Sunday, December 7, 2008

Book View Cafe: Another Place I Spend My Time

There's a problem with being interested in too many things: It means you're forever falling behind on one project or another.

The reason I haven't posted anything here lately is that I'm part of the consortium of fiction writers at Book View Cafe. We went live November 15, and even though I'm only one cog in a 21-writer machine, most of my spare time went toward helping that project and its companion blog get off the ground.

I'm going to try to get back to regular posts here, while still doing my part on Book View Cafe, writing fiction, earning a living, and having a life. We'll see what gives next.

By the way, my story "St. George and the Dragon (Revised)," a featured story on Dec. 7, is all about self defense. I also talk about self defense in a related blog post on the Book View Cafe Blog.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Get the Facts: An Object Lesson in Stupid Gun Behavior

The Dallas Morning News reports on a man who accidentally killed his girlfriend while teaching her how to handle a gun.

It's a classic story: He took out the magazine, thought the gun wasn't loaded, and pulled the trigger. Now a 19-year-old woman is dead and the 22-year-old man is likely headed for jail.

Unfortunately, this isn't unusual; while looking for statistics on accidental gun deaths just now, I came upon another story about a 19-year-old woman killed accidentally by a gun she got from her boyfriend. That one happened about three weeks ago in Arizona.

Now unintentional shootings aren't a huge cause of death in the United States. The CDC gives a figure of 789 such deaths for 2005. That's just a drop in the bucket out of 30,694 firearm-related deaths in that year. It's particularly tiny compared to 12,352 gun-related murders or the very disturbing figure of 17,002 suicides by firearm.

But that doesn't make such deaths any less stupid. And the number of unintentional shootings that didn't kill anyone is more sobering: 15,698 in 2007, according to the CDC.

That's more than 16,000 instances per year where something bad happened because someone was being stupid with a gun.

Readers of this blog know that guns aren't my first choice for self defense. But there are circumstances where they can be valuable tools if you know how to use them.

If you're going to keep a gun around for self defense, learn how to use it -- and from a professional trainer, not a drunk boyfriend. Keep it locked up and away from children. And don't ever point it at anyone you don't intend to shoot!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Get the Facts: Don't Be Misled by Racist Stereotypes

Why did anyone believe the now-discredited story by a McCain volunteer that she was attacked by a black man due to her McCain bumper sticker, even though the story seemed improbable from the beginning?

Because despite the progress we've made in race relations in this country -- of which Barack Obama's candidacy is the most obvious example -- many white people are still all too willing to believe that they are more likely to be criminally attacked by a black person than a white one.

And that's not true.

According to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics 2006 data on victims and offenders (PDF alert), white people are more often attacked by white criminals. To cite just one statistic from the many available in the BJS reports, 70 percent of all violent attacks on white victims are by people the victim perceives as white, while only 13 percent are by attackers perceived as black (the remainder is either other races or unknown). This is a figure compiled from 3.7 million attacks by a single attacker.

If you look at rape attacks, over 50 percent of the attackers of white women are white, while about 17 percent of them are black.

The truth is, white people are at much more risk of violent attack from other white people than they are from people of other races.

Likewise, black people are more at risk from other black people; the same BJS chart shows that 75 percent of all violent attacks on blacks are by people perceived as black, with 11.5 percent committed by white people.

It's time to retire the old stereotypes. Fearing the wrong thing makes us more vulnerable, not safer.

(Note: All statistics are from Chart 42 in the above listed PDF.)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Take Action: "I Refuse to Be Raped."

The quote above is from a t-shirt worn by some women in the Congo as part of their effort to do something about rape and other violence against women in a place that that United Nations says has the worst sexual violence problem in the world.

The New York Times published a detailed report of actions people are taking in the Congo, including stepped up prosecution of rapists, grassroots organizing, and groups working with rape victims. The American Bar Association has a project to help prosecutions, and playwright Eve Ensler is organizing victim services and has formed an organization called City of Joy.

This is a good example of the kind of multilayered approach needed in dealing with violence against women. Rape should not be tolerated; rapists should be prosecuted. Women need to learn how to protect themselves and must speak out. And others need to provide services to those who are harmed. No one thing solves all problems.

Get the Facts: Encouraging Women to Protect Themselves Is Not Blaming the Victim

Women's eNews published a story this week about men becoming angry enough to take action on domestic violence.

