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Shaking the Tail: Women’s Strategies for Safety

This morning in comes news, first from a friend and then from a news story, of not one but two terrifying incidents of harassment and bullying of women.

On Facebook, a friend reported that some guy in a pick-up went off on her while she was on the road riding her Harley. One thing you should know about my friend — she does not keep this a secret — is that she is transexual; in her previous life she was biologically a male and a biker. Yeah: that kind of biker…though she always has identified, psychologically, as a woman, she was probably not the sort of person you’d willingly meet in a dark alley. In her present incarnation, she looks like a pretty normal woman whose presence strikes no fear into your heart. She writes highly entertaining novels whose protagonist is a wild-assed woman biker.

So this guy goes berserk and starts to follow her. She does everything she can to shake him, at high speeds no doubt, but she can’t get rid of him. Beginning to panic, she heads back to her house and parks her bike in the driveway. He follows her and informs her that he’s going to come after her. As you can imagine, she’s somewhat alarmed.

Even more alarmed is the woman in a Phoenix suburb whose home was entered — more than once, apparently — by a lunatic who left a note — while she was sleeping — to tell her he wanted to have sex with her.

Most women begin to experience threats and events of this sort starting at about the age of 12 or 14. I’ve repeatedly been followed, harassed, propositioned, and threatened by strange men — after six decades, it gets old. And “old” is an operative term: even after you’re no longer a juicy, nubile young thing, the creeps still think you’re fair game for threats and harassment, especially when you’re abroad in a car or walking across a parking lot.

This is how I developed my taste for German shepherds…

Seriously and no joke: After the downtown neighbors divorced and I got custody of their dog, all the harassment, all the cat-calls, and all the aggressive passes in public suddenly went away when I had her at my side. What a guy thinks a GerShep is going to do to him while he’s sailing past at 40 miles an hour escapes me…but as a practical matter, the nasty yells and lewd hoots stopped dead when I started taking that dog out with me.

But long before I got the dog, I learned a number of strategies to cope with this kind of sh!t. Note that I have never taken a “woman’s self-defense” course, except for one short session that was inflicted on us in a high-school P.E. class. These things generally scare you more than they help you: you’re told all the horrific things that a$$hats have done to women, and then you’re instructed in techniques that have about a snowball’s chance of working effectively for most women.

The trick is to avoid situations that put you at risk. Since you can’t avoid them all — just being female puts you at risk — you must be mentally prepared and you must always have a variety of emergency plans in mind.

First off, when you’re driving around, know where the nearest police stations, emergency rooms, and fire stations are along your beaten path. Mentally map routes to these places. In our parts, police stations are secured like a castle under siege, and so it may be difficult to get a cop’s attention without getting out of a car — but if that’s the closest refuge, go there and lean on the horn. If you have a cell with you, call 911 and report where you are.

Fire stations tend to be more open, and they’re usually populated by large, fit men. And they’re the kind of men whose altruism triggers their testosterone: show up at a fire station in distress, and they’ll all leap on their white chargers.

An ER is also likely to have someone around who will notice if you park by the door and lean on your horn. Often there are police or firemen around ERs, too.

Failing one of these outposts, always keep an eye out for places that have lots of people around: a crowded parking lot, a popular store, a busy strip mall. I once escaped a nut case by swerving left across oncoming traffic into a shopping center. The crazy kept on rolling down the road, unwilling to continue harassing me in the presence of others.

When driving home, watch your rear- view mirror. If someone follows me into the neighborhood and then stays on my tail after I’ve made the first couple of the turns I have to take to reach my house, I don’t go home. Instead, I take another route back out of the ’hood. If the person stays on my tail, I head for the nearest police station or fire house.

While in public, try to look dowdy. Refrain from dressing sharply (unless you have a man with you, of course), and certainly do not wear obviously expensive clothing or carry an expensive, name-brand handbag. I no longer carry a purse at all these days: too dangerous in the grocery-store parking lots near my house. I keep a credit card and a couple of store cards in a business card case, which I can carry in a pocket.

At home: equip your doors with heavy-duty, drill-proof, bump-proof Shlage or Medeco deadbolts.

Don’t know what “bumping” is? Mwa ha ha! Check this out:

As the “burglar” type in this video remarks, a bump-resistant lock ain’t cheap. But believe me: it is so worth it. Try to drill a Schlage or a Medeco lock, and it’ll break your drill.

Obviously, putting a fancy lock on a kitchen door with a window in it is self-defeating. Install your deadbolt on solid-core exterior doors with no window(!), or — much more cost-effective and handy for letting fresh air flow through the house — install security doors and put the high-end lock on those. You’ll need a top-notch locksmith for the job, because many metal security doors are too thin to accommodate this type of lock; the locksmith will need to special-order a type of metal ring that adds space to install the deadbolt.

Do not use double-cylinder deadbolts. These can trap you or a child in the house if a fire starts — if you can’t reach the key that you’ve stashed out of the burglar’s grasp, or if the person trying to get out doesn’t know where to find it, you’re done for. Remember, the likelihood that you’ll need to get out in a hurry is at least as high and certainly more urgent than the likelihood that some guy will try to get in.

