Today’s topic may seem a little tangential, but bear with me. CVS Pharmacy, a large nation-wide chain, announced just a couple of weeks ago that it reached its goal of full transparency for beauty imagery produced by and for CVS. Apparently they made a commitment to educate its customers about the difference between “authentic” and “digitally altered” photos.  Apparently they are committing to reducing the overall use of highly photoshopped images in marketing.

It’s not exactly a secret that advertising images are highly edited, to the extent that the person depicted is not physiologically possible. (Generally that person so objectified is female.) And CVS has cited studies that point to a connection between the prevalence of such images and a negative impact on the mental health of women, particularly those ages 18 – 35. That seems to have been exacerbated the past year by the pandemic, which saw many women spending more time online, seeing more images of themselves via Zoom-like platforms, and being exposed to more online marketing.

OK, so about 1 in 3 women are less confident in their appearance now than they were a year ago. That’s an issue, and what does it have to do with your personal safety?

Confidence. Self-confidence.

A colleague, Dr. Jocelyn Hollander at the University of Oregon, has just written an article (soon to be published) on the connection between taking an empowerment self-defense class and interactional expectations. Interactional expectations meaning expectations we have of what other people should be like, how they should feel, and how they should behave. What are our expectations going into any interaction with another person. And she found that learning self-defense not only changed students’ expectations of what they were capable of doing, it also changed their expectations of behavior from others and their ability to hold people accountable for actions and words. In other words, it shifts students’ thinking from a more passive, consumer focus to an active participation in making choices in their own lives. Taking that self-defense class taught them skills that spilled over into improving their quality of life, and the confidence to use them.

What does this have to do with beauty products and marketing images? When we buy products, we’re not just buying material stuff. We’re also buying the branding, the mystique, allure, the promises and hopes that using this product will improve our quality of life. When our media environment is flooded with imagery of women who look more like fantasy role-playing than reality, well, studies noted by CVS show the effect increases feelings of discouragement. CVS also noted that most women who spend at least an hour a day seeing their own image (i.e., on a Zoom call) report feeling more inspired when the see UNALTERED images of models online. Beauty practices is one way of practicing self-care, which should be empowering. Encouraging women to know they can reach out for their expectations and dreams.

My favorite self-defense book of all time is Self-Defense:  The Womanly Art of Self-Care, Intuition, and Choice by Debbie Leung. And one of the reasons it’s my favorite is the photos, which are of real women (rather than the tall and limber 20-something women wearing workout leggings that seem to be in most photos). This says to me, hey YOU can do this! This is for YOU!

Stay safe, and live YOUR life.

Today is May 26, 2021. I have some decisions to make. Scheduling classes for the summer. Usually it’s not a big deal, kind of like a jigsaw puzzle putting together dates with class types, but this year I have to choose between running live in-person classes or sticking with virtual Zoom sessions. Do I require in-person class attendees to be vaccinated for COVID-19? To show proof, or trust they are truthful?

Do you trust yourself?

I read this book years ago, “Yes” or “No”: The Guide to Better Decisions by Spencer Johnson. Johnson is known for writing business self-help books that rely on allegories to convey their points. In this one he goes through a tale about a young man needing to make a decision and the advice he’s given by a mentoring group while on an extended hiking trip. We never find out what the issue or choices were, the whole point was the process of arriving at a decision via a series of six questions. The first three questions were in the rational realm, but the second three were more in the domain of the heart. One of those key questions to ask oneself is “does this decision show that I trust my instincts?”

Do you trust yourself?

Sure, all of us on occasion have misjudged situations, misread body language, acted on our prejudice and assumptions. But what happened afterwards? What did you find out? Did you find feedback to learn more about yourself? Were you honest with yourself?

Do you trust yourself?

Or, did someone subsequently try to shame you, or insist that your assessments are always wrong? Always would be wrong? With constant picking on your choice of clothing, restaurants, or movies. Disparaging comments about your family and friends? Expressions of contempt for your opinions on matters cultural or political?

Over a decade ago one student told me about her self-development strategy. She sold cherries in Pike Place Market over the summer, One student learned to "read" people when she sold cherries at the market, and learned to trust herself.when she was home from college. Now, who’s in Pike Place Market in the summer? A whole lotta tourists, who really don’t need cherries. They may need a snowglobe with the Space Needle, or a chocolate salmon, or a T-shirt that says “my parents went to Seattle and all I got was this T shirt.” But not cherries. So she came out from behind the stand to interact more with visitors. From that experience she learned to assess body language and attitudes, and more quickly figure out who may be a customer and who may be a creep.  (BTW, I also talked about this in my blog post 2 weeks ago.)