Hooray for all men who understand the problem. Given the complexities of domestic violence -- and indeed, all violence -- against women, we need all the help we can get from men who get it. After all, most men are not violent abusers, and when they take action to show their disapproval, they have a strong affect on other men.

But the article goes on to say:
The focus is usually on women not doing enough to protect themselves or their children, while far less attention is paid to the perpetrators. Why aren't more men outraged at their fellow males' actions and motivated to end it, once and for all? Why are women left to pick up the pieces? Isn't this a man's problem?
Men cause the problem, but it's women who suffer from it. Rather than waiting around for outraged guys to "take care of" the bad ones -- which could take a long time -- women will be safer if they take steps to keep themselves safe.

In the case of domestic abuse, the two most important things women can do are to learn to recognize men who are likely to become abusive and to immediately get out of a relationship when the first signs of abuse appear. The programs aimed at high school students I discussed last week are a step in the right direction.

Giving women the facts and skills to avoid becoming victims is not the same as blaming the victim.

Several years ago, I was on a panel at a science fiction convention discussing women in the military, and someone in the audience asked whether we thought that teaching women to protect themselves would reduce violence against women. Both I and a fellow panelist -- a retired military officer -- answered with an enthusiastic "yes." That doesn't mean that either of us thought women were at fault for being attacked; rather, it means we think that if women are not perceived as easy targets, violence will drop.

Of course, if men think they will be censured by other men for violent acts against women, their actions will change, too. There is no one solution to violence in our society. And children, of course, are rarely able to protect themselves from adults. Both men and women need to make sure they take steps to protect children.

I should add that one thing in the article disturbed me: the author quoted from the reaction of a prison inmate to a horrible video of the rape of a three-year-old: "The man who did that should receive the death penalty. No, send him to jail and let the inmates kill him. Because after that, they will."

I hope the author doesn't really agree with that point of view, though she presents it without discussion. More violence is not the solution to violence.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Trust Your Instincts: Don't Get Close to Unknown Cars

Lubbock cops are telling parents to teach their daughters to avoid approaching unknown cars. Apparently there have been several reports of a man exposing himself after calling girls over to his car.

It's good advice, and goes for boys as well as girls. Personally, I never approach a car when I don't know the people in it, even when someone sounds absolutely lost and is seeking directions. You don't have to be rude; you can give good directions from 10 feet away.

This might sound silly, unless it's ever happened to you. It happened to me. I wasn't a young girl, either -- I was about 21 at the time. I was walking alone along South First Street in Austin and a man called me over to ask directions. I didn't get close enough at first, so he waved me over closer. I looked into the car and his penis was hanging out. I yelled at him and took off running. He didn't follow me.

Nothing bad happened. I wasn't harmed physically and it didn't leave me traumatized. In terms of sexual misconduct, it's pretty minor. But it must have had some kind of effect, because I still remember it very vividly after all these years. In fact, I remember it every time some stranger calls to me from a car. It's why I always keep my distance.

It wasn't seeing a man's penis. I'd been in a serious relationship or two by then, and I used to frequent Hippie Hollow out on Lake Travis west of Austin, where everyone, male and female, skinnydipped except for the occasional creepy guy with binoculars up in the bushes.

There's just something very disturbing about a complete stranger who apparently gets his sexual jollies by showing his private parts to young women. The abstract of a study published in the Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology suggests indecent exposure affects women's "social freedom" -- I assume the author means women's comfort level in going places alone -- and raises their fear levels about crime.

I haven't read the full article -- it's behind a paywall -- but according to the abstract the researcher, Shannon Riordan, interviewed 72 women, of whom 35 -- almost 50 percent -- had experienced a flasher.

Someone is bound to write in and talk about women exposing themselves to men, so I'll just observe that a grown woman exposing herself to boys is also doing harm to them. I don't think it's as big a problem when women expose themselves to grown men, though. While I imagine that some men find this amusing and others -- perhaps most -- find it sad or disgusting, I suspect it's not as frightening to men as male flashing is to women.

If it were a man exposing himself to another man -- something I'm sure happens, though I haven't seen any materials on it -- I imagine most men would be as creeped out or even frightened as most women. After all, while the idea that someone is using you for their sexual fantasies is disturbing, the really frightening part of the experience is that they might intend to do something else. And most of us still find men more threatening in that sense than we do women.

Personally, I suspect the reason I still remember what happened to me is because I was immediately afraid the man intended to rape me. It felt like one of those near misses from a really bad experience.

