It happens to everyone.  You say or do something that offends or upsets another.  You care about that other person, and you recognize why your actions or words caused them grief.  You acknowledge it to them, and say you are sorry.

While knowing how to apologize is an important safety (and social) skill, it is not today’s topic.

Today I want to emphasize that your setting a boundary is not cause for an apology.

You should not have say sorry for treating your needs and peace of mind as priorities.  You should not have to say sorry for taking your own safety and comfort into account.  You should not have to say sorry for self-care.

You should not have to say sorry for taking up your personal space.  You should not have to say sorry for having your own opinions, and voicing them.  You should not have to say sorry for taking time for yourself.

But still, you may find yourself apologizing just to get by, just to get through the day.  Because it seems you’re judged more harshly when you dare to assert yourself.  And you still need to get along with others at work, or in some social settings.  If that is the case, if you decide to make that tactical decision to use the “s” word, do it with no guilt.  Because it’s your choice.  Sometimes, in considering personal safety, you have a choice between being safe and being right.  That is your determination.  You may not want to fight every battle, so choose which are most important for you.  Do remember, however, that this is the result of a specific power dynamic, a tug-of-war over who gets to define what is “acceptable” or “appropriate” or “normal.”

And remember that a truly crucial element of your personal safety is the choice you make to keep yourself safer.

A few years ago I taught two very short classes at a local high school. This school had set aside some time to bring in community experts for extra-curricular programming, and students were able to select which classes they would attend. My two classes were identical, or should have been. Both were for older high school students, both mixed gender though mostly girls, both had between 20 and 25 participants, both had the same class outline, same activities, same discussion topics. Both were even in the same room. One of the school’s teachers sat in on the classes, sort of as a proctor.  And I came away with a clear illustration of group dynamics and learning about safety.

As I mentioned, both classes were mostly girls with a few boys. But in the first class, the girls were more giggly, reluctant to show competence, especially in physical skills such as striking a mitt, and kept looking around as if to see who was watching. A couple of the boys were more vocal, in a participatory way, then average. It’s not like there was “mansplaining” going on, or those boys interrupting girls, or making disparaging comments. The girls were acting in a very self-conscious manner.

The second class was different. Similar size (a couple fewer kids), similar gender distribution. But different dynamics. In this class there was a lot less giggling. Everyone seemed to participate in class activities, including the basic striking skills, and striving for improvement. No single person, or group, stood out as sharing more than their due.Learning self-defense physical moves

After the two classes I chatted a bit with the room’s teacher. I brought up my observations of the different group dynamics. She thought the difference was in the specific participants — the first class included some of the “popular” boys. Boys who were admired, who she thought of as “good” kids but their opinions were given greater weight by other students. The boys in the second class were also well-liked, but they were not in the “popular” group.

Aren’t group dynamics interesting!  Now combine group dynamics and safety.  How does the interaction of group members affect learning skills to stay safer?

I’ve always had “socialization” as a class topic, and since then I’ve expanded the conversation. (Especially now that classes are online.)  Socialization is what behavior is rewarded, in a social way, or punished. Peer pressure. So you’re in school and say something, and a few others make faces that indicate your comment did not at all resonate with them, and they ignore you and don’t sit with you at lunch . . . peer pressure and socialization.  Can this happen at work also?  Oh yes.

For girls (well, not just girls), I ask them to think about when they wanted to say no, or set a boundary but did not. What were the barriers? How much of that is social pressure? We are social creatures, we look to others for acceptable behavior, for standards, for boundaries.

Never under-estimate the need to fit in. While this is most often connected with teens, it does impact all age groups in varying degrees. Sometimes social pressure and your needs are at odds. And part of your safety planning is in recognizing those situations, navigating those situations, and making honest and accountable (to yourself) choices.

Stay safe, live life.

That pioneering piece of legislation giving college girls equal rights to resources for sports on college campuses is turning 40 on June 23rd. It’s older than many of its beneficiaries, and because of Title IX there are MANY beneficiaries.

Sports is much more than play — it teaches lessons of persistence, teamwork, fairness, and cooperation. Even though we too often hear about teams, coaches, and players who seek unearned wins by “gaming” the rules, there are sanctions and penalties and commissions to keep cheaters in line. And sports is one of our main venues to discovering out strongest selves.

In addition to self-defense, I teach traditional karate. I train and teach at Seattle’s Feminist Karate Union, and also run programs for children at Thurgood Marshall Elementary and Lowell@LIncoln Elementary. In these schools, parents most often enroll their child in this enrichment program to develop strength, balance, and coordination; increase self-discipline and goal-setting; and learn to focus. Parents in these schools rarely cite self-defense as a motivator.

