Don’t lecture me about safety. I’m already safe

Last year an out of town friend came to visit and invited me to a group catch up. The casual rendezvous would involve playing table top games at a location in the CBD that provides space to play. I’d never been to this particular establishment before, but had heard good things about it on Facebook, so was quite excited at finally being able to experience it first-hand. However unbeknownst to me, to enter the business you had to do so through a door at the back of the building, which I discovered when I arrived. The only way to get to this back-door entrance was via a long and darkened alleyway at the side of the building. Even though it was in the middle of the CBD, and the late afternoon, I still felt anxious having to walk by myself down this unfamiliar alley. I remember feeling a tight grip of anxiety press on my chest as I walked down the dark passage. What possible dangers could be lurking in the shadows for me? Evidently nothing, as I made it to the back door untroubled and unscathed. Upon entering the room, I was greeted by some familiar faces and quickly forgot my panic. Later a male friend of mine brought up that he had been a bit worried about “walking down the freaky alley” too. “Oh yeah!” I replied, “I totally thought I was going to get raped and murdered!” then laughed at my own overreaction. My friend just said “Huh?” and I realised he looked quite confused. I paused and matter-of-factly stated, “You know, because it’s a dark alley and I was by myself. And I’m a woman”. At that moment an epiphany of realisation dawned on my friend’s face and he quickly responded, “Oh, I just meant I was concerned about being hit by a car”. Turns out the “alley-way” was merely a driveway for the building’s employee carparking area. Embarrassed at the absurdity of what I just said, I jokingly brushed it off and observed, “Oh well, now I guess you know the difference between how men and women think!” and quickly moved over to the table to join in the next round of Libertine (quite a good game actually).

But that is the difference between men and women really isn’t it. Men are worry about the same things that everyone worries about, like getting hit by cars. Whereas women worry about the things that tend to be more specific to them. Like getting raped, sexually assaulted, attacked, and/or murdered. Highly unlikely, I know. Except that 31 women have been murdered in Australia since the start of 2018. Wait, sorry, 32 women. Oh wait, no, 33 women. Yeah that’s right. In the time that it’s taken me to draft this damn post, two more women have been freaking murdered (and in these instances, allegedly by their partners). Let that sink in. That’s more than one a week so far. Surely this must outrage more people than just me? Why are not talking about this? Why are we not marching in the streets? Oh that’s right, we did. And it got the usual 30 seconds of coverage in the media before we went back to talking about how Trump says the darnedest things.

And yes, I understand that there’s been quite a shift in attitudes towards how women are treated, from the #timesup and #metoo movements, to the huge changes made to DV laws in Australia, to the willingness of victims to finally speak out and tell their stories. After years of ignoring us, such harrowing stories of abuse are finally being listened to and believed. And yet we’re still being told to be responsible for our own safety. You want to know how I’ve managed my safety for the past 34 years? Well if there’s one thing I know you’ve come to expect from Truthmummy, it’s lists. So here’s one for you.

20 ways that I’ve kept myself safe over the years:

  1. I either don’t walk around with headphones in, or only in one ear, so I can still hear what’s going on around me.
  2. Whenever I’m going out I tell someone where I’m going, ie. My husband, my mum, my friends. I’ll also tell them approximately how long I’ll be out, and when to expect me home.
  3. When heading out at night I call or text someone when I’m about to leave somewhere and then call or text the same person again when I’ve arrived.
  4. I tend not to wear high heels anymore, especially at night. Just in case I need to run…for whatever reason.
  5. In recent years I’ve even toned down my dress sense because I’m scared on how people will react. “Is this top too low cut, or too see-through, is this dress too short, is this skirt too revealing, what am I saying by wearing this much make-up?” etc.
  6. When driving I will always immediately lock my doors when I get in the car.
  7. When I fill my car with petrol I lock my car doors upon getting out of the car, then unlock them to get my purse out (always angling my body so my back is in towards the car and my legs/feet face outwards), then lock my car again when I go to pay.
  8. When I walk home at night from public transport, I constantly scan around me, behind me, and ahead of me watching out for people.
  9. I watch my shadow on the ground, under the sun during the day, and under street lamps at night so that I can see if anyone approaches me from behind.
  10. I get my car keys, or house keys ready ahead of time so I’m not fumbling around trying to find them in my bag when I arrive at the door.
  11. If I do fumble for my keys, I do so with my back to my car door/front door.
  12. I’ll even sometimes walk with my keys gripped between my fingers. I’ll leave it up to your imagination to figure out why.
  13. When male strangers talk to me in public I try to only engage with them enough to be polite, but not too much to seem like I may be “leading them on”, and don’t ignore them entirely out of fear that they’ll become angry.
  14. I’ll also immediately make them aware of my wedding ring by brushing my hair with my left hand.
  15. If I hear a man yelling out to me in public I will ignore them and pretend to not hear them and quickly walk in the other direction. I almost completely ignored my husband the other day doing this before I realised it was him calling out to me.
  16. I’ll avoid walking in parks or alleys and sometimes even footpaths, preferring to walk along the road rather than taking these shortcuts (I used to walk on the road quite often when I lived in Forest Lake, rather than having to resort to the unlit footpaths that snaked through dense wooded areas).
  17. One time I avoided using an underpass to get where I was going and ran out on the road on a blind turn instead. I almost got hit by a car, but I still felt taking this chance was better than the possibility of what could have happened under that underpass.
  18. I prefer to drive or catch a taxi/Uber home instead of using public transport, especially if it’s late at night. Good thing I’m well off enough to be able to do this.
  19. I very rarely drink a lot when I’m out. One or two drinks max. I have never been drunk in public. I’ve always preferred to keep my wits about me.
  20. And lastly, oh yeah, I did Tae kwon-do for 21 years.