So take the advice of the Lubbock police. Keep your distance from strangers in cars and teach your children to do the same. It's an easy thing to do, and most of the time can be done without being rude. After all, someone who really just wants directions isn't going to mind if you keep your distance.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Get the Facts: Teaching Teenagers About Dating Violence

Rhode Island has just adopted a law requiring schools to teach students about dating violence in their health classes.

Texas passed a similar law last year. In both cases, the laws came about because young women were murdered by obsessive boyfriends.

I'm in favor of incorporating discussion of dating violence issues into health classes. Young women often lack the experience to recognize the warning signs of dangerous behavior in their boyfriends. Discussion of these issues will help a lot of them avoid violent relationships, and it will provide valuable resources for those already in a troubling situation.

While general discussion of the subject in co-ed classes is important, programs should also include discussion groups separated by gender. Both boys and girls will be more inclined to deal with the subject honestly in a same-sex environment. Separate discussion groups for gay and lesbian students would also provide a needed service.

The Texas Attorney General's Crime Victim Services page offers valuable information on the bill and on opportunities for victim services advocates to get involved.

Schools shouldn't wait for their legislatures to act on these laws. Violence is a public health issue -- the Centers for Disease Control study it -- and should be addressed as part of the health course in any case.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Take Action: The NYC Transit Authority Encourages Women to Stand Up to Gropers

The New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority has a new policy encouraging women to report men who grope them on the subway.

The policy came about after a police sting and informal surveys indicated that being harassed or groped on the subway was a common experience among women.

I'm glad to see such a policy. Women need to be reminded that they don't have to suffer such abuses in silence. They can take action.

There are probably times when the best course of action is to get off at the next stop and find a transit officer, but in many cases, yelling at the guy and embarrassing him when the assault happens may be the most effective response. In that situation, you will likely get support from others on the subway car.

On Salon's Broadsheet, Kate Harding suggests that this is another way of putting the onus on the victim. But while it's important not to blame victims, one of the best ways to stop assaults against women is for women to refuse to be victims. And the best way to do that is to stand up against attackers.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Learn Basic Skills: Most of Us Should Know How to Drive

The marvelous science fiction writer and linguist Suzette Haden Elgin has a post on her Live Journal about learning to drive again. She lives in a rural area of Arkansas, but depends on her husband to do the driving.

Elgin, who is over 70 and often writes frankly on issues of aging, is making sure she can drive because she knows she could end up needing to take care of her husband at some point -- what if he was too ill to drive?

But situations like that don't just happen to older people; they can happen to any of us. And while I would argue that developing community -- family, close friends, neighbors, or at best of all combination of all three -- is an important part of self defense, there will always be situations when you are the only person who can do something.

The unskilled person who rises to the occasion makes for exciting cinema -- think of all those movies about the unskilled flight attendant or passenger who lands the plane -- but in real life, it's a lot easier to deal with a crisis when you already know how to do the basic things, like drive a car.

I'm not saying everyone needs to learn how to drive, of course; the actual basic skills you need depend greatly on where you live. If you live in Manhattan, for example, you don't really need to know how to drive, though you do need to know how to hail a cab and find the right subway stop. And not everyone can drive; some people have disabilities that make it impossible.

But if you live in a sprawling city with bad public transportation -- as do large numbers of us in the US -- or in the country, driving is a skill you need, even if you don't drive regularly or own a car. If you have a disability that prevents you from driving, then you need to plan how you will handle a situation if your regular transportation situation falls through.

Driving is an example of a basic skill. There are others. Off the top of my head, I come up with knowing how to quickly evacuate a building if you live or work in a highrise, knowing how to turn off the water to your house in case a pipe breaks, and knowing how to get home in case some disaster blocks your usual path. There are dozens -- maybe hundreds -- of others.

The unexpected happens and most of us freak out to one degree or another when it does. If you can handle the basic things when a crisis hits, you'll find it easier to be calm and deal with the larger problem.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Get the Facts and Learn to Fight: A Program for Young Women

Here's an interesting looking training program aimed at women and girls aged 11-19: Just Yell Fire. (Note: this website automatically runs video with sound when you open it, so be forewarned.)

The people behind this -- who include a 16-year-old woman black belt named Dallas Jessup -- are concerned about the risks to younger women. They discuss date rape and dating issues as well as how to fight back against physical attack.

The name comes from their theory that we're used to hearing people yell "help" when they don't really mean it, so the recommend yelling "fire" instead. When I took Model Mugging -- now generally known as Impact -- we were taught to yell "no" for the same reason.