As I’ve noted several times, the great American sage Yogi Berra is said to have said, you can observe a lot just by watching.

She honed her sense of trusting herself.  You can, too.

Stay safe, live life.

I’ve been teaching safety and self-defense for over 25 years, and if I had a dime for every student who in some way labeled themselves “paranoid,” even in a semi-joking sort of way, I’d now be retired. In luxury.

What is being paranoid? I’m not a psychologist, and I’m not going to give a technical definition. In colloquial terms, when people say they’re “just being paranoid,” generally they mean they feel something is amiss but can’t think of a good rational reason why. So they must be paranoid, right?

It’s always been intriguing to me that when people think about taking precautions when interacting with others they don’t know all that well, it feels off. Odd. Uncomfortable. Un-natural. Unreasonable. Even pathological. Like we SHOULD just trust other people, and there’s something wrong with us if we don’t.

In fact, most of the time we do just that, we trust others. We pass people on the street all the time, and rarely does anything odd, let along bad, happen. We go into stores, cafes, and offices, and the vast majority of the time it’s just another routine day. Maybe we say hi to the cashier at the grocery store, or we chat with our neighbors when we get home. Another familiar typical day.

Familiarity does lead us to a sort of complacency, a set of expectations that it’s the same as it ever was.

Think back to a time when you sensed something amiss, and did nothing. What happened? Were you OK with the outcome?

Think back to a time when you sensed something amiss, and did something to change that interaction’s trajectory. What happened? Were you OK with the outcome?

Gavin De Becker’s whole premise in his book The Gift of Fear, is that we should listen to these feelings! They are telling us something important. De Becker lists several “feelings” that he calls messengers of intuition:  nagging feelings, persistent thoughts, humor, wonder, anxiety, curiosity, hunches, gut feelings, doubt, hesitation, suspicion, apprehension, and fear (p. 74 of the NY:  Dell Publishing, 1997 edition).

Interpreting those messages can be a challenge: are we facing someone who is looking to exploit us, are we misunderstanding someone else’s sense of appropriate, are we caving in to stereotypes and prejudice?  De Becker also lists seven “survival signals,” specific behaviors that should cause concern:  1) forced teaming, 2) charm and niceness, 3) too many details, 4) typecasting, 5) emotional loansharking, 6) unsolicited promises, and 7) ignoring your NO.  This is Chapter 4.

Several of my students talked about their processes in tackling that challenge.

One was just finishing college and about to travel.  Over the summers she’d return home to Seattle, and to earn money she worked at Pike Place Market selling cherries.  Most people wandering through the market that time of year were tourists, who may not have NEEDED cherries but could be persuaded.  She found herself on the front side of the counter, and quickly learned by peoples’ body language and tone of voice which might be interested in cherries and which might be more interested in just chatting, or getting free cherries, or hooking up.

Another’s job was literally online, she created the backend of user interfaces. She could work from anywhere in the world, as long as there was a high speed internet connection. So she lived in various European countries for months at a time, in Bali, in eastern Africa, India, Malaysia, all over. First, though, she laid groundwork. She spent a lot of time on mass transit, cafes, and in public venues. She eavesdropped and people-watched. She looked for body language in interactions, tones of voice, distances between bodies in different situations, and the trajectory of the interactions. As the great American sage Yogi Berra is said to have saidDispel those nagging fears of being "paranoid" by making your commute into a practicum for reading body language!, you can observe a lot just by watching. And she got good at identifying “red flags” and feeling confident in choosing appropriate actions.

These two did not feel in the least paranoid. Because they prepared for being more active participants in living on their own terms.

Stay safe, live life.

Happy Earth Day, everyone!  Although today is Thursday, April 22, 2021, I’m not here to talk about Earth Day. But a good discussion moment came up in social media, about media literacy and how to recognize social media hoaxes.

You may have seen social media postings about April 24. About an alleged group of six men who are said to have declared — via a TikTok video — April 24 as National Rape Day, suggesting that men go out and sexually assault women, and it would be legal.

