using your voiceYour voice is your most effective safety tool.  Yet it’s the tool most folk, especially women and girls, are reluctant to use.  “Do I have to say anything?” is a too-common question in class.  The answer is no, you don’t HAVE to do or say anything you don’t want to, and there are some cases where saying nothing may be your best choice.  That being said, there are reasons why using your voice is an essential tool.

  1. BREATHING.  Show of hands, who thinks breathing isn’t that important?  Yeah, that’s what I figured.  If you are using your voice you are breathing.  Breathing is critical to life, and critical to managing your reactions in challenging situations.  Which brings me to the next reason . . .
  2. FREEZING.  Inability to respond.  Using your voice can break that freeze.  The assailant is, in fact, often hoping you will freeze.  Which brings us to . . .
  3. STARTLING the assailant.  Assailants, like any predator, are looking for easier prey.  Targets who will be afraid, unsure, easily intimidated.  Using your voice, especially LOUDLY, by itself has a good chance of chasing off the assailant as that’s not what they expected.  Which can . . .
  4. ATTRACT ATTENTION.  Maybe any people around will look.  Perhaps some will whip out their phones to capture video.  If you’re super lucky, someone might try to intervene.  Most assailants don’t want to risk attention.  But maybe nobody is around . . . you may want to . . .
  5. INCREASE YOUR ADRENALINE.  Adrenaline, at the right level, can increase your physical effectiveness should you need to actually fight your assailant.  It can increase your speed and strength.  It can make time feel like its going slooooowwww.   (Note:  too much adrenaline, on the other hand, can begin shutting down your responses and effectiveness.)  And, finally, using your voice can . . .
  6. ENGAGE YOUR CORE.  Which brings in more muscle groups, connects parts of your body to work together like a power drive train, and increases your physical effectiveness.

There is a world of difference between an intellectual knowledge of your voice’s importance, and actually using it.  As in your ability to not only recognize but to state your needs, your preferences, and your boundaries. That’s why we practice using our voices in our self-defense classes.

Do you sometimes find yourself in situations (social, work, family) where you kinda go along because it’s just not a big deal?  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that — a crucial life skill is navigating and prioritizing choices.  But also recognize that we are often socialized to feel uncomfortable standing up for ourselves.  If you default that that, do you find yourself constantly left unsatisfied?  Do you feel more like a spectator rather than player in your own life?

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?

You know, those people hanging out on street corners, clipboard in hand, collecting signatures (and sometimes money) to save the children, the whales, the unborn, the undead, . . .

Apparently in downtown Seattle some canvassers are getting too aggressive. Councilmember Tom Rasmussen is considering a law to do something about it.

Hear about it, and some opinions, on KUOW-FM, where yesterday Mr. Rasmussen and others answered questions posed by host Ross Reynolds and listeners who called and emailed in.  http://www.kuow.org/program.php?id=24293

Sure some canvassers are annoyingly aggressive. However, I don’t see the need for a law to deal with them. A simple “no thank you” and walking on should do the trick. (Yes, I do teach that, and other verbal safety skills, in some of my self defense classes.)

For instance, I am walking around Westlake Mall (seems to be Canvasser Central these days) and am approached by a young man (or woman) asking for just a few moments of your time to save the children. I will make a snap decision: to give them some of my time, or to say “no thank you” and walk on. Either choice is fine, as long as it is MY choice and I’m not just getting sucked into it because that’s what good folk like us do. My choice would be to say “no thank you” and walk on, secure in the knowledge that I’m already doing the right thing because have a charitable giving plan already in place. If that canvasser then feigns shock that I don’t care about the children, I will WALK ON. I do not feel I need to answer to him. I owe him nothing, and will not get sucked into a time-wasting, energy-draining conversation web.


Remember the sage advice of Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” It’s up to each and every one of us to spot emotional manipulation and deal. It’s just the right thing to do.



In classes for teen girls I’m often asked what to do when some guy, either a stranger or someone they barely know, approaches and begins asking overly personal questions.  A simple “I don’t want to talk at this time” is certainly polite, and right to the point. “I don’t give out that information,” said in a neutral tone, is also direct and sets a boundary without being nasty.

But some girls still take issue with a direct response. Because it’s “rude.” And I hear from some adults who work with girls that it’s just “who they are.”

Who are you, really?

Are you always the person you wish you could be?

Food writer Ruth Reichl faced similar questions, but in a different context. As the restaurant critic of The New York Times beginning in 1993, Reichl knew that her reviews would powerfully influence the rise and fall of restaurants big and small; a great review could mean vastly increased revenue and prestige. Restaurant kitchens, she found, had Reichl’s picture plastered on the wall and a reward for any staff member who spotted her. Reichl’s clever solution was to come up with disguises for her dining excursions. And her disguises went beyond wigs and makeup — she envisioned what kind of person she’d become. With the help of an acting coach, she transformed herself. And it worked, sometimes too well. She found herself falling into her roles–often to the delight, but sometimes to the dismay, of her dining companions.(Reichl details her escapades in her charming book Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise.)

“Chloe” was a blonde bombshell who seemed to know precisely how to intrigue men. “Brenda” was warm, funny, kind, and approachable. Elderly “Betty” blended into the furniture, and was treated as a castoff. “Emily” was brusque and bitter. All different  personalities, yet along the way Reichl recognized them all as elements within herself (and she decides she wants more Brenda and less Emily). Reichl had the epiphany that controlling how others treated her could be as simple as changing the way she dressed and projected herself. She tested this out, and for her it worked.

Reichl was able to effectively reconstruct herself for a slice of time, over and over, in different guises.  She got her job done.

Do you know precisely what you would do in any given situation? Do you ever do things that amaze you? That disappoint you? Do you ever say things you wish you could take back the minute it came out of your mouth for all the world to hear? Do you ever wonder how you had the presence of mind to say exactly the right thing, and wish you could do it more often?

That’s resilience in an uncertain world. Grace under pressure. Cool, calm, collected. What’s not to like about those qualities?

As I tell my class participants, self-defense has a performance component. Regardless of who you believe you are, you all have the same job to get done, of keeping yourself safe. You can act. You can project yourself as a skilled, confident person on your own mission, and pity the fool who tries to mess with you.

Personally, I believe my time is valuable. I feel I should choose with whom to spend, not squander, my time. Otherwise I’ll end up treated as someone else’s entertainment, emotional barf bag, or — at worst — victim.