Monday, September 6, 2010

International Aiki Peace Week

Still Point Aikido Center in Austin is holding a free seminar Sept. 21, 23, 24, & 25 in honor of International Aiki Peace Week. The Center is joining Aikido schools around the world holding classes focused on conflict resolution in honor of the annual United Nations Peace Day (Sept. 21). More information is available here.

The classes will be held at Trinity United Methodist Church, 600 E. 50th Street, in Austin. The schedule is:
  • Tuesday, Sept. 21: 7-9 PM
  • Thursday, Sept. 23: 7-9 PM
  • Friday, Sept. 24: 7-9 PM
  • Saturday, Sept. 25: 12-4 PM
The classes are open to all persons interested in Aikido. No previous training in Aikido or any other martial art is required.

Ross Robertson Sensei, a fifth degree black belt, will be leading the seminar. Nancy Jane Moore, a fourth degree black belt, will also teach some classes, and other Austin-area teachers may also participate.

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?

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.