Others on social media have been sounding the alarm. Stay at home, carry a weapon, be on high alert, etc. Except, where’s the alleged video? One TikTok account claims to have seen it, and claims to be spreading the word because most of her followers are women and they should be aware of it. Others have picked up on that warning. But I don’t know of many, or even any other accounts claiming to have seen the alleged original video.

And TikTok cannot find the offending video, on their own platform.

If I were a gambling type of gal, I’d be betting this is a hoax. That this “news” is a troll or two whose goal is to generate attention, spread fear, and kick back laughing as they watch responses roll in. Said trolls could be the purported group of six, or it could be the account that issued the warning about a non-existent Group of Six.

I personally do not plan on taking precautions other than what I would normally. Remember, an average of about 1,200 persons are sexually assaulted each day in the United States. The alleged “advice” we are hearing from those spreading the April 24 hoax is to stay safe by staying at home. I call BS. Most women are raped in someone’s home. By people they know.

recognize social media hoaxes

Wouldn’t it be nice if recognizing social media hoaxes were this easy?

This is a good example of why we — and I mean “we” as individual media consumers, and that probably includes you on occasion — why we need to practice better media literacy and critical thinking (yes, we do cover that in our self-defense classes).  Why we need to more surely recognize social media hoaxes.  This has the markings of a hoax. It pushes a hot-button issue with a claim of imminent outrageous action. It has a built-in audience, and will attract a sizable readership, especially on social media. And there’s no real evidence. Before spreading crap, please do some homework if you have ANY doubts. Click the links, all of them. No links? That’s a red flag. Google all the names. Reverse image search all images. Run a Whois on domain names. Or if you don’t want to do all that, at the very least find a reliable fact-checking site, maybe Snopes.com. I am not on TikTok, but if I were, I’d be checking into the reliability of those spreading this. Please do not empower trolls by spreading their misinformation — it sucks up your time and energy needlessly, and it sucks up the time and energy of others with whom you share, that can be put to much better use. And it contributes to a social environment where most people consider the world a suckier place then it really is.

Stay safe, and live life!

I volunteered as a domestic violence advocate for several years. Over that time I staffed the crisis line, conducted orientation sessions for new clients, gave a couple of bystander intervention workshops, and assisted with support groups. Support groups were a core service of the agency, and incredibly valuable in helping DV survivors getting to and staying on their feet. It is super-important to know you’re not alone, there are resources, and you need not be isolated.

This particular group was facilitated by a staffer, we’ll call her Amy. She came across as kind and compassionate, someone you suspected you could really trust. She exuded that impression in several ways. This is one.

Those of you who have taken any of my classes know we spend time on body language. Specifically, on what’s called “open and expansive” body language. Also called the “power pose.” Feet shoulder width apart, eyes forward, arms and hands also out and not crossed or in your pockets. Basically, a posture that takes up more of your own space bubble. Body language that’s generally (at least in mainstream North American culture) interpreted as assertive and confident.

However, when in support group or otherwise speaking with clients, Amy’s body language was a bit different. She did Body language for submissive, inviting, aggressivetend to cross her feet, and folded her arms, not exactly across her body but in front. Those aspects of her body language were what we self-defense teachers may have called “submissive,” if we restrict ourselves to that narrow continuum of submissive to assertive to aggressive. Which points more to shortcomings in our attraction to oppositions, contrast, and dichotomies. Amy came across as both attentive and relaxed, not aggressive, not assertive, not trying to define and stick her boundaries, and her body language — rather than submissive — was an invitation to connect.

Consider Amy’s clients. They were people who experienced a controlling partner, and that control took the form of emotional abuse and often physical violence. The abuser’s body language would often have been domineering, at times aggressive but also the right assertive posture, combined with tension, could serve as a warning you better toe that line. Many DV survivors have become very attuned to other’s body language. And Amy’s was meant to address that.

I never did get around to asking her if her body language was deliberate, or if she had good instincts. Regardless, this is something anyone can practice. Like we do in our classes.

Speaking of which . . .

Check out our class schedule, and more to come.

Stay safe, live life.

The object of safety planning is safety, yes.  And, for most efficacy, put some effort into planning.  Someone acts, you respond, what’s next?

Over the last few months I’ve talked a lot about setting boundaries. Most of the time is it successful, in large part because most peoples’ intent are pretty good.  Also in part because most perpetrators want easy targets — they don’t want to have to work hard.

However, sometime there may be repercussions or consequences. This can happen where there’s a difference in power, where there’s an employer/employee relationship, or coach/athlete relationship, or teacher/student relationship. It can also happen when peers are involved.  Part of making your personal safety planning effective is in plotting out those “what’s next” possibilities.

