My beard is a constant reminder of what racism feels like. And sexism. And homophobia. It’s only a small taste, but short of changing my sex or race, it’s gonna have to do. Some people like the giant hairy monstrosity on my face, but most people don’t. When I walk down the street I’m very aware of how people react to me. And I’m in the process of switching banks. Since my beard has developed, most Scotiabank branches in town have really helped me to understand what “profiling” really means. Which brings us back to self-defense…
We’ve worked our way down from self-defence in the legal sense, dealing with crimes of violence, to the more personal end of things. Today we’re going to get into the intimate end of things, which is self-defense below the legal limit. Into the land of the creeper we go…
Usually the first thing we get fed into us regarding self-defense is completely useless crap. It goes somewhere along the lines of “If some guy touches you wrong or acts all creepy, punch him in the face!” The magic punch solution. It’s everywhere, and constant, and is a completely evil meme that needs to die. It’s not a black and white thing. People in real life aren’t good or evil. They can act good or evil, but that’s a bit of a different thing. What’s important is our own perception of things. And it’s damned important that we keep an open mind.
This is a little different from awareness of threat levels. It’s good to be aware of your surroundings, and evaluate what’s going on. I’m a physically competent guy, but I keep an internal map of what’s going on around me, and I update it constantly. If I’m talking with you, you’ll notice my eyes dart around from time to time. I walk wide around corners, I vary my pace when I walk, change my routine, pay attention to everyone, etc. These are good things. It’s what people think is reasonable that is bad.
Making snap judgements about people is a bad thing, and making those judgements off of their initial actions can be bad, too. You cannot go through life thinking everyone around you is going to do bad things to you. If you feel like the world is full of bad people looking for excuses or opportunities to hurt you, then you are a broken person and need help. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, but in an earnest way. You don’t need to feel that way, and you don’t have to feel that way. You aren’t living a full life, and you deserve to. Get counselling, it’s a good thing.
A lot of people feel that way, though. I see it when ever I walk down the street with my beard, or try to peruse the books at Chapters without being hovered over by salespeople looking down their noses at me.
It would be nice if threats to our person came from the obviously evil looking people, the scruffy or different people around us. Life isn’t that simple, folks. No sirree, no way at all.
My first experience with sexual harassment happened when I was in my early twenties. I was working retail. One of the guys I was working with decided I was exactly his type. He got way too touchy-feely. I was a bit confounded about how to deal with this. The creepery always happened in places where yelling or punching would be completely inappropriate. It actually took me weeks to finally figure out that I had to be brutally clear about my lack of interest, and express it in a way that left no question about how I felt. As an introvert, that was incredibly difficult for me. Sure gave me a different perspective on teaching women’s self-defense…
Discrete self-defense is a rarely taught art, but very empowering. Learning to tweak a finger just so, in a way no one else can see…or lean into a knee just right, to make someone stumble away from you. Little tricks that really work, very handy. But like all self-defense, best used with vocal skills and body language mastery.
There is a story making the rounds of the internet right now. An angry woman recounts her commute, and the mutual instances of harassment she encounters. It’s what inspired me to write this series. She makes a lot of mistakes, and makes things so much worse for herself. It bothered me to read, because I recognized a lot of the things she was doing. They were things she had likely been told were correct…and they weren’t.
“Assertiveness” was a thing that was pretty big years ago. It was intended to be a shortcut to self confidence, and works about as well as most shortcuts do…not at all. Confidence takes practice and work, and yields lasting results. Assertiveness tends to become a form of aggression…bad verbal skill. It escalates instead of defuses situations.
There are no shortcuts, really. And even if we don’t like it, we have to deal with other people in the world. The best self-defense is not to learn to hurt people, or shut people down, but to master our own body language. People are great at reading body language, but terrible at reading minds. It’s amazing how many people just don’t understand this.
If I sit on the bus and give off my best “leave me ALONE” vibe…book in hand and headphones on, refusing to look up, tense as a bowstring…I’m gonna get harassed. Why? Because I’m giving off massive energy. Strong vibes. I look tense. That kind of energy always attracts attention. Especially from drunks, mischief makers, the mentally ill…the very people you want to leave you alone.
All they see is the tension. They can’t read your mind. They don’t know your intention. If you really want to be left alone on public transit, do some research. Get on the bus and look at everyone. Who draws your eye? Who seems boring, not worth a second glance? Some people seem to burn with energy, some seem to almost not exist. You want to be one of the people that disappear in public.
Or hell…just realize that you live in a city and are going to interact with people. Best way to avoid the crazies is to strike up a conversation ahead of time with someone else. Break your own walls down a little. If you do wind up in an uncomfortable conversation, your own willingness to interact can give you both confidence to end the conversation and confidence to ask for help if it’s needed.
You can spend money learning physical defense skills, spend time getting strong and fast, and none of it really means anything unless you develop strong verbal skills. People who work with violence for a living learn very quickly that the most important skill is being able to speak calmly and confidently under any circumstances. You learn to relax the visible muscles of tension, while still keeping ready to act. Visible, noticeable tension is triggering for all kinds of violent or predatory action.
It’s not an easy to skill to learn. Fortunately, if you live in a big city you have daily opportunities to practice effective self-defense. Learn to talk calmly while under tension. Talk to a person next to you in line. Say hello to strangers walking down the street. Talk to someone on the bus. It’s the best way to build an easy confidence, which is a key element in self-defense.