They offer workshops and they also offer instruction for self defense trainers. They've also done a movie showing self defense skills. I haven't watched it yet, but I'll review it here when I do.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Pay Attention: Take Off Those Headphones, Put Away That Video Game, Close That Book ...

Remember when you were a kid, sitting around with a book, or a game, or just daydreaming, and some adult -- a parent or a teacher or maybe a coach -- yelled at you, "Pay attention."

And you said -- automatically -- "I am paying attention."

But, of course, you weren't. You were in your own world, and just trying to keep a small piece of your mind alert for what the adult in question found important, to stay out of trouble. Not very successfully, I might add, or they wouldn't have yelled at you.

Now I'm not here to criticize you for tuning out boring teachers or lectures on cleaning up your room -- far from it. My high school English teacher's take on English poets drove me nuts, so I sat in the back of the room and read Sartre. These days I tend to read and listen to the radio while eating dinner.

But I've noticed something: If there's an interesting news report on the radio, or a song I really love, I tend to read a page without knowing what I read. Likewise, when I get engrossed in what I'm reading, I miss what was said on the radio, often coming out of my fog to find that I've just missed the story I most wanted to hear. And sometimes I find I've finished dinner without noticing what I ate.

And I really didn't listen to the English teacher.

If you're really paying attention to one thing, you're giving something else short shrift. That doesn't really matter when you're home alone with the radio and a book, but it's hugely important when you're walking down the street. Or driving.

I've been musing on this ever since I heard about the tragic rail crash in Los Angeles, in which at least 25 people died. Some reports on the crash suggest that the engineer was text-messaging at the time of the crash -- though I don't know if this has been actually proved -- and there has been a rush to pass a rule against using portable electronics while running a train.

Now you'd think such a rule wouldn't be necessary, that any sane person would know you couldn't drive a train and text message at the same time. But given the number of people who drive cars while talking on their cell phones (and yes, text messaging), it appears that there are large numbers of people who really don't understand how much attention it takes to operate a train or a car, and how much their attention can be dragged away by an interesting text-message conversation.

It's just too easy to get caught up in one of the things you're doing, at the expense of the others, and if the thing you're not paying attention to happens to be dangerous, accidents happen.

How does this tie into self defense? If you're paying attention, you can avoid whatever trouble is up ahead, whether it's bad traffic or someone who gives you the creeps. Protecting yourself from attack by other human beings is really quite similar to protecting yourself from accidents.

Don't handicap yourself by dividing your attention when you're driving, biking, or even walking or jogging. Keep yourself and others safe: Pay attention.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Get the Facts: Gender Affects Crime

Ongoing gender inequity in our society affects your risk from crime.

Over on the Burnt Orange Report, liberaltexan, who I believe is male, has an interesting post on male privilege.

Among the things he points out: Women are significantly more at risk from rape and sexual harassment than men are.

Certainly that means that we need to work together to change those numbers, but while we're doing that, individual women need to be aware of their risk and take steps to protect themselves. As I've pointed out before on this blog, the biggest rape danger to women is not from strangers -- even though that's our worst fear -- but from acquaintances.

Sexual harassment is in some ways a trickier situation, because while it includes many annoying but not dangerous actions, it can affect your career. To protect yourself, you must learn how to make a firm response when something happens -- most sexual harassment policies require that the victim let the attacker know that he was out of line. And you must decide when it's necessary to report an action and take further steps.

But before someone starts raving about how men are victimized by sexual harassment (Don't get confused by the movies, guys: as a fiction writer, I can tell you that all those stories of women harassing men are done because role reversal is more fun to write), let me point out one way in which that gender inequality comes back to haunt men:
Men are at much greater risk from homicide than women.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, 79 percent of murder victims in 2006 were male. In fact, the BJS says men were at greater risk for all kinds of violent crime except rape and sexual assault.

Men are often too cavalier about taking care of themselves, assuming that their strength and gender protect them. They, too, need to pay attention and learn the facts.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Get the Facts: Doonesbury on Military Sexual Assault

Looking for a way to pick up a few facts in a short period of time? Read Doonesbury daily.

Garry Trudeau has a real gift for getting at the heart of serious issues while still being funny. He's recently introduced a new character, Melissa, an Iraq war veteran who was raped by her fellow soldiers. Last week she told B.D. about the Congressional hearings on military sexual assault.

If you've got time to investigate solutions to the sexual assault problems in the military, I recommend Erin Solaro's Women in the Line of Fire. In this book about the current experiences of women in the military, Solaro suggests the problem can be solved if the military issues firm orders that sexual harassment and assault will not be tolerated and holds people accountable. Right now, too many people are winking at the problem and taking a "boys will be boys" attitude.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Work Together: Indian Tribes Should Be Able to Prosecute Non-Indians

As a general rule, women are at the greatest risk of rape and sexual assault from men of their own race or ethnicity. A Bureau of Justice Statistics report (pdf) from the late 1990s estimates 88 percent of sexual assaults are committed by someone who is the same race as the victim.

But according to a recent New York Times op-ed, that rule of thumb doesn't apply to Native American women, particularly those who live on reservations. More than 80 percent of Native American women who are attacked say that the rapist was not Indian, law professor N. Bruce Duthu said in the article.

Duthu also cited Justice Department statistics saying one in three Native American women will be raped in their lifetimes. Rape is a serious problem in Indian Country. You can read the transcript or listen to this report that played on NPR last year to get some idea of the scope of the problem.

And here's the other shoe: Under federal law Indian tribes can't prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes on the reservation. In practical terms, that means a non-Indian who commits a crime on an Indian reservation only gets prosecuted if someone can convince a state or federal prosecutor to take action -- something that doesn't happen often, especially in run-of-the mill cases.

Back in the 1970s, when I spent a summer on the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota, I heard of criminal acts by whites living on the reservations -- acts that went unpunished because the Sioux Nation had no jurisdiction over them. It was obvious then that some white people were deliberately taking advantage of the fact that they were immune from prosecution in the tribal courts. Since that time, according to Duthu, the Supreme Court has upheld the limited jurisdiction of Indian courts.

Congress needs to act now to change this law; it's way overdue. Indian tribes should have the same right to enforce their laws in their territory as any other political subdivision in the country. As long as their authority is limited, Native American women will be targets.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Trust Your Instincts: Older People Can Defend Themselves, Too

The Tulsa World reports that a 75-year-old woman in Moore, Oklahoma, fought off a 35-year-old rapist by kicking him in the groin, poking him the eyes, and hitting him on the head with a cordless phone.

According to the news report, she apparently picked up a few fighting techniques from watching Dr. Phil! I tend to be skeptical about what someone can learn from watching TV, but it apparently helped in this case.

It's just a short news report, but I would assume the rapist wasn't armed. I suspect the woman read the situation and instinctively knew she'd be safer fighting back. And she didn't let the fact that he was half her age get in her way.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Learn to Fight: Upcoming Self Defense Classes

It's September, back to school time. Even if you graduated a long time ago, it's a great time to learn something new. Here are some upcoming self defense classes:


Sun Dragon Martial Arts is offering a 3-hour basic self defense skills workshop on Saturday, Sept. 13. The cost is $35. Sun Dragon offers classes in Seido Karate and is affiliated with the World Seido Karate Association. Their head instructor, Joy Williamson, is certified as a self defense instructor by National Women's Martial Arts Foundation.

Washington, DC:

Defend Yourself is offering a 3-hour introduction to self defense on Saturday, Sept. 13, at a cost of $55. The class will be held in DC near Howard University. They are also offering a 3-hour workshop on guns, knives and multiple attackers on Oct. 18 for $45 in Takoma Park, MD. Defend Yourself's head instructor is Lauren Taylor, who has been teaching self defense for over 20 years and is also certified as a self defense instructor by National Women's Martial Arts Foundation.

DC Impact is offering a 5-week intensive women's basics class beginning Sept. 14. The cost is $595 and the classes will be held near the Gallery Place Metro stop. I took this class years ago back when the program was first starting in DC, and I highly recommend it.

New Mexico:

Impact Personal Safety in Santa Fe is offering women's basic self defense on Saturdays and Sundays beginning Sept. 20. This program is probably similar to the one offered by DC Impact. They provide a sliding scale fee, ranging from $50 - $450, depending on ability to pay.

North Dakota:

The University of North Dakota Women's Center offers Impact classes and even gives college physical education credits for taking it. Their next class is scheduled for Sept. 12-14.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Pay Attention: Car Accidents Kill More People Than Crime

The latest edition of AAA World, AAA's Mid-Atlantic region magazine, reminds us that our lifetime risk of dying in a car crash is three times as great as our chance of being murdered.

