Who is Julie Waite, the woman behind Streetwise Defence?
Wow! This is a surprisingly hard question to answer – it’s not often that you get to sit and think about who you really are. I guess I would say I’m a strong, independent woman who is not afraid to take risks and stand up for what I believe in.
I’m 45, which, incidentally, I think is an awesome age. I’m at that stage in life when I know to trust my gut instinct over the noise in my head, I have some wisdom to share with other people and I (finally!) realise that it doesn’t matter what people think of me – I’m just happy living my life as me!
I am also the mum of two incredible daughters aged 11 and 9.
I run Streetwise Defence with my partner Dene, and we make a great partnership. Our vision is to create a world where everyone is safe – both emotionally and physically. And we do this by educating people in personal safety, violence prevention and self defence.
I live life with a strong purpose, which is to help people and make the world a safer and happier place.
Why did you decide to start Streetwise Defence? What is the story behind it
Streetwise Defence started when my partner Dene was looking to retire from bodyguarding and private security services. He had a long distinguished career in security – which included everything from bodyguarding Angelina Jolie and her children for 15 years to securing overseas workers in countries like Iraq, Nigeria and Tunisia. He wanted to use his knowledge to help women stay safe in everyday life.
Dene had a website built for him by a designer but when I looked at it, it just wasn’t right for women. It was all martial arts and boxing pictures, which for me was a big turn-off. It was at that point that we started working together to develop a brand and curriculum that worked for women – not for what men think works for women. He brought the self defence knowledge and I brought the insight into what women want and need.
What we teach works for people of all ages and abilities – there is no martial arts, kicking, punching or ninja stuff. Our recommended physical responses are based on special forces techniques that focus on the body’s weak spots and soft tissue areas where we are all equal. It doesn’t matter how big or strong a man is – his eye is the same as ours and can be targeted with devastating effects.
At that stage, I was working 3 other marketing jobs and just helping out when I could with Streetwise Defence. Unlucky for me I had a really bad experience of sexism at work, one that involved a lot of uncomfortable moments; sending an email calling out the boss, having to resign, a lawyer friend taking on the case and eventually settling it out of court. There was a lot of grief and learning through it all.
That tied up “nicely” with the emotional desire to go all-in on Streetwise Defence. The business was growing fast and we started to develop online courses to reach more people and make it more affordable.
One of the first courses we created was ‘Self Defence for Women’ – this is a 4 hour course that teaches women about both the psychological and physical elements of staying safe.
This course includes everything from video demonstrations of how to escape a hair grab, strangulation, rear ambush and being pinned on the ground to how to de-escalate social violence, how to avoid dangerous situations and how to trust your gut instinct.
The overwhelming feedback we get is that our training makes women feel empowered and more confident in their own abilities – that makes me so proud! I only wish I had this knowledge when I was younger.
What is the biggest impact on what you do?
I think my own experiences in life as a woman have the biggest impact on our training. Like most women, I have experienced sexism, sexual assault, inappropriate behaviour from strangers, people you know overstepping boundaries, ex-partners or dates not taking no for an answer, people becoming obsessive about you and more!
These many incidents, some that occurred when I was just a child, stick with you and leave a nasty taste in your mouth. Kind of shameful and embarrassing and like you’ve done something wrong – except you haven’t.
What drives me to spread the word about our training is that I don’t want other women to feel like this. I want women to take back their power and remember that they can be fierce and stand up for themselves and each other.
What has been your biggest learning since you started?
Collaboration and people are key to making a difference in the world. We are very much open to working with other organisations to find ways that we can all grow and achieve great things. So get in touch if you’d like a chat!
What is the goal? The big vision of what you would like to achieve?
I would love to see a world where everyone is safe – emotionally and physically.
I know that this is a long way off but I believe that if we all take responsibility for our own safety and wellbeing then we are in a better place to help make that change.
--- Our feminist questionnaire -
What is Feminism for you?
For me, it’s about everyone having equal access to this amazing world we live in with no gender barriers. More than that, it’s about taking how society is now and pushing to ensure that feminism almost becomes a ‘non-subject’ in the world my daughters inhabit. My hope is that society will change to such an extent that it just isn’t an issue anymore.
Which “everyday sexism” really bothers you?
Male superiors in the workplace who touch you in a ‘friendly’ way – ie. A hand on the shoulder or a tap on the arm. This is something that has happened to me many times and it really needs to stop. It is intimidating, uncomfortable, dominating and totally unnecessary.
Do you remember when you started identifying as a Feminist and why?
I think I’ve always felt this way - I can’t remember a time when I didn’t. I have very strong memories of my dad telling me I could do anything I wanted in life if I set my mind to it. His favourite saying was “If you don’t ask, you don’t get!” and I have taken that to mean that I can challenge the status quo and I can make change in the world.
Who is your biggest feminist role model?
It has to be my first boss, an incredible aussie woman called Jenny Swift. We worked together in the early noughties doing PR for financial technology firms in London. All of our clients were male and the whole business was male-dominated.
We used to go to these huge exhibitions with 5,000 delegates and Jenny and I would be among the few women there, which could have been intimidating but not with Jenny. We would rock up in our pinstripe suits and join in with the best of them. She was fierce and fearless and fought hard for her place as an expert in that industry.
Jenny was never intimidated by men, even when meetings got heated and there was shouting or swearing – she would just join in and stand her ground. With her mentorship, I grew in confidence and knowledge, and as women we stood as equals in a tough sector.
What is your proud feminist victory?
I think holding that sexist boss to account and speaking my truth about things that had happened is my proud victory. There’s a part of me that wishes I had been stronger while they were happening and had handled things differently but it can be difficult when you are taken by surprise with a throwaway sexist remark or inappropriate touch. Afterwards you always think up great comebacks and things to say, of course.
I’m sure I would handle a similar situation differently now.
What is your feminist recommendation?
- Book:I love a good classic so ‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte is my pick. At the time it was quite unheard of for a young working-class woman to seek her own money and power, rather than from a marriage.
- tv show: I don’t think you could call it 100% feminist but in the 90s for me ‘Sex and the city’ was revolutionary. Seeing women talking about sex and relationships on their terms and without any slut-shaming was a big thing back then.
- Film: It has to be ‘Thelma and Louise’, I’ve got chills just thinking about it – those two were awesome!
What is your feminist call of action to whoever is reading?
Learn to love yourself enough so that you can show up in the world authentically. Support and empower other women. Don’t be held back by fear and stand for what you think is right – remember ‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get’!
Email me at email@example.com
Connect with me on my personal Instagram at: www.instagram.com/juliewaite.my.natural.life