I hate all the “never do this” and “always do that” garbage I see out there passed off as self-defence advice. I’m tired of seeing victim-blaming masquerading as empowerment. Here are nine tips that don’t engage in victim-blaming, are applicable to anyone, and can work as well as a kick in the balls.
1. Get comfortable. Not complacent, not lazy, but actually comfortable. With yourself. With life. Know you are valuable and expect to be treated as such. This isn’t easy, and most people can’t maintain it always & forever, but it’s a good thing to work toward for most of the time.
2. Build some good relationships that enhance your sense of self. Surround yourself with as many people as you can who are more likely to sincerely uplift and empower you than put you down.
3. Establish comfortable boundaries for you and reinforce them, first in those safe settings and increasingly as you get more comfortable doing so. Things like, “Hey, Bob, could you please not make those offensive jokes?” are a fairly good, safe place to start. This won’t necessarily stop an attack, but it will make it easier for you to recognize discomfort early.
4. Familiarize yourself with the differences between passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and assertive. In everyday interactions, assertive is the most respectful of you. Since you are the most important person you know, it follows you should be most respectful of you out of anyone. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Know that aggression can be appropriate too. Know that passivity is acceptable now and again, like after a hard day, especially if you are with people who have already demonstrated respect for your established boundaries.
5. Practice saying and hearing, “No“ and reading how the word is received – not because an attacker will necessarily hear and respect it, but because you will and that will contribute to you recognizing discomfort and disrespect early. The earlier you recognize it, the earlier you can do something to change it.
6. Stop apologizing. You and a friend can practice not apologizing for everything. Not only do women apologize for things that are not their fault (please excuse the genderalisation), but things for which nobody can be at fault – or worse, for things the other party need apologize for instead. Practice this with and around each other first, and then let it spread like your use of the word “no” has. The hyper-vigilance associated with constantly being on the lookout for things to apologize for can be very damaging to your health, both physically and psychologically. Excessive passivity is disrespectful to yourself, and you are worthy of respect (see #1).
7. Know that no matter what, anyone who -either physically or otherwise- attacks another person is to blame for the attack. Nobody can “invite” attack through clothing/appearance, behaviour/lifestyle, location, or any other act or omission. The responsibility for an attack always rests squarely on the shoulders of the attacker. Knowing this won’t necessarily stop an attack from taking place, but it can a) increase your awareness of how the people around you treat others (including you), b) help to keep you from engaging in victim-blaming that can contribute to the damage of anyone around you who has been victimized (either as a primary victim or secondary/tertiary), and c) help you to deal with the lingering aftermath of any attack you may yet -or did already- experience.
8. Take a self-defence class if you want to. Self-defence lessons can (if they’re good) enhance your sense of empowerment. We are all complex beings capable of understanding more than one dimension of violence at a time, and the idea we cannot learn self-defence while condemning an attacker’s actions denies our ability to be that complex. That said, if faced with attack the choice to violently resist can only be made in that moment by the person being targeted and does nothing to affect blame and responsibility for an attack. Defence takes many forms, and can be counter-violence, can be silence in the moment, can be reporting to police, can be seeking counseling, can be talking to friends or family or religious leaders, can be many things, but needn’t must be anything. Remember the decision to employ counter-violence is made in the moment, with the influence of many factors – some of which may be on a level beyond conscious understanding. The decision to employ any means of defence is solely up to the individual involved, and no amount of armchair quarterbacking is helpful.
9. Advocate for change. In your personal circles, in your workplace, at your school, in government, in life. The focus needs to be taken off what can “provoke attack” (nothing) and placed on what creates attackers, off the idea that neutral – or even poor – decisions can prompt someone else to disrespect other human beings on the most personal of levels, and onto what instils in people the notion this behaviour is acceptable. Teach those around you intent creates access, but access does NOT create intent.