Women suffer violent attacks at an alarming rate in this country. Feeling safe is a luxury that Elizabeth Gonzalez, founder of Meow Defense, does not take for granted. Elizabeth launched her self-defense company and her online shop with a clear mission: to inspire everyone to feel empowered and safe. It’s a cause near and dear to her heart after years of feeling like she was not in control of her own protection.
The numbers don’t lie. One in five women in the United States will be the victim of a completed or attempted rape in her lifetime. On top of that, 81% of women reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment and/or assault in their lifetime, reports the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
It goes without saying that this is not ok. These statistics are scary. But it’s the reality that many women are faced with — needing to take their protection into their own hands.
When Elizabeth Gonzalez was just 15 years old, she felt vulnerable, constantly being followed by men while on public transportation or walking on her way to school. So she began carrying pepper spray to feel safer.
As time went on, her vulnerability did not change, but she got smarter and began offering advice to other women about self-defense and about carrying pepper spray. Soon she realized that her need to feel safe was not the exception but rather the common thread that connected her to many other women. And so, she found her passion for helping other Latinas protect themselves and feel empowered. Shortly after that, Meow Defense was born.
Her operation is a true Latina-owned small business, start to finish. She does everything on her own and from her home — from designing products, posting on social media, creating blog posts, promoting new items, and even shipping products (and free replacements, when needed).
It’s a passion project built out of necessity, and it has evolved to help women gain knowledge, empowerment, and tools to feel safe and give back to the community.
Giving back was a goal that was always present in the back of Gonzalez’s mind but recently came to life. Each month Meow Defense gives back a portion of its proceeds to local organizations that help protect women and youth, and some months she donates self-defense tools to people who cannot afford to buy them on their own.
The mission is always to inspire, empower and arm the community with what they need to stay safe.
We chatted with Elizabeth about her brand, what inspired her to start Meow Defense, and what she wants all women to know about self-protection.
She urges all women to get smart about their own safety and what they need to feel truly protected. For some, that may include self-defense tools and weapons; for others, it may mean simply arming yourself with knowledge on how to avoid dangerous environments and stay away from potentially vulnerable situations. Either way, Meow Defense is there to help all women stay cute and stay safe.
What first inspired you to launch Meow Defense?
My interest in starting a small self-defense tool business started in high school. Like most kids my age, I was walking to school and back home on my own. While I was used to strangers cat-calling me, there was one time when a stranger in a car followed me a few blocks, and he only stopped when I pretended to enter an apartment complex so that he wouldn’t know where I lived. That’s when I started to research what I could legally carry for self-defense because I was in a situation that could have easily escalated. In California, a minor at least sixteen can carry pepper spray with written permission from their parents, so after speaking to my mom, she bought me pepper spray. That’s when I realized many people, particularly women, have been in potentially dangerous situations but have never thought of carrying a self-defense tool. Two years later, in 2014, I soft-launched Meow Defense online.
What is your goal for Meow Defense – how do you hope your shop and your brand will help empower others?
My goal has always been to let people know that they have an option to protect themselves from scary situations. The point of carrying weapons is not necessarily to use them but be prepared and confident about using them. For example, if I am in a parking lot and I notice someone has been following me, I can grab my pepper spray and know that I’ll be using it if they start to get too close. The knowledge that I have a weapon I know how to use is a tool itself. Attacks are never a survivor’s fault, and we live in a world where we have to fight for ourselves, so ultimately, I have always stressed the importance of carrying self-defense tools.
We love that you make monthly contributions to different organizations in your community. How did this charity tie-in begin, and why is giving back such an important part of your business model and brand?
Like every other person, all I’ve wanted to do is help others. However, I wasn’t in a financial position to do so until the summer of 2018, so that’s when I started to make contributions to my local community where I could. I love my business and my job, but I have always seen it more as an online community. That online community has supported my business for years, so I give right back to it by either donating financially to women’s shelters or by donating self-defense tools to people who cannot afford to. Self-defense tools should not be a luxury. I believe they should be accessible to anyone regardless of class, gender, race, and everything else in between. It’s never a life-changing donation, but every bit helps, and people should always give back when they can. I also give back to my customers by offering free replacements on any of their tools if they got lost or damaged during an act of self-defense.
What is the most common misconception you’ve heard about self-defense, and what do you want Latinas to know about self-protection?
Over the last 7+ years, a common misconception I’ve noticed about self-defense is thinking that carrying a tool is enough. Thinking about owning and carrying a tool is a very personal decision that needs research. First, you need to check what tools are an option for you to legally own and carry based on your city and state laws. Then you need to ask yourself what you are willing to use since weapons can be potentially fatal. I always recommend pepper spray as a solid decision because you do not need to be close to an attacker to use it, and they are legal in most states in the United States. After choosing a tool, always learn how to use it and have easy access to it! You can be in a situation where you only have a short window to pull out your pepper spray, and it won’t be helpful to you if it’s in your car or at the bottom of your bag. I always recommend taking a local self-defense class for people who do not feel comfortable carrying a self-defense tool (and even if they do). Sometimes universities offer them to their students for free, so definitely check your options. We should always be prepared, not scared.