Stupidly long isn’t it. Some may say that I’m just being paranoid. I guarantee there are probably women out there that have more examples on their lists. I’ve more than likely forgotten to add a whole bunch of examples just because I do them automatically and don’t even think of them as safety functions. So what I’m getting at is women already do crazy stupid things to keep themselves “safe”. Like sharing STUPID BULLSHIT SAFETY ADVICE MEMES! After Eurydice Dixon’s murder a few weeks ago, this ridiculous picture kept popping up on my Facebook feed, shared by at least seven different people:

stupid iphone safety photo

When I first came across this meme I thought it was a scam, mainly because the picture just appeared to be photoshopped, and also because when I tried it on my own phone, nothing happened. Turns out this feature will only work on iPhones and only if you have an iOS11 or higher operating system.

But let me be frank, as a person who has trained in martial arts for over two decades this advice is BULLSHIT. I’m sorry, but if someone is attacking you, you don’t want to be focusing on trying to find your phone in your bag. Seriously ladies, hands up anyone who can whip their phone out of their bag or even their pocket without little trouble? No one? No one with their hand up? Yeah, thought so. The number of times I’ve rummaged around in my bag trying to answer my ringing phone before it goes to voicemail would probably be unsurprising to most other women. That annoyed panicky feeling you get when trying to grip your phone: “Eh, ngh, arggh, almost…got…it..NAAAH!” Finally it’s out of your bag!…and you missed the call… You know how it is. And don’t even get me started on trying to pull my phone out of my jeans pockets. You know, the ones that are made so tiny and impractical, because for some reason women don’t deserve proper pockets on their clothing! So the idea that you would have enough time to get your phone out to send off an emergency message before you’re seriously injured would be laughable. If only this wasn’t a laughing matter. “Well  what if you saw them coming, and you were able to get your phone in your hand before anything happened to you?” Let’s remember one very horrible fact about Eurydice Dixon’s murder. She more than likely had her phone in her hand already. It’s been reported numerous times that the last thing she did was text her boyfriend to say that she was almost home. When Jill Meagher was murdered in Melbourne in 2012 it was reported that she had called her brother, probably in her panic and confusion, and left a garbled and incoherent message. It was more than likely she was attacked immediately after that phone call.

Ladies. Every. Second. Counts. Please don’t waste them screwing around with your phone, trying to get some random app to work. Which by the way, if it does in fact connect you to emergency services, how long do you have to wait before they get there? Two minutes? Five? Ten? What happens in the mean time? Think about it, because I’d rather not try to describe it. The only thing your phone will be good for is as a weight in your hand when you smash it across an attacker’s face. And even then I wouldn’t recommend doing that, because unless you know what you’re doing, that’s a good way to break your knuckles.

Meagher and Dixon had their phones with them. It did nothing for them. So in those few precious yet horrifying moments, please use every ounce of your strength to fight. Fight for your life. As a former martial arts instructor I would always advise my students to go for the soft spots, as in eyes, nose, and throat. No one is going to continue to attack you when you’ve jammed your thumb up their nose. No one will chase after you if you’ve just struck them in both eyes really hard. No one will focus on hurting you if you’ve just driven your knuckles into their trachea five times really fast. Feeling a little uncomfortable with those descriptions? Then I have this to say: Stop being polite. Someone is attacking you. They are not there for your personal safety, so don’t afford them the same courtesy.

Unfortunately, the sad thing is when it came to advice, I used to go further than that. I used to tell me female students about how they needed to protect themselves in ways that could now be seen as focusing the blame back on them if they were to be attacked. I’d tell them not walk alone at night. Don’t wear high heels, you’ll be able to run away faster. Don’t wear short skirts, you don’t want to attract the wrong attention. Don’t BE there, because if you’re not there in the first place then no one will hurt you. Don’t “put” yourself in the situation. I perpetuated these attitudes for too many years believing that the most important thing was to “Not be there”. If you’re not there how can you get into trouble? Except, that doesn’t work for the woman trapped in a domestic violence relationship. For the women who get murdered in their own homes. And on top of that, not once did I ever hold the other side accountable. Never did I say to any of my male students, “Don’t rape women”. I never told them “If a woman says no, then respect that. She doesn’t owe you anything. You are not owed anything by anyone”. I never said “Women have a right to be anywhere they damn well please. How they look, how much they’ve had to drink, and where they are, are not an invitation for you to do anything that you want to them”. I should have said these things. But most importantly, what I should have made my students understand, was that by telling women they should be responsible for their own safety only keeps one woman safe. What you’re actually saying is you hope the other woman gets attacked instead. The one who has had too much to drink, or doesn’t have friends with her, or decided she wanted to go for a run in the park with her headphones in, or “got herself into” a relationship with a bad guy.

Men, please understand that we are not blaming you as a collective. Apart from the small sick minority, we know that the large majority of you love us and want to keep us safe. But perhaps take the time to realise that life as a woman can be pretty shit. If you just walk a mile in our shoes you will start to understand. Though make sure not to wear the high heels, you know, to make it easier if you have to run away (yeah, pretty stupid advice isn’t it).

Look I don’t want to be just another liberal feminist screaming into the echo chamber that is my social media bubble about something that I know most of you probably already agree with. But I couldn’t let the events of the last few weeks go by without saying anything. Because frankly I’m sick and tired of running out in front of traffic just because it’s “safer” than taking the darkened footpath. I’d rather prefer to be worried about just getting hit by a car.

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