Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Enjoy your walk...

I was reading a disturbing story on another blog recently ( about a guy who dressed as a fireman, started a fire in an apartment, and manipulated his way into a woman's apartment. The story was depressing, but the comments to Stephen's (I write his name as if I know him; I do not) blog set me to contemplating.
"I think you've highlighted a tremendous fear that women, who like myself live alone, have about living alone." "It sucks, as a female, that I constantly have to be looking over my shoulder and be on guard." "This is why-I never lived alone. I was always afraid of being stalked."*
I was 13, and in junior high when a "self defense" was first formally presented to me, in a school assembly. I distinctly remember the hypothetical question, "what would you do, if attacked?" We knew: Hit! kick! Scratch! The instructor then pulled a boy from the audience, and asked him what he'd do if a girl hits him. "I'd stop it. I'd hit her back." The overall message was that we should try to outsmart our assailants if we can, but what stayed with me this: Should I fight [an assailant], I may only stand to be responsible for my own further injury. Wonderful. Damned if I do, damned if I don't.

Women are inundated with safety information then, from childhood until forever more. Our magazine articles, e-mails, talk-shows, girlfriends, and local police officers are reminding us of how predators think, and what we can do to thwart them. Every woman knows to
  • Carry our keys poking through our fingers, hands in fist.
  • Avoid walking near doorways and stairways.
  • Look under our cars and before approaching it.
  • Look in our backseats.
  • Don't walk near shrubbery.
  • To never leave our drinks unattended.
  • When and where to kick. That are elbows are strong. Go for the eyes. Keep porch lights on. Carry your purse in front of you. Don't walk and talk on the cel phone. Move our cars after we load them with shopping packages. Get a deadbolt. Get pepper spray. Walk in pairs. And then some.

I have become, I think, instinctively aware of most of the items on this list. Stairways creep me out bigtime; I enter a parking garage stairway like a cat with an arched back. I listen and watch at every level, and keep an eye on the doors. I walk nearer the streets and stay visible, and try to avoid digging aimlessly for keys while I'm wandering.

I received an email 2 days ago that included this helpful hint:

  • If you are ever thrown into the trunk of a car, kick out the back tail lights and stick your arm out the hole and start waving like crazy! The driver won't see you, but everybody else will. This has saved lives.

What?!! If I am ever thrown into the trunk of a car?!! I have to keep all of these things in mind, and NOW I have to remember how to kick out a taillight? I have to keep in mind that firemen and police officers might not be what they seem? And I should also never take anyone up on the offer to smell a new cologne; it's chloroform.

Am I paranoid? I've taken a mini-poll, and I am assured that most of my girlfriends are watchful and aware of these same things. Most of their statements reflect those of my friend and fellow blogger (Room with a View):

"I've talked to [my husband] about it before. He was amazed that I felt fear at night walking through a parking lot. It just doesn't affect him that way."

Right! I also polled my male friends, and my son and his friends with one question: "How often are you nervous when you walk to your car at night?" I was met with blank stares, a couple of "pfffts!" and one "what are you talking about?" The unanimous answer, in a nutshell, was "Never."

Never? NEVER? What must it be like to just wander around all worry-free, oblivious to your surroundings, and the fact that there may be a nutjob in those shrubs? Are you telling me that you just walk to your car without worrying someone's going to grab your ankles?!! You are lucky to be alive, my friend.

I know I do stupid things, put myself at occasional statistical risk, and I have considered myself lucky, in hindsight, on several occasions. Not to advertise it, but I know very well that I would have answered my door and let that faux firefighter into my house, under the same circumstances. I probably make too much eye contact, and speak and offer assistance to too many strangers.

I like to think that common sense and gut instinct will prevail, and I'll just *know* when not to do those things; but that's ridiculous; it serves only to insinuate that other women had neither of these traits. Of course they do.

I'm not saying that I walk around in constant fear—I simply refuse to. But I do try to move through my life exercising a bit of awareness and common sense. It would be nice not to have to think about it, but I'll continue to jump through a few hoops and keep my ears and eyes open.

Because, maybe it's all for nothing, but maybe I have thwarted off just ONE encounter in my life, or stand to, in the future.

And, that's reason enough.

Be safe, dearies.


  1. I get nervous walking around alone, too. Somehow - I feel safer when I'm walking if I have my keys ready and I'm on my cell phone talking to someone. For some reason, I think it might deter people from coming up to me. And I could scream to that person: "Something's happening!"

    Also, I wish I had a penis and could walk around worry-free.

