One student told me that when a guy on the street bumped into her friend — she’s sure deliberately — the friend apologized right away and asked the guy if he was OK.  I had to stop the story to make sure I heard it right.  So this guy, on purpose, almost knocked her over and SHE said sorry?  Yup, I heard it right.
Apologies carry a complicated burden.  A heartfelt apology can mend fences and relationships.  A sincere apology can save face and begin to heal hearts.  An inauthentic apology can infuriate the receiver.  And a social apology can superficially appease others and make you seem more likeable — really?
I began to consider apologies after reading this article, where author Lindsay King-Miller describes how offering apologies has totally transformed how others relate to her.  Got some pithy quotes, too:

“So these days I apologize a lot. Everyone tells me all the time that I don’t need to, that I have nothing to be sorry for, that I shouldn’t be so insecure, but in between they tell me how likable I am. How personable. How pleasant. How I set people at ease.

“Apologizing is a survival skill in a society where women are penalized, personally and professionally, for being abrasive, for speaking their minds, for not smoothing their sharp edges down, for not fitting in. Apologizing is a way of saying I know I’m smart but I don’t mean to be. I know I take up space but I’m trying not to. I want you to like me more than I want to be right.These are things the world demands from women. If you don’t provide them, it punishes you. Before I started apologizing I heard all the time, secondhand, that people hated me. That this girl or that girl thought I was a bitch. That I was too aggressive and guys were scared of me. I never hear that anymore.

“People tell me that higher self-esteem would help me apologize less. I think No, you don’t understand. I have to apologize because I can’t let people know how awesome I actually think I am.  The world is not kind to women who love themselves as much as I do — certainly not fat, queer, socially awkward girls. I am not supposed to have confidence. I am not supposed to think my opinions matter.” 

Personally, I had never thought of apologizing for my opinions as a way to make others comfortable.  I despise the idea that anyone would expect me to express regret for being smart or projecting confidence.  But it happens, and consequences happen. 
King-Miller describes her younger self as brash, confrontational, emotionally needy, and sensitive.  She says she hated how people would shut her out to not deal with her intensity and neediness.  At some point, when in her 20s, she found herself apologizing for all the crying, saying that she was over-sensitive, it was no big deal. And she found that was acceptable.  And people liked her better. 
I do not know King-Miller.  I’ve never met her, and only know what she says about herself in this one article.  But I do know intelligent, articulate, and opinionated women — who I would not characterize as brash, confrontational and emotionally needy — who were too readily dismissed as abrasive when they spoke uncomfortable truths (and most truths will make someone uncomfortable).  Assertive women can get labeled aggressive. And there’s a small yet vocal group of trolls who are eagerly watching to pull off-balance any women who dare to “lean in.” 
I don’t believe that women’s only two options are to blurt bluntly or cower contritely. Yes it takes some art and energy coming up with more appropriate and effective ways of expressing myself.  I accept the fact that there always will be individuals who just will not like what I have to say, regardless of how I couch it.  And I am a native New Yorker, so there are limits on how much I’m willing to care about others’ opinions.  But the article did get me thinking about how saying sorry can be used to stay safe.  
Yes, the apology can be a self-defense strategy.  It can be a tool of camouflage, of distraction, of social disguise.  It has a VERY big role as a de-escalation tactic.  In rare instances you have to chose between being right (and maybe physically hurt) and emotionally available (which may manifest as sympathetic, empathetic, or apologetic).  When you make safety your priority, learning the art of apology can pay off.  That’s good self-care, an essential component of your toolkit.
To make the choice that best suits your goals, you want to have all options at your disposal.  When you have to take out your self-defense toolkit — whether physical or verbal or emotional responses are called for — recognize that sometimes your choices are between bad and worse.  Do you want to pick your best response, or will you let someone else will decide for you?

Last night Kiro 7 News had a story of a 14 year old girl who fought off a potential rapist. She was walking from her bus stop when a guy grabbed her and tried to drag her off. She fought back, and she won!

Kiro 7 interviewed several people on the street for the version they broadcast last night. Most expressed concern and fear about the attack. Two of the comments are more noteworthy.

One was from a woman who stated she was glad the girl was able to fight off the assailant, BUT not everyone would be able to do that. She’s right. Not everyone can, BUT I’ll bet she’d be surprised how many women really can fight back with really simple techniques (BTW, several of my five week self-defense courses are just about to begin, if you want to learn those skills). It dismays me when women just write off the possibility.