According to the article "Risky Business," about 43,000 people in the U.S. die every year in car crashes, with another 2.5 million suffering disabling injuries.

Those are sobering figures, but there's good news, according to AAA: Most crashes are preventable. The key to preventing car crashes: Paying attention.

A 2006 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that lack of driver attention accounted for nearly 80 percent of all crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes. Incidentally, cell phone use was the the most significant factor, though the AAA article also mentions adjusting the radio and other vehicle controls, eating, drinking, and talking to passengers.

The AAA article also discusses the usual suspects -- drunk driving, speeding, aggressive driving -- but also makes a big point about one other major problem: fatigue. It's hard to pay attention when you're falling asleep at the wheel.

Self defense is not just about protecting yourself from crime; it's about protecting yourself from all the dangers out there. Driving is a dangerous activity, but if you pay attention, you can minimize your risk.

Here's an excellent example of what should be a driver no-no: Jamie Lawrence reports from Korea that his bus driver was watching television while driving down a six-lane street. I'd like to think that this is just another of those wacky tales about driving in other countries, but I've seen too many ads for car TVs to discount the possibility that U.S. drivers are doing the same thing.

Life Interferes: An Explanation and a Recommitment

I obviously haven't been blogging much this year. My life got complicated and some things -- including this blog -- fell by the wayside.

As I mentioned earlier on this blog, I moved back to Austin, Texas, after many years in Washington, D.C., and started a new job as the Austin correspondent for my company. I was optimistic when I made that previous post that I'd get back to blogging regularly, but I had clearly underestimated how much time it would take me to settle in.

Additionally, my first fiction collection came out in print -- Conscientious Inconsistencies -- and I've been devoting some time to that as well.

It's occurred to me that maybe I don't have enough time to do everything I want to do in my life. I thought about dropping this blog and the overall self defense writing project.

But I can't. The subject is too important to me. So I'm starting back up today and promise that from here on out I will post on a regular basis.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Be Flexible: Anything Can Be a Weapon

My Aikido teacher flies a lot. He likes to joke -- when he's teaching a class, not when he's going through airport security -- that no one ever checks over his hands as possible weapons.

But, of course, his hands are very useful weapons indeed, as anyone he's ever sent flying across the mat can tell you.

The truth is, anything can be a weapon. And while that may strike fear into the heart of those conducting security theater at the airports, it is something the rest of us need to remember when we're in a tight spot.

For example, here's a report from the Corpus Christi Caller-Times about a woman who used spray perfume to get away from an attacker.

Now I'm not advising you to start carrying perfume around for self defense purposes or to automatically spray anyone who looks at you cross-eyed. What I am suggesting is that in a difficult situation, you can often find something that will work as a weapon so long as you stay calm and aware of what's going on around you.

One of my favorite stories about this -- and I heard it so long ago that I don't remember where it came from -- is one about a woman who found herself on the subway late at night, alone except for a man who frightened her (as I recall, she had good reason to be afraid). So she began to pick her nose and otherwise act in a rather gross manner.

He got off at the next stop.

Anything can be a weapon.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Hey Baby: Here's a Washington, DC, Class on Handling Street Harassment

The guys yelling "Hey, baby" on the street are often just a minor annoyance, but sometimes street harassment can lead to real trouble.

Lauren Taylor's Defend Yourself program offers a class on dealing with street harassment for women and girls age 16 and up in Washington, DC, on Saturday, March 29, from 1 to 4 PM. The class will be held at the Potter's House, on Columbia Road in Adams-Morgan. The workshop costs $39, and goes up to $45 after March 16. There's a discount for registering with a friend. Contact or 301-608-3708 for details.

Here's the description from the announcement email:
Can you "ignore" street harassment? Of course you can. And you already know how to do that. This class will give you other options, making ignoring it only one in a range of skills to choose from, especially when ignoring it doesn’t seem safe.

The class will cover the self defense techniques -- prevention and awareness, verbal self defense, and physical strikes -- that you might need in dealing with street harassment. Most of these skills can also be transferred to other irritating or dangerous situations in the rest of life.

Defend Yourself has more self defense classes scheduled for spring.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Project Confidence: Become Someone the Spirits Want to Protect

I took an Aikido seminar this past weekend with Mary Heiny Sensei, a sixth-degree black belt who began her training in Japan in the late 1960s.

In addition to the greater understanding of Aikido that I gained in my body -- there's nothing quite like moving to demonstrate what you understand and what you don't -- I increased my awareness of Aikido as good self defense.

Heiny Sensei told us something she had learned from one of her Japanese teachers. The Japanese phrase for self defense is go shin jutsu. "Shin" in that phrase is generally written to mean "body." But one of the real entertaining (and subtle) things about the Japanese written language is that many Japanese kanji are pronounced in the same way while meaning different things.

When O Sensei -- the founder of Aikido -- wrote go shin jutsu in kanji, he used the character pronounced as "shin" that means "kami, or spirits." His interpretation of self defense was something like "be someone the spirits want to protect."

Now O Sensei was a religious man, but I don't think even he meant that phrase in a purely religious sense. I interpret it as act with integrity -- both in how you move and how you deal with others -- and you will be protected.

I'm using the word "integrity" because it is a core principle of Aikido and encompasses both physical integrity and the concept of ethical conduct. I could say Aikido principles, but explaining that will take me much more space than a brief blog post, and integrity is a good fit.

Integrity underlies a lot of what I mean when I say project confidence, but it also includes the concepts of flexibility and calmness, not to mention paying attention and trusting your instincts. If you move through this world with that sort of integrity, you will be protected simply by being who you are.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Learn to Fight: Upcoming Classes in Chicago

A recent comment gave this blog a rave review and the person who posted mentioned that she was about to relocate to Chicago. So as a thank you, here is some information about upcoming self defense classes in Chicago.

Impact Chicago has scheduled core classes on March 8 & 9 and 15 & 16 (Saturdays and Sundays from 11 to 5) at JCFS, 3145 W. Pratt in Chicago. Their next session will be a one-weekend class May 16-18 (Friday 5:30 to 9:30 and all day Saturday and Sunday) at Belle Plaine Studio, 2014 W. Belle Plaine in Chicago. They also have classes scheduled for July, September, and October.

The class costs $395. Registration information can be found on the core program page. The phone number is 773-338-4545 or you can email for more information at

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Learn to Fight -- But Not From Bad Videos

According to the Dallas Morning News, there's an armed serial rapist attacking women in the greater Dallas area. In what I'm sure is an effort to help women deal with this threat, the newspaper posted a video giving advice from a police officer and a couple of self defense experts. (Note: the video plays with Flash or the Windows Media player -- it doesn't work with Quicktime.)

Unfortunately, the advice on the video is all but useless to an untrained person. In the first technique, a woman is trapped under a man who is trying to undo his pants. The video shows how she twists her hips to get loose, and then kicks the man.

While this is a good ground technique -- often taught in the Impact and Model Mugging classes -- it's not something you can pick up watching a video. For one thing, you need to learn how to stay calm throughout an attack so that you can identify those moments when an attacker -- even an armed attacker -- is vulnerable. Responding at the wrong time can be dangerous, but if you're calm and relaxed, you will see a good opening.

Secondly, it's not the first technique taught in self defense classes. You work up to material like this. Further, it's useful to practice it in a safe class setting before trying this kind of move. You need to let your body learn that it can do this kind of move before trying it for real.

But what really worried me is that the video contained a couple of scenes showing defense against a gun. Again, these are legitimate techniques, but they're not techniques for beginners. The first one involves moving inside against an armed attacker; the second showed a similar defense when the gun is held at your back.

I might try either of these moves, if I sensed an opening or felt like the attacker was going to kill me regardless -- if you're calm, you'll be aware of these things. But I've spent 20 years in Aikido learning how to enter against an attack. In my experience, most beginners don't do this right immediately.

Not only do I think this video showed techniques that are too advanced, I also think it picked ones that are too intimidating. I would guess -- and I'd love to have readers look at the video and share their own reactions -- that most people would look at these techniques as shown and immediately say "I could never do that."

That's not true -- most people can do these things. But they need to learn them gradually, not be confronted with the scariest techniques right off the bat.

I grant it's better that the police are acknowledging that women can defend themselves. It wasn't very long ago that the standard police response to rape attacks was for women just to go along and not try to do anything.

But I don't think this video is going to help anyone who hasn't had any training. I suggest women look for a good self defense class instead. I'll be providing more links to upcoming classes soon and I'd be glad to post links to training available in the Dallas area specifically, if teachers will send me information.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Protect Yourself: Hide From Men or Learn to Fight?