Upgrade your windows. The new double-paned windows have more than one locking system, allowing you to complicate a burglar’s life. And if any of those windows are sliders, add a third “lock” by dropping a stick in the track. You also can buy stick-on battery-operated alarms, which will squeal like an enraged cat if anyone (you included) opens the window. Again, bear in mind: You don’t care if they get in, as long as you get enough advance warning to get out a different door or window.

Make friends with a German shepherd. Get yourself a dog, preferably a large one with a protective temperament.

The dog strategy, however, is problematic. German shepherd dogs are overbred and potentially dangerous — truly, too many representatives of the breed today are batsh!t. Pit bulls — pace, dear pit-bull-loving friends — are unpredictable and also potentially dangerous. You do not want a dog that has a higher than normal propensity to turn on you. This includes a number of purebred lines. The best strategy is probably to rescue a mixed-breed dog, preferably one that does not appear to be part GerShep or part pit bull.

German shepherds and many other large, assertive breeds are high-energy, high-drive dogs that require a lot of time, training, and physical strength to help them adapt to living in your home. You must be prepared to train and exercise these dogs — and to do so you will need training yourself that goes well beyond the YouTube variety — and you must expect to spend some time every day exercising and working your dog.

A smaller dog may be better: most dogs this side of a greyhound are walking burglar alarms. They can’t “protect” you the way most people imagine a shepherd or a Doberman will do…but that’s a fantasy. No dog can or should be expected to protect you. The only critter that can protect you is you.

And you do that with common sense.

Is keeping a gun in the house a manifestation of common sense?

Only if you’re fully trained to use it, if you keep in practice, and you keep the weapon clean and lubricated. And even then, only if you really, truly, deep in your heart of hearts are prepared to use it against another human being. Police officers and members of the military are specifically trained to overcome this scruple.

Most people who are not psychopaths will hesitate to shoot another person. And just a fraction of an instant can give an aggressor the chance to shoot you, if he’s armed or if he grabs your gun and takes it from you. For that reason, I personally think that for most people it’s pointless and, if you have kids around the house, dangerous to keep a gun in your residence. Keep your wits about you, and you won’t need a gun.

2 thoughts on “Shaking the Tail: Women’s Strategies for Safety”

  1. Excellent article and I agree with most of your points. The one time I took a self-defense class, I KNEW I wasn’t going to remember any of those moves, especially since I wasn’t practicing them on a regular basis. Women who are athletic would probably do well to take taekwondo classes or something similar. Even then, I still don’t see how the average woman is supposed to fight off the average man if he really wants to hurt her.
    I live in Arkansas and just about everyone in this state thinks gun ownership makes you safer. Okay, let’s say I buy a handgun but keep it unloaded and locked up like all the safety experts say to. When someone breaks in on me, I’m going to be like, “Wait a minute, wait a minute! I’ve gotta load my gun! HEY! I SAID I’VE GOT TO LOAD MY GUN!!!” Yeah, that’ll work. As for concealed carry, I’d have to put the gun in my purse. I can’t find a damn thing in my purse, how can I be certain I can pull a gun out in time to make a difference?
    As for dogs (or cats), I can barely afford to feed myself right now, so forget that. And dressing dowdy? No problem when you are struggling to stay afloat. These days, I buy jeans at thrift stores and wear tees until they disintegrate. I bought a really cheap cloth purse at clearance prices last year, nobody ever looks at that thing.
    The suggestion to avoid potentially risky situations is the best but… the average woman has a life outside of the house, including job responsibilities, so always being mentally alert and aware of your surroundings is imperative.

  2. Ahhh the silver lining of penury: You look a lot less like a target. :-/ Not to say “urk!”

    LOL! Yes, the “Hold That Thought” scenario is exactly what I envision when Our Honored Leaders re-(re-, re-, re-)introduce their scheme to legalize faculty carrying guns to campus. Just picture it:

    [LUNATIC, bursting through classroom door and waving automatic pistol in air]: AAARRRHHHGGGHHH!

    [ME]: Now hold that thought, Mr. Demento, while I dig this Glock out of my backpack… Hmmm…I know it’s in here _somewhere_…

    Obviously, no place you go is “safe” safe. But I do think you can minimize risk by not carrying a purse when you have to walk across parking lots in areas that you know are problematic. And yeah, I will drive a few extra miles to shop at the Safeway or the Sprouts east of Central Ave rather than in the Albertson’s or the Sprouts here in the ‘Hood, which don’t SEEM as safe even though there may be little difference. The Walmart is in a worse area but because they have security guards patrolling the shopping center, you’re less likely to be accosted by panhandlers there than at the Albertson’s or the nearest Sprouts.

    Dogs are expensive, especially if you have the temerity to add up how much you spend on one over the course of its lifetime. (Don’t…it’ll just upset you…) Really, it would be far more cost-effective to install a burglar alarm. And you don’t have to find a dog-sitter for a burglar alarm, either.

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