This is even funnier if you have seen Dora the Explorer (Exploradora!) like I have. Every day. For a year.
Send this to every girl you want to stay alive. The letter’s wording was ominous and might have been straight out of a horror movie – if it hadn’t followed a single densely typed page entitled “ Through a Rapist’s Eyes *” that purported to tell women the secrets of how to protect themselves from someone who was heck-bent on violating them. When I was 12, reading every line felt like a revelation and so I dutifully copied and mailed on the letter to every girl I wanted to live…until I ran out of stamps. (Apparently only seven girls got to live. I’m sorry tween friends. I was such a cheapskate.) So imagine my surprise when the letter came back ’round to me a few days ago via a private message from a friend who’d seen it posted on someone else’s wall. Facebook: the 21st century chain letter. My friend had forwarded it to me because he thought it was something I might like and also he was looking for ideas of how to talk about the subject with his teenage daughter.
It turns out I did not like them. Not at all.
I’d reprint the whole list for you but I know you’ve already all seen it in some form or another. Stuff like “Don’t be distracted on your phone”, “Don’t take the stairs, always take the elevator”, “Yell ‘fire’ instead of ‘rape’ to get people’s attention” and “Don’t wander around alone in a dark, foggy forest at night in high heels and a ridiculously over-accessorized couture dress” (Okay that last one I learned from Pretty Little Liars but seriously those girls are the slowest learners ever – nothing good ever happens in the mist! And you cannot run in 6-inch Louboutins! DUH.) And while some tips were weird – “Don’t wear clothing that’s easy to remove” (Spanx is a rape prevention tool?!) - The advice wasn’t bad, per se, but rather lacking something. Something important… like the fact that nearly 3/4 of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone known to the victim .
The entire list (and all the ones like it) is geared toward preventing the very scary yet very rare occurrence of a stranger rape, abduction and/or murder. Throw in a measure of victim blaming (“Don’t wear short skirts, high heels or pony tails”) and I was torqued. I replied to my friend (since he asked for my advice and all) that if he chose to use the list to scare the crap out of his kid then he also needed to give equal time to talking about the more nuanced parts of dating and relationships. I wish we’d stop talking so much about pepper spray and parking garages and start talking more about what an abusive relationship looks like, what emotional abuse is (and that it can lead to physical abuse) and how a girl’s choices early on can make a huge impact in what happens later. But those tips aren’t nearly as pithy or exciting as telling a girl “ If a predator has a gun and you are not under his control, ALWAYS RUN! The predator will only hit you (a running target) 4 in 100 times; and even then, it most likely WILL NOT be a vital organ. RUN!” [scream-y caps all theirs]
Apparently I’m not alone in my disdain. A recent Twitter meme # safetytipsforladies takes these tips and turns them on their heads, exposing their ridiculous cores and also ending up pretty darn hilarious.
Good girls are invisible to rapists.Join a charity organisation and learn how to make woodland creatures love you. #safetytipsforladies
Only hang out with losers with no skills so you don’t wreck someone’s bright future if they accidentally rape you. #safetytipsforladies — Kara Dennison (@RubyCosmos) March 25, 2013
There are so many more great ones where those came from but this whole conversation got me thinking about what “protecting myself” means to me. If I eschew most of the popular tips – you know that carrying your keys sticking out between your fingers isn’t effective, right? – then what do I do instead?
My recent foray into Krav Maga has given me some rather uncomfortable answers: 1) I don’t want to have to protect myself. I just don’t. It isn’t fun for me. 2) I kind of expect the men in my life to protect me. I know. I cringed too. But one thing I’ve discovered with Krav is that while I’m getting better at self-defense, I’m still really bad at it. (Although if it were possible to talk someone to death, I’d have a black belt.) Case in point: At a class a couple of months ago, I was finally getting my confidence up and feeling like, yeah, maybe I could get out of the dark woods without ruining my dress so I said to my (male) partner, “Okay, for real this time. Don’t pull your punches.” He looked unsure. “Just do it! I got this!” I assured him. He knocked me over so hard I saw tweety birds twirling around my head.
It occurred to me then that I could keep getting knocked on my butt and coming home with bruises in hard-to-explain places for years until I became the ultimate fighter. Which would be fine if I enjoyed fighting. But I don’t. My other option (at least in my black and white world) was to quit beating myself up (literally, in this case) and in a scary scenario just depend on my adrenaline rush, my wicked street smartz and, um, my male acquaintances. I don’t relish the damsel in distress role – I’m generally a super competent do-for-myself kind of girl – but the thought of what it would take to transform me from ultimate wuss to ultimate warrior is pretty daunting.
Unfortunately it didn’t occur to me that my plan had a serious flaw: the dudes may not necessarily appreciate getting shoe horned into that role. The other night, per a friend’s request, I went to go visit someone in a sketchy part of town. It was very late, dark and I was lost. Since I was alone, my paranoia was unbridled and I managed to freak myself the heck out. (Spoiler alert: nothing happened, I’m fine. And the person I went to help is also fine. Everyone’s fine, fine, fine.) Still, when I talked to my friend the next day I said, “You shouldn’t have made me go out there alone! It was scary!” to which he answered, “Why on earth would I want to go out there? It’s scary!” Fair enough.
Barbara Mikkleson in the Snopes.com takedown of ”Through a Rapist’s Eyes” makes an interesting point : “Does this mean self-defense classes are a waste of time? Hardly. But they’re not the surefire protection they’re often touted to be.” Mikkleson adds that self-defense skills are only as good as they are practiced often and that some people develop a dangerous overconfidence, assured that now bad things can’t happen to them. She concludes, “As always, the best defense to an attempted rape is not to be there when it happens. Either avoid potentially dangerous situations or run like hell if you happen to find yourself in one.”
Now I’m wondering how other people handle this: Ladies, do you feel like, if you had to, you could defend yourself in a situation? Do you expect men to step in a protect you? Men, do you feel like you’re automatically expected to be the hero? If so, how do you feel about that? Anyone else have a hilarious #safetytipforladies to add to my list?
*Snopes.com has debunked the whole list - quite an entertaining and informative read! Also fun to forward on if you’re the know-it-all type (you know I’m duct taping my fingers together right now to refrain from e-mailing this to every girl I want to see alive…)