  2. You mean YOUNG men don't take precautions: I'm always one eye on the street, thank you very much. Went up to Chicago with fam recently. You're right: they don't watch. They don't pay attention. Now, as a downstater, I make it a point of honor to know Chicago backwards and forwards. Neighborhoods, streets, Interstates, etc. I pretty much know the river north neighborhoods and the Loop like the back of my hand but a lot of that is downstate hubris. I don't want Chicagoans thinking I'm some corn-fed rube (I am, LOL). My tribe doesn't even pay attention. They don't watch for tight spots. cross-fire or exit strategies and I'm watching this all the time. I have the exact OPPOSITE experience from yours. It seems all my female acquaintances are walking around with the INTENTION of being jumped. I suppose they think I'm going to make everything right. I'd say, "wise up, smartass! Keep your eyes open and try to (at LEAST) tell me what compass direction you're pointed in at any one time so I don't die of pure shame." I swear they'd get lost between Soldier Field and the band shell. Saying that, I'd say this to you dahling: you're in the Champoo. You're not in Chicago. If you want to meet the "trouble" in this town, I can introduce you to them and more than likely, they're not jumping out of fire escapes with cat-like prowess. Still, I appreciate the fact you're keeping track. It's wise—I swear it. But if you're playing pure statistics, please calculate all the variables and just keep ONE eye on the sparrow. Leave "two eyes" for bigger towns.

  3. momo: the penis is overrated :-)

  4. Anonymous9:48 PM

    Occasionally there are stalkers in C-U who are...ahem...more than happy to escort you to your car...;)

  5. I laughed out loud at the photo. You forgot to mention one trick--dialing 9-1-1, then keeping your trigger finger hovering over the "send" button.

  6. Anon: Yah, there's a big Catch-22; the protective predator. Brrrrrrrr

    [Uh, I hope that I know you, and that this is an inside joke]

    Woof: I am sure that this phote was an eye-opening exhibit for you. Had you any idea? Thanks for the tip, and watch out for tyrants in trees, at major intersections.

  7. The photo is a good representation of what I see when I'm on a motorcycle (driving down the sidewalk...) If there'd been a cop car and a deer present, just about all possible hazards would have been accounted for.

  8. Oh, and I'm POSITIVE that the stalker comment was an inside joke.

  9. Ditto, Lori...we all have the same fears! And if that story about the firefighter wasn't enough...I just watched such a disturbing story by John Quinones of ABC Prime Time, last night, about an innocent young girl who worked at MacDonald's and was horrificly taken advantage of by a prank "telephone" cop and how he was able to manipulate the employees from Macdonald's to physically, sexually and emotionally abuse her!! It was pure insanity...I felt physically sick after watching that show. I know we have to live our lives but we do have to be aware that there are very sick predators out there. It is so sad..Read ABC News: Fast Food Nightmare

  10. RC: I just read that link you sent me; if it hadn't been on ABC news, I'd have thought it to be a hoax or an urban legend. I actually had to read it twice, thinking, "I must have missed something..."

    Once again I am torn: How obligated am I to watch the freakin' news and fill my head with this stuff? Don't have a right to blissful ignorance?!!

    Rainbows and teddy bears, please [running with my hands over my ears]

  11. this is an issue enjoying a lot of blog space. another blog I read posted two lengthy bits on self-defense tips for women part 1 and part 2.

  12. That Part 1 is the email I got the other day, and there are always more, explaining the latest hoaxes and scams.

    The instances in which you are forced to choose between helping someone and avoiding them are the most disturbing. I hope to high heaven that I never get to a point where I hear a baby crying, and leave it, for fear of my own safety. They can have my wallet, and I'll have peace of mind for living up to my own standards.

    What a world.

  13. Woof: I know you're mocking me with that 9-1-1 send trick!!

    GNG: I'm with you on the blissful ignorance part. I'm glad to know these tips and such - my brain is getting overloaded with bad news, though. I'll just keep my dialing trigger finger ready!

  14. I love your "voice" and am so glad you stopped by my blog or I would have never found yours. Thanks!

  15. Jesus Christ this is depressing. I have seen women cross the street to avoid walking past me, or quicken their step in a parking garage so I wouldn't catch up to them, and I realize that they're afraid of me. Me! WTF?
    I'm so sorry our world is like this, and all men get painted with the same brush. Isn't there some sort of "harmless guy" hat I can wear, or maybe a T-shirt?

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  17. I tried to keep my commentary minimally gender-biased; we have not been taught to fear Men, just BadMen. And BadWomen.

    Don't take it personally, Larry; we are sorry too, that we pick up our pace in the garage.

    I wonder, for the sake of continuing the poll, have you ever quickened your own pace? I still can't believe it when people aren't "on-guard" in a parking garage!

  18. G'girl...

    Boy, does this post resonate with me. I couldn't have written it any better -- in fact, I'm sure I couldn't have written it even as well. Lots of food for thought in there.

    One thing that always remains in my mind from self-defense presentations I've had over the years (I think this one is from when I worked for Texaco, back in the '70's...) is what to do if you're attacked in an elevator. Instinctively, we might think of hitting the "stop" button. But of course nothing could be more wrong. We WOULDN'T want to stop, would we, because then nobody to get to us. The suggestion in the course was to lunge toward the bank of buttons and hit as many as possible at one time -- like leaning into them with your forearm. That way, the elevator will stop at a lot of floors. The more times it stops, the more the chance will be that somebody will see & hear what's going on.

    I never fail to think about that when I get into any elevator -- anywhere in the world.

    Mind if I link your blog on Lord Celery? (Actually, I already have!)


  19. Anonymous3:03 PM

    It's a shame that we live in such a predatory world where people and women specifically have to live on guard 24/7.


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