Consider the other person’s possible responses when you set a boundary, and plan your responses to them. Assess the probabilities of each of the possible responses. This should be based on your past experiences with that person. If you set boundaries, could your boss deny a promotion or raise, or demote you, or fire you? Can a coworker or classmate begin a round of gossip, or even try to sabotage some of your work? Can a coach limit your play time, or even cut you from the team?  Will that person get a bit huffy, stomp away, and then nothing else happens?  Or will they just say “OK,” and it’s all good?

Assess the people around — are they likely to be allies or detractors? Is it safe for you to talk to some of them beforehand?

And, if necessary, do you have an exit strategy?

Watch the Netflix documentary Athlete A for some good examples of choices around boundaries.  I wrote about that a few weeks ago.

And even if you’re not liking some possible outcomes of setting boundaries, think of the results of NOT setting boundaries. Which consequences would you rather live with?

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.

As a self-defense teacher, I talk a lot about boundaries. Mostly about setting boundaries with other people. While some of those people may mean harm, most just have different ideas of boundaries and could use some guidance as to where theirs and yours more happily connect.

Today I’m looking at a specific set of boundaries you set with yourself. Many of us — I’m certainly in this group — want to experience a lot. I want to travel to Provence and to Tuscany. I want to learn some French and Italian. I want to learn to play guitar better, as well as bass and drums and piano. I already cook well, but I want to be able to de-bone a turkey in 10 minutes. (Why? I don’t know, I don’t even like turkey!)  I want to learn to draw.  I want better photography skills.  I want to write a book.  I want to create an online class. I want, I want, I want.

This is only the tip of the iceberg of my wants.

I’m going to tell you something that you probably already know. I certainly have known this for many years, and yet I still need reminding. Of all these wants, the ones you get will be those you MAKE the time for.

For many years I had wanted to understand the social dynamics around domestic violence and to more effectively work with survivors. Because DV is our greatest single risk to personal safety, and as a self-defense teacher that’s an important topic. And yes there are trainings available in my area. But it’s not just a half-day one-and-done workshop. I’d have to carve out a significant chunk of time. Fifty hours of training, then at least a year of volunteer work. I’d been telling myself I wanted to do this for years, yet I never made that time. Until I did. Until I acknowledged that yes, this was a 50 hour training over several months, I may have to put aside another activity or two and re-arrange my schedule, be inconvenienced, drive more, and after the training commit to that volunteering, and was it really worthwhile?

I did it, eight years ago. I said to myself if I don’t ACTIVELY MAKE the time it was not just going to happen. Piss or get off the pot, so to speak. Yes it was inconvenient and time-consuming and some days frustrating. I did forego some income those three months. Afterwards I volunteered each week at the center working with women in different stages of abusive relationships, which isn’t easy to hear (let alone experience). And yes it was worth it. A lot of what I leaned got incorporated into my classes, partly as recognizing “red flags” and partly as how to help or support family or friends who were in unhealthy or abusive relationships.

I often ask my students how they found the class. A lot say they’ve meant to take a self-defense class for a long time, and just happened to be looking through a Seattle Central or Bellevue College catalog, or an online class listing, saw the class, saw it fit into their schedule, and signed up. That’s convenient, and how most of us live most of our lives. Not everything we want will drop into place that easily.

Right now I am looking at my list of wants. What is most essential for my professional development, for personal development, for relationships, and for self-care? What will I actively make time for this year? How about you?

The last couple of months I’ve written about recognizing (and fixing) boundary violations, finding support, and building community.  All are essential aspects of personal safety.  And, for my final post of this year (still 2020), I’m turning towards feeling safety, i.e., recognizing what is (or is not) “safety.”

  • Safety is situational.  We all move through different environments each day.  Leaving home, commuting to work or school, going out for lunch, meeting up with some friends in a park afterwards . . . each place has its own levels of safety.  What does safety look or feel like for each?
  • Safety is making choices.  Safety is the ability to navigate your course in life while minimizing the risk of harm.  The ability to make informed choices is a prerequisite for sustainable safety.
  • Does familiarity = safety?  Most of us feel safer in familiar environments.  Places we already know, when others we know, like and trust are nearby.  “Where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came,” to trot out that old TV sitcom theme.  Or even if we are physically alone, we can be on the phone with someone (while we may feel safer, we may not actually be safer).  “There’s safety in numbers,” says the cliche.  At the same time, most assaults against women are committed by someone known.  Over half homicides where the victim is female is committed by a current or former intimate partner.  The assailant abuses familiarity to gain access to commit assault.

