Sunday, February 15, 2009

Get the Facts: Blind Fear of Strangers Is Rarely Useful

I just came across an interesting essay on Freakonomics called "The Cost of Fearing Strangers." In it, Stephen Dubner makes a point I've been making for years: We're more scared of strangers than people we know, but people we know are often more dangerous.

He provides a few useful statistics. In the US, a solid majority of murder victims knew their killers -- 3 victims knew their killers for every 1 killed by a stranger.

64 percent of women who are raped know their attackers, and 61 percent of women who are assaulted in other ways know their attackers. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to be attacked by strangers.

Yet for some reason -- probably a false belief that men can protect themselves effectively -- we as a society are much more worried about protecting women from strangers than we are about protecting men.

Most self defense programs focus too much on teaching women how to protect themselves from strangers, when learning how to read potentially dangerous behaviors in friends and acquaintances is more likely to keep you safe.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Get the Facts: Guns Don't Protect You By Themselves

I got an email the other day that read:
I think the best thing is for a woman to buy a gun/dont matter how much martial arts training a woman is simply not strong enough to win in a fight against a male/Did you ever use your skills in a real life situation?
As regular readers of this blog know, I don't agree with the writer about guns for several reasons. First of all, just buying a gun won't make you a bit safer. You have to really learn how to use a gun, and how to handle it properly when you're not using it. Otherwise, you're more like to have that gun used against you.

Weapons are tools, and tools are only useful if you know what you're doing.

Secondly, the writer reveals his or her ignorance about martial arts training. A good martial artist of either gender can defeat a bigger and stronger opponent. One of the advantages of martial arts training is that it teaches you how to use an attacker's strength to your advantage. Women can learn to do this. In fact, women often have an advantage in learning to do this well, because they don't assume they can use muscle to defeat their opponent. Men who are little larger than average tend to assume they can rely on muscle, which doesn't help them much when they run into someone bigger and stronger.

And there's always someone bigger and stronger, no matter how big you think you are.

Thirdly, the real advantage of martial arts training -- and what makes it better self defense training than learning how to use any individual weapon -- is that it teaches you how to pay attention and avoid trouble. Actual fighting is a tiny part of self defense, though knowing how to fight will help give you the confidence and awareness to avoid trouble.

As to the question of whether I've ever used martial arts to defend myself: Yes, I have, but it was a long time ago when I only had a year or so of karate under my belt. I was walking home about 10 PM on a deserted residential street in Washington, DC, when a large guy jumped out of the bushes and threatened me with an open pocket knife. I knew I couldn't turn and run -- he was between me and my apartment, plus I'd seen a guy earlier behind me who gave me bad vibes -- so I stuck up my left arm to block the hand that held the knife and kicked him in the groin. He was stunned, and I got around him and ran full tilt for home. He didn't chase me.

Yeah, he was a lot bigger than me, and no, I didn't stand there and beat him into the ground. I didn't have the skill for that at the time, anyway. I used what I knew and got away. That's what self defense is all about. By the way, I later learned that his attack -- standing directly in front of me with his center wide open -- was a classic rape attack. He didn't expect a fight, which gave me an advantage.

You can't prove a negative, but I think the fact that I haven't been attacked on the street in long time has a lot to do with my martial arts training. Given that I lived in a major urban area -- Washington, DC -- and worked in some dicey neighborhoods for many years, I credit my presence and my awareness with keeping me out of trouble. That's self defense.

Guns have their place, but they don't do much to protect ordinary people in ordinary situations. If you're in a particularly dangerous situation -- for example, you're being harassed by a stalker -- and feel the need for a weapon, don't just go buy a gun. Go get serious training in how to use it.

Guns don't protect you by themselves.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

On the Radio: High Heels Are Bad for You

NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday program let me rant on the radio Jan. 4 -- they aired my comment criticizing Isaac Mizrahi for advocating high-heeled shoes.

If you read this blog, you know I'm strongly opposed to high heels. Not only are they hard to walk in and impossible to run in, they throw your pelvis forward and put you off balance. In short, they make women vulnerable.

I notice that my comment was preceded by one from a doctor who treats women suffering from the damage inflicted by high heels. His instruction to avoid heels in any situation where you might need to walk or stand is great advice.

Wearing high heels makes a woman a little helpless, but the myth persists that women look "sexier" in heels. I've asked before and I'll ask again: Do you really want a lover who is attracted to you because you look helpless?