I've done a lot of mentoring work with young urban girls, and the thing I always find myself telling them is that it's probably a good idea to take some sort of self-defense class. I think it's good advice for any woman (and really, anybody), especially when she lives in a city and could be in danger of getting mugged, harassed, assaulted, etc. The funny thing is that I've never taken a self-defense class myself.
Having been on the receiving end of street harassment, I know how intimidating it can be, as a woman, to simply walk a few blocks by yourself in the city. Luckily, I feel safe most of the time, but there have definitely been occasions when I wish I could have been more assertive but usually end up backing down. And I don't mean assertive merely in the kick-ass, Lara Croft sense--that's only part of it. I once had a friend who took a self-defense class after repeatedly being harassed by the neighborhood meanies, and seeing how her confidence multiplied made me realize THAT was the purpose of self-defense: building your own awareness of your body and surroundings, as well as your confidence to stand up to whatever threatens you.
As a fairly tiny woman, I have always had this fear of physical confrontation. Sadly, I think this is a fear that a lot of other women have. I'm not saying that you should be able to go out and pick a fight with somebody, but being able to stand up for yourself and your safety is something that everyone should feel brave enough to do.
This is why I'm going to sign up for self-defense classes--I have a birthday coming up, and that'll be my gift to myself. I haven't decided on the modality yet, but I'll keep everyone posted...