Think about your different environments.  Work.  School.  Home.  Shopping.  Commuting.  Public space.  Social gathering.  Maybe you can add something specific to your life.  Pick one.

Get out a piece of paper and a pen, or colored pens.  Consider how you’d know you’re “safe” in that place.  Make a list.  It could be bullet-point or mind-map organized, just begin putting thoughts down what safety in a specific space would look and feel like.

I picked Home.  Take a look at this video for what I consider important for feeling safety at home.  Now do the same yourself.  You may come up with similar results, or yours may be different.  Regardless, they are your choices.  Make them.

 

Safety at Home from Joanne Factor on Vimeo.

 

Over the last month I’ve written about seeking support (several posts, in fact:  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).  Finding family, friends, even professionals, who would be supportive should you need help.  Finding safer spaces.  While that help can be material, mostly in our self-defense classes we talk about emotional support.  This post follows Part 3, where at the end I talk about not just finding support but your role in creating a supportive community.

Here is a book that addresses those same concerns:  Making Spaces Safer, by Shawna Potter.  The subtitle says it all.  “A guide to giving harassment the boot wherever you work, play, and gather.”  Because whether you are out to make a living, have fun, or change the world, contending with the extra obstacles of harassment is an unwanted detraction.   It diverts your energy from what you want.

Making Spaces Safer

Making Spaces Safer, by Shawna Potter

The ideas Potter puts forward are based in her work with Hollaback! in Baltimore, as well as with her workshops as she toured with her band.  They are simple in concept, but as with most simple ideas they can be hard to implement.  There are folks for whom the status quo is just fine and see no need to change, or who are advantaged by ignoring harassment, or who just hate change and what it may represent.

Let’s get back, though, to the simple.  Really, it’s like all the stuff you should have learned in kindergarten.  About asking first and sharing and saying please and thank you.  Let’s get to some specifics.

  • Prioritize the needs and testimony of the person who experienced harassment.  That individual’s sense of security and self-determination just took a big hit.  While that sounds straightforward, many agencies don’t do this.
  • That individual should have some control over the process.  What are their choices?  Can they freely make choices?
    • If you are the person hearing the account, what is your role?  Do you manage the space where the harassment happened?  Can you find a place for that person to be more comfortable so they can tell you what happened, and the remedy they’d like?
      • For example, if you manage a club, you can offer to keep an eye on the harasser, take the harasser aside for a conversation, or remove them from the premises.  Who makes that decision?  Most of the time it is the manager, and Potter is saying it should be the person who experienced the harassment.
  • Validate that person’s experience!  I’ve used that concept for a while, in the area of self-care.  Find a trusted, supportive ally, someone who believes you and reminds you that the harassment was not your fault.

About now you may be shaking your head and thinking about how this is all well and good, but just not practical.  Well, it is.

Homeroom is a restaurant in Oakland, California.  They serve mac & cheese.  Some sides, but their raison d’etre is mac & cheese.  Comfort food.  Erin Wade, chef and owner, wants everyone to feel comfortable.  So she was appalled when she found out that some customers had been harassing the servers, and that managers were doing little about it.  They had a meeting, and she heard a lot more that had not been reported.  Not OK with Wade (did I mention that before starting this restaurant she was a lawyer?).  They instituted new procedures, and shifted control.  Really simple, too, based on color coding.  Incidents were graded yellow, orange, or red.  A yellow meant that a server reported an uncomfortable vibe or look to a manager, and the manager would take over that table if the server chooses.  An orange is inappropriate comments, and the manager does take over that table.  A red is overt sexual comments or physical touching, and the customer is ejected from the restaurant.  Please read these two articles for more details:

Note the critical change is that it is the servers who decide what level each incident warrants, and the manager has their roles already prescribed.  No need to wonder if the customer really intended that, or if the staff was just too sensitive that day.  The power is in the hands of the (mostly female) server staff, rather than the (mostly male) manager.  (BTW, Wade also then recognized the gendered job levels and was seeking to change that also.)   And this system works because it has become the company culture.  Because Wade sought to shift the balance of power, support that shift, and deliberately make her restaurant a safer space.