Yet, in an indirect way, being involved in sports may be crucial to women’s self-defense:

  • Sports develops speed, strength, and coordination, all of which are useful in physical self-defense. That is obvious.
  • Studies also show that girls who participate in sports are less likely to use drugs and alcohol, less likely to have an unwanted teenage pregnancy, more likely to get better grades and graduate school, and more likely to have a better body image and level of confidence and self-esteem. They will also participate in teamwork and the pursuit of excellence. And, maybe not so surprising, these are all risk-reducing elements for sexual assault.
  • Sports teaches the illusion of confidence. Even if you are afraid, act confident. Very important in the self-defense toolkit!
  • Finally, participating in any athletic activity teaches that your body can handle stress, and get stronger. Py Bateman, founder of the Feminist Karate Union, began her martial arts training at a time when almost every martial arts school was either overtly hostile to women wanting to train or was benignly neglectful. Bateman’s school was in the latter category. In this school, women were not permitted to spar. Hence, their rankings were “junior,” and the belt with a white stripe running all the way down the middle reflected that lack of status. Bateman worked to gain the right to spar, and it took a while. She recounted that after her first sparring match she was astounded that she could take a punch, indeed several punches, and still keep fighting.

This last point is the most important. Self-defense is largely a mental game. I’ve noticed this among my adult self-defense students. When inactive little girls grow up never having experienced a physical challenge, they are more often fearful of the harm a larger male attacker can inflict. When physically active (or formerly active) adults sign up for a self-defense class, they are more confident that there is a tool or technique they can use to extract themselves from harm. And that is the best predictor of successful self-defense.

A critical part of self-defense is the ability to seek help and redress. But what if nobody wants to believe you?

Two months ago I posted about the Penn State football scandal, where former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested and charged with sexual misconduct. In that post, Good Men Did Nothing, I outlined several things you could do to keep your kids safer. Those points still hold.

Since then, there have been more revelations. Head Coach Joe Paterno, as you know by now, was fired rather than having his resignation accepted. He was not indicted, nor did he do anything criminal. He fulfilled his obligations to the letter of the law. But that was not enough, especially for a man of his stature in the community. His error was not following up on those he reported to, and himself notifying law enforcement. Penn State President Graham Spanier was also fired for his quick defense of two other indicted staff members, as well as for not keeping the school’s Board of Trustees properly informed of the situation. Penn State student rioted, not as a response to the rape of young boys on their campus, but because their beloved coach was axed for inaction.

In the months after Mr. Sandusky’s arrest, there have been a whole lotta fingers of blame pointing all around. Indeed, there is more than enough blame to go around. Who knew, who reported, what did those who received the information do?

Some blame has been kicked to assistant coach Mike McQueary. He was a witness to what has been described as Sandusky raping a 10 year old boy in the Penn State football shower facility. What actions he took is unclear. Initial reports said he phoned his dad and went home, and told Coach Paterno the next day. Paterno reported to athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz (who oversaw university police), who did nothing. Both men have been indicted for perjury for testifying that they only heard that Sandusky was horsing around with young boys (not exactly in the same league as rape). Emails obtained by a local newspaper say that McQueary did stop the assault and spoke with some police officers. Police records have not yet confirmed that.

When there are conflicting interests, reporting gets harder. When there’s pressure to preserve the status quo of an individual, or a sports program, or a school, those who report may be stymied. McQueary’s reports go nowhere. Sandusky is also seen engaging in sexual activity by janitorial staff, who do not report to police because they fear for their jobs. A 1998 report ends when the then-District Attorney, Ray Gricar, decides not to pursue (Gricar vanished in 2005, so we can’t ask why).

We self-defense instructors and advocates always propose telling those in authority. It seems we should be adding to our repertoire better ways to speak truth to power, so that the victims can be heard.

Related stories:

This really cool video by Amy Cuddy (a researcher at Harvard) talks about body language and power.

Amy Cuddy: Power Poses from PopTech on Vimeo.

You can feel powerful by expansive body language. Cuddy’s work is placed mostly in a business context, but it is easy to translate this to personal safety and self-defense. Strong body language helps deter assault, and makes you stronger in case you do need to defend yourself.

Body language is a key component of my self-defense classes. We focus on a few aspects, mostly eye contact and smiling, where to place your feet, and posture. These critical elements of non-verbal communication convey an impression of power, and are your first line in physical skills self-defense.

I’ve been told that my original .m4a file was not playable by several people.  Ooops!  Hate it when that happens.

The original post was revised, and here is the new link: