The craziest thing happened on my way home from a party a few months ago. I thought I was saving this girl from being sexually assaulted, but instead, I almost had to fight her.
That was the night I realized my pepper spray was basically completely useless to me.
Long story short, there was a girl having a physical altercation with a man on (and on the side of) Highway 280. It was dark. People were racing by at 80 miles an hour.
The only reason I was even able to stop is because I was a few minutes behind someone who was driving home from the same party I was. We were talking on the phone (hands-free, obvs), when he suddenly interrupted, "Holy shit, Eva! I just saw a girl on the side of the road with no pants on!"
I'd already reduced my speed when I saw them. It looked like some kind of domestic thing. Domestic things are really scary and unpredictable... But I also thought maybe if I just pulled up behind them and turned on my high beams without getting further involved... they'd stop fighting?
I was incorrect.
When the girl ended up back in the right lane, I pulled up next to her and said, "Get in." (What can I say? I'm a chivalrous woman.)
She got in. I sped off. She pulled her skirt back down to cover herself. She was bleeding...
And I had no idea what to do with her.
Like, I wasn't going to take her to my house. I don't take anyone to my house, but especially not strangers.
I wasn't going to take her to her house, either. She said she lived in San Mateo. That's far. So I suggested I could just drive her to the nearest gas station, and she could call an Uber from there.
It was only a few minutes away, but things got weird, quick.
At first, she just seemed dazed or in shock. I asked her if she wanted to call the police, and she said, "No. No more men. No more men."
Then she started petting my dog and saying -- stuff. Just stuff. I don't really remember it, because it was a little incomprehensible. Soon, she was uttering, "You are a good dog, you are a good --" then she grabbed my dog's nose and screamed, "LOOK AT ME."
My dog is my responsibility, and nothing matters more than her. Not "politeness." Not maintaining a smooth social interaction. Not anyone's feelings, safety, or convenience.
Like, if you can't look a creepy family member in the eye and immediately tell him, RIGHT in front of your kid, "Stop touching her like that. She doesn't like it," then don't have kids. If you're not mature enough to protect them, you're not mature enough to have them.
Same with your dog. If you're going to let someone hurt your dog because you're obsessed with "politeness," then you're not ready for a dog.
The very moment that happened, I went into mamma bear mode. I pulled over and threw open my door. I wanted my sweet girl away from this crazy psycho, and that was the number one most important thing.
All the while, I was running through scenarios in my head. It was time for her to get out of my car. I really didn't want it to escalate to anything physical, but I had to be ready in case it did.
Luckily, before I had to make any decisions, four cop cars pulled up behind me, lights blaring. Turns out, the guy she'd been fighting with was her Lyft driver, and he'd called the police on her for assaulting him.
One of the officers came to my window to ask me questions -- then interrupted me with a curt, "Please take your hand off the mace. Set it on the floor."
I... didn't even realize I was touching it.
I've had it for years. I've never come close to using it -- it had been on my keychain so long, it didn't even feel like a self-defense tool. It was just... something on my keychain.
When I'd run through those scenarios in my head just moments earlier, it never even occurred to me that I had any kind of weapon. (I mean, not that I necessarily would have used it while sitting in my car -- but still. The fact that it didn't even cross my mind is not good.)
And I'm probably not even close to the only woman (or person) for whom this is the case.
Most of us don't have to defend ourselves all that often. We'll make a one-time purchase of some self- or home-defense tool...
We probably won't train in how to use it (which, if the tool in question is a gun, is probably one of the most dangerous things you can do)...
We'll put it somewhere...
And we'll forget it ever existed.
What is a good solution to this problem?
It's obviously good that most people hardly ever (or never) need to physically defend themselves. I really dislike the level of paranoia a lot of women feel about their safety.
That's why I wrote Mollie Tibbetts is Dead. That Doesn't Mean Jogging is "Unsafe" For Women -- thinking about women who have limited independence because they've been told someone will kidnap and rape them if they go outside without a man to protect them makes me sad. Similarly, in Advantages of Traveling While Female, I wrote about how silly it is that so many people think solo travel is dangerous for women. It's not.
Wouldn't you rather feel independent and liberated?
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Or, at the very least, competent and lethal?
No. The solution isn't to be paranoid. You've got to live your life.
I suppose a better approach would be to just -- if you're going to invest in some kind of self-defense thing, you should also invest in learning how to use it.
And there is a right and wrong way to do that. Here's a story I shared in You Won’t Believe What This Cop Did After Disarming a Robber, or How to be Better at Everything:
A police officer I knew decided that he wanted to learn how to disarm a criminal. So I taught him how – and I instructed him, “In order to actually be able to do this under pressure, you need to practice. Every single day.”
I'm a big believer in perfect practice. I rarely shoot hoops without imagining a shot clock and a defender. I wouldn't walk up to the basket and take a shot in a game, so why would I do it at practice?
Similarly, when I hit the heavy bag, I don't just throw combos. I think about what part of the person's face or body I'm hitting. I try to summon all my righteous wrath.
I never really did anything like that with the pepper spray. It was just a gift someone bought me once that I stuck on my keychain several years ago.
Looking back -- and I'm no expert or anything -- my advice for someone who wants something for their safety is:
1. If you're going to buy one, buy three.
If you can get one for $10, why not get three for $20, and then maybe actually practice using it (outside and not upwind, obviously).
I discussed this with Murphy Barrett, editor of The Dungeon Deep. "Gun owners will spend hundreds of rounds, ranging from $0.50 to over a dollar each, and then more money on classes, to become competent in multiple scenarios in which they may find themselves. If pepper spray is so cheap, you really should be practicing more with it. And in a variety of conditions. On a still day, on a windy day, etc. Use a dead can or a water spray bottle and practice getting it out and into play. You can buy pepper spray trainers."
2. If you're actually worried about your safety, don't leave it at home, in your car, or even in your purse.
I've been watching a bunch of boxing videos lately -- and here's an interesting recommended video that popped up after one of them:
See how long it took her to get it out of her purse? That was nuts. (Yeah, I know that's a stun gun, not pepper spray -- but either way, you have to take it out of our purse.)
"Some purses have a special pocket just for a gun, and that is the absolute minimum requirement I think for off-body carry," Murphy told me. "Whatever you're going to carry, a gun or pepper spray, it needs to have its own, externally accessible, pocket. Ideally you should carry it on your person. Unfortunately that's harder for women than men, fashion being what it is."
Remember: the point of pepper spray is to avoid being in close contact with your attacker. You want to be at least two arm lengths away. (A police officer would tell you to mind the "reactionary gap," which tends to be about six to nine feet if you can see the attacker's hands, and 25 feet if you can't.)
EDIT: Barrett suggested I give a few examples of on-body carry. These are all for guns, not tasers or pepper spray, but he suggests they will get you thinking in the right direction. These examples are from his post, On Women Bearing Arms.
Flashbang Bra Holster:
And so on. There are plenty of on-body places a woman could stash her mace.
Though if it were me, I'd probably just carry it in my hand.
3. Your attitude matters.
So after I watched that stun gun video, I watched the next recommended video, 5 Self Defense Myths That Women Still Believe:
I didn't completely agree. I think he may have a good point about trying to kick someone in the balls if you've never actually done it before, don't even really know how, and expect/hope that the adrenaline will just kick in when it counts.
I agree about the keys between the fingers thing -- I've never really understood that. As well as the phone thing -- that was just silly. It's one thing to send a photo of your cab's license plate to a friend, and another to be like, "Stay on the phone with me! It's scary here!" I feel like being on the phone is going to make you more of a target.
But I have mixed feelings about the "don't wear your bag as a crossbody" thing. I guess it depends where you are and what crime you're trying to prevent. I have a buddy who works at the US Embassy in Barcelona, and he said that, like, 95% of the crimes against tourists are easily preventable, snatch-and-grab type things. If you're trying to make sure no one steals your bag in a place like that, don't hang it on the back of your chair at the restaurant. And probably wear it as a crossbody.
If you're in a place with violent crime or kidnappings or something... I mean, sure. Maybe that advice makes more sense. I just think there are way more crimes of opportunity than violent crimes. I think most robbers want to "fight someone over a bag" just as much as the woman in this video.
The idea that you shouldn't carry a purse at all seems overly paranoid to me -- and it's really impractical, which makes it bad advice.
I mean, do you really expect me to leave my fluffy tote at home? You're nuts.
The other thing I had doubts about is that your attitude doesn't matter.
I think it matters a lot.
Though it sounds like we might be talking about different things. He's talking about, I guess, mouthy girls who get in dudes' faces and haven't been punched yet.
I'm talking about traveling around the world alone, including to cities most people are scared of, and walking around at night, anywhere I want, alone.
I've never had a problem, and I think it's at least partly because of my attitude. If you're confident and strong -- if you walk around looking like, "I dare you to fuck with me" -- I think you're less likely to become a target.
Obviously, having this attitude won't protect everyone from everything, but it can protect a lot of people from a lot of things.
4. Don't linger in your car. Get in and go.
This isn't something I've ever done before -- but both Murphy and Mike (the hard2hurt guy) specifically mentioned.
"When I get in my truck the motor is running before I buckle up in case I need to move NOW," Murphy said.
"Where you're gonna get hemmed is getting into and out of your car. Crank up and go. NOT check your instagram to see how many people liked your picture of... squash spaghetti. Crank up and go."
While I'm not overly worried about being randomly attacked by a stranger, changing my order of operations (get in, turn on the car, then do seatbelt) seems easy enough.
And that... is about all the advice I have on this topic. If you're going to invest in any tool or strategy for self-defense, it's going to be worthless until you practice. I don't recommend living in fear -- statistically, you just are not going to be raped or kidnapped by a stranger -- but I always recommend at least mentally rehearsing a difficult situation.
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Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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