The second noteworthy comment was the very last one. “What was a 14 year old girl doing out at 1:00 in the morning?” Indeed, that was often brought up by some of the online comments from viewers. That may be a good question for her parents, but it in no way, shape, or form lessens the responsibility of the attacker for his actions. Regardless of why she was out, the attacker should be brought to account for his misdeeds.

The report rape for sexual assault is already too low (somewhere between 15 and 30% are reported to law enforcement). Women and girls who are targeted are less likely to report if it includes getting scolded by the “well-meaning but clueless” brigade. So I wag my finger at Kiro 7 News for not only including that comment, but making it the very final statement on air.

Lilith

Lilith, my cat companion of almost 19 years, moved onto her next life last month. Her mission was to explore strange new tablecloths, to seek out new crevices and closets, to boldly go where no cat had gone before. Mission accomplished!

Since she came to live with me at the age of 5 weeks, Lilith was a fearless and headstrong explorer. No cupboard was off limits, as far as she was concerned. Nor was she was aloof, far from it! She was fearless as well as demanding in getting lap time and pettings. For a while I had to pet her tummy for at least 15 minutes before I would be “permitted” to do my morning yoga. Even then, she felt entitled to play with my hair whenever I was in “downward dog.” My clever cat of steel was featured in this blog post about a year and a half ago, and in this one a year ago. Lilith is sorely missed.

Last month I began a few revisions to my website’s home page. The goal is to make it more informative and easier to navigate. I was working on my sub-heading, playing around with words for women finding their super powers of protection. I used the phrase “super shero.” Sent the draft around to a couple of friends. One in particular disliked the phrase. She felt it too contrived and off-putting. So we were brainstorming alternatives. My friend came to this conclusion:

It’s a crying shame there’s such a paucity of terms for positive images of female power. Would be nice to have lots of choices from which to select the one with the perfect nuance.
If only the whole world knew who Lilith was. If a woman learned to project such presence, it would never occur to anyone to even think of messing with her. The only figure I can come up with who’s maybe even a distant second is Elizabeth II, Queen of England.

I have to agree, there are few truly positive adjectives for powerful women. Especially in a public venue.

Lilith watching . . .

Most of us don’t consider women when we think of powerful, intriguing, or even interesting people. Last week I taught a self-defense class for teen girls at a local high school. They paired up for an exercise, but first I asked them to introduce themselves to their partner and think of who they’d want to have dinner with tonight if they could pick ANY historic figure. Only two (of 12) picked women.

How do you talk about powerful women, or do you even positively talk about powerful women? Might you want to change that?

Take this quick quiz to find out how much you do know about that part of global violence relegated to the inside pages (if at all) in most newspapers.

http://saynotoviolence.org/node/2138/take

Really, this will only take about 4 minutes of your time.

OK, taking a quiz by itself won’t end the violence. But there is this marketing acronym: TOMA. That’s Top of Mind Awareness. Those items you hear about or see most often get more attention and action. More action against violence is (to quote Martha Stewart) a good thing. Duh! (to quote Charlie Sheen, who I still do not fear).

PS – Want to learn what you can do to keep yourself safe, as well as actions you can take to make your community safer? Self-Defense 101 for Women.

Author Ellen Snortland has often been in the media advocating for making personal safety and self defense a required class in high schools. Her article One Too Many in the Pasadena Weekly as well as her spotlight on National Public Radio points to the murder of Chelsea King as yet another reason too many to teach kids how to defend themselves.

Yet there’s a great reluctance to widely add self defense skills to young people’s toolboxes. More emphasis and resources are given over to services once they’ve become victims, or to enacting laws intended to prosecute and punish offenders (but which sometimes result in unwanted consequences, but that’s another post). Both these approaches are critical, but that third leg of prevention is keeping real safety from becoming a reality.

We are the only creatures on this planet that actively strives to dis-empower large segments of our population by not only not teaching basic personal safety, but often by lying about its efficacy.  Once upon a time (about 3 decades ago) conventional wisdom held that women should not fight back lest they get hurt worse.  Studies now show that’s not true at all, and in fact over 75% of women who even begin to resist assault chase off their assailant.

Unfortunately, most women don’t know that.  And that is truly a crime.