  • 13 of the 136 artifacts endorsed using your voice to yell or scream for help. 
  • 12 artifacts encouraged running away if possible.  
  • 12 artifacts encouraged reporting an incident to the police
  • 11 of the 136 artifacts endorsed not walking alone and 5 suggested not walking at night.
  • 9 encouraged people to lock their doors and 5 encouraged people to close their blinds. 
  • 6 encouraged the use of a safety whistle and 7 encouraged carrying pepper spray.
  • 6 artifacts encouraged gun use for self-defense.

Demographically speaking, self-defense discussions and advice were addressed more toward women than men. 52 artifacts explicitly addressed women and only 9 artifacts explicitly address men. When men were addressed explicitly, it was almost always in relation to martial arts and never in the context of rape. When women were addressed explicitly in relation to self-defense it was almost always in the context of rape prevention. There were 48 artifacts that addressed both men and women or an ambiguous audience.  Unlike the artifacts that explicitly address women, these 48 artifacts primarily discussed general safety tips and did not focus on any one issue, such as rape prevention.

While many self-defense strategies involved the use of everyday objects (keys, pens, combs, etc.) or explicit self-defense weapons (pepper spray, guns, etc.), the pamphlet “Prevent Rape” produced by the Ohio Governor’s office is one of the only pamphlets that explicitly states that one should not rely on self-defense objects - “*NEVER foster a dependence on an object which may or may not be available when you need it. Whistles are fine - but no better than a loud, strong yell.”

Historic Self-Defense Objects and Advice

A Non-Exhaustive List of advice and objects that have been recommended for women to defend themselves since 1968:

  • Don’t walk alone
  • Don’t walk in darkly lit areas
  • Learn Martial arts
  • Scream
  • Hairspray
  • Call the police
  • Run away
  • Nails
  • High Heels
  • Report to the police
  • Lock doors and windows
  • Use escort system
  • Women should walk in pairs
  • Run to a Distress Center
  • Kicking
  • Biting
  • Scratching
  • Fight Back
  • Mace
  • Tear gas
  • Lit cigarette
  • Take Self-Defense Classes
  • Use safety whistle
  • Close blinds
  • Punching
  • Candlesticks
  • Lamps
  • knick-knacks
  • A “Short plastic stick called a ‘Persuader’
  • ‘Watch Cat’
  • Stun guns
  • Tasers
  • Guns
  • Pepper spray
  • Handcuffs
  • Hat Pin
  • Can Opener
  • Teasing Comb
  • Rat Tail Comb
  • Hair Lift
  • "Don’t Look like a Victim"
  • Metal Fingernail File
  • Orangewood Stick
  • Pencil
  • Umbrella
  • Squirt gun filled with “a solution of ½ indelible ink and ½ alcohol”
  • Keys
  • Pens
  • Don’t depend on safety objects that may not be readily available
  • Birdie Safety Alarm
A Self Defense Arsenal