Mexico City has established women-only buses to protect women from gropers. This isn't a new idea -- in a comment posted to the Ambling Along the Aqueduct post on the subject, Vandana Singh notes that New Delhi ran a few such buses when she was growing up. And I've heard of them in other countries as well.

This doesn't strike me as much of a solution. As Jessica Valenti observes in The Nation, "I'm all for safe spaces for women, but is segregation really an answer to sexism?"

Singh noted in her comment that getting on the woman-only bus was always a relief, which I can certainly understand: When I was in law school, we had a women's lounge -- a restroom that included a large area with couches, comfy chairs, and tables -- and it was always a relief to hole up there to study. We weren't hiding from gropers (though there may have been a few), but from the pressure of continually fitting into what was decidedly a male-dominated world -- our class was about 10 percent women.

A recent study highlights the fact that women are still in a double bind when dealing in the world: do things the way men do, and you're labeled unfeminine; do them in a more feminine style, and you're too soft. Just ask Hillary Clinton. So the occasional respite into a woman-only world does provide some relief.

But protecting women by segregating them from men leads to protecting them by keeping them out of some professions and public spaces. It reinforces the idea that women are helpless. And it limits the lives of the victim of abusive behavior, instead of stopping the abuse.

Besides, the bus isn't the only place where women get harassed. The Washington Post reports that a man -- or perhaps, judging by the varied descriptions, several men -- has been been attacking women in Northern Virginia. The police haven't caught anyone, and women are responding by taking cabs and giving up walking. Of course, cabs are expensive and walking is good exercise, so fear is taking a large toll on these women's lives.

I haven't noticed any cities declaring streets off-limits for men.

Judging from the description of the attacks, I suspect most women could fight this particular attacker off if they had a little training. He's apparently not using a weapon. But the article doesn't even mention learning how to fight as a solution to such attacks. It's not the only answer, of course -- good lighting, regular police patrols, and a societal decision to take such attacks more seriously can all improve safety.

But women can learn enough to protect themselves from such attacks, just as they can develop skills to deal with gropers on the buses. In Singh's comment, she noted that she developed a tough style when riding on mixed buses in New Delhi (though she found it a relief when she didn't have to do that). Making a scene is also a reasonable response.

Women taking action to protect themselves, whether from gropers or rapists, will eventually provide more safety than token respite on public transportation. After all, as the Valenti article notes in a quote from Katha Pollitt:
Obviously, there would never be enough women-only space to accommodate all women all the time - half the subway cars or half the hotels …Women-only space is just a little breathing place for a few women every now and then.

Relocation: I've Moved to Austin, Texas

The blog has been silent for several weeks because I've been moving from Washington, D.C., to Austin, Texas, and dealing with the logistics took all my time and energy. I'm starting to get settled in, though, and I'll be posting more regularly.

I'm on the lookout for self defense resources here in Austin. There are certainly lots of martial arts schools. I'll add resources as I find them.

By the way, I drove by myself from D.C. to Austin. I didn't run into any problems on the trip. The weather cooperated and even the traffic wasn't bad most places -- and I was much more worried about traffic accidents than other possible problems.

I'm a practical traveler: I have a cell phone and AAA, and I keep my car doors locked. And I had the car serviced before I left. But the most important thing I did -- as a driver and when I stopped for meals or the night -- was to pay attention. That's the key to both self defense and road safety.

Here's a view of downtown Austin from the south side, not too far from where I live. The "Live Music Capital of the World" is certainly getting to be a big city.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Get the Facts: High Heels Are Bad for You

Here's a chart detailing all the damage wearing high heels can do to your body (found via the blog Sociological Images: Seeing Is Believing).

Let me add a couple of other things to consider. As the chart points out, wearing heels affects your posture, putting you off balance. If you end up in a situation where you need to fight, you'll need your balance. Furthermore, it's a lot harder to run in heels than it is in flats -- and that's true whether you're getting away from a bad guy or are trying to get across the street before the light changes.

Finally, women in heels look more vulnerable than women in flats, probably because they're off balance and can't run easily. Some people define this as "sexy" (and it's true our culture deems women's legs sexier when they're wearing heels), but let me ask you this: Do you really want a lover who is attracted to you because you look helpless?

Friday, January 4, 2008

Cartoon Break: Bizarro on Being Afraid

The Jan. 2 edition of the cartoon Bizarro reminds us that there are people in our government who want us to be very afraid.

I notice that Bruce Schneier linked to the same cartoon.

Dan Piraro draws Bizarro.