This dissertation uses Polish women’s participation in self-defense and martial arts courses as a case study that illuminates many social processes related to postcommunism. Given the lack of popularity of a feminist movement in Poland, I ask whether individual empowerment of women such as that promoted by self-defense philosophies is a more culturally appropriate way of addressing the problems facing women in Poland than feminism per se. At the same time, my work acknowledges the fact that such individualized interpellation of a disadvantaged group ignores structural inequalities and institutionalized sexism. I form my argument in a series of chapters which focus on self-defense participation’s relationship to various aspects of Polish society. At first glance, a hybrid identity cobbled together creatively by an individual may seem more empowering than an unquestioning embrace of traditional, self-sacrificing roles, but ties of self-defense courses to consumerism are problematic. The framing of self-defense participation as a means of individualized self-improvement, and as one consumer choice among many draws attention away from the broader social problems which make self-defense necessary for women, and makes remedies for violence and misogyny seem irrelevant. I use evidence from interviews and from self-defense advertising to highlight these issues. My dissertation contributes to literatures on postcommunism, gender and European integration in Anthropology, Gender Studies, Eastern European Studies and other social sciences. In addition the insights provided by my study can inform the study of women’s empowerment by activists and by policy makers in this region.