Linchpin.

Once upon a time, I had a really sucky job. That wasn’t just my opinion; our retention rate was tragic, with someone going off sick (some permanently) or quitting at least twice a year. Our admin section walked off en masse twice. The second time, they didn’t get replaced. The only people who weren’t affected by the issues were the ones who were causing the bulk of the issues. And to give you an idea of the seriousness of the suckiness, six months after I quit there was a totally avoidable accidental death that would have been my responsibility, but I would have had no power to prevent.

In the typical way of many really sucky jobs, it didn’t just suck from 9 to 5, or just at the office. It sucked at all times, because we weren’t on call – no, not a typo. If we’d been on call, they would have had to pay us for that, and then to justify calling us out, for instance by saying that there had been an emergency. Because we weren’t on call, they’d just call us out at all times for anything that took their fancy. So not only my work life sucked, but my personal life was also routinely impacted.

The situation preyed on my mind – and yes, part of that is because of how my mind works. It can be hard for me to forget that my work, the thing that supports my whole lifestyle, makes me complicit in putting the public at risk, or unnecessarily damaging the environment, or liberally wasting public resources. It’s hard for me to fully engage in any kind of activity or make plans, particularly with other people, when I know that it could all be disrupted because someone’s had a not-so-bright idea in the bath that they want me to implement right there and then. It’s also hard for me to go to work knowing not only that I might get badly hurt, because the systems of work are entirely inappropriate, but that, if I do, I will also be punished for it.

I think I could have dealt with any one thing – the amorality, the intrusiveness, or the personal risk –  but not with all combined. So, much like the bulk of my co-workers, I was increasingly unhappy and stressed. And, much like the bulk of the co-workers who stayed, I lacked other immediate prospects and needed the money. So, on top of everything else, I felt stuck, which didn’t help one bit.

The bulk of the advice I got at the time could be classed under two main headings:

  1. You’re wrong and your feelings are wrong. According to these people, the work didn’t suck. All evidence to the contrary (retention and sick rates for the section, accident records, a budget with more holes than a Swiss cheese, insanely impractical policies I was tasked with implementing, etc.) was invalid. I was either exaggerating, or my point of view was simply wrong. I needed to remind myself of how lucky I was, how privileged I was to have a job that good, how much more difficult other people’s lives were.
  2. Your feelings are probably right, so you need to change them. According to these people, it was perfectly OK for me to feel as I was feeling. My situation was indeed problematic. So I needed to take steps to change how I felt about it. The bulk of the suggestion involved dietary changes, but reiki, meditation, and various forms of physical and psychological therapies were also put forth as solutions.

The whole nasty episode has been over for some years now, but every now and then something reminds me of it. I still struggle to understand people’s reaction; or, rather, the only ways in which I can rationalise them leads me to conclusions that aren’t very nice.

I understand how a bit of perspective can help us appreciate what we have; however, whatever situation we’re in, there’s likely to be someone out there who has it worse. That doesn’t mean that the situation we’re in is OK. And it sure as hell doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to do something about it.

I also understand about seeking the serenity to accept things we cannot change, and to look for means to reduce the negative impacts of those things. I couldn’t dramatically change how my job worked; that wasn’t within my power to do. I could, however, change my job. I couldn’t just jack it in there and then, but I could make plans towards that goal. Working to build an escape route, knowing that I was slowly but surely inching closer to a solution, would have done a lot for my mental health and happiness.

Neither camp entertained the possibility of that kind of change. The first camp rejected it as unwanted – I shouldn’t want to make that change. The second camp rejected it as unlikely – there I am and there I will be, so I better learn to like it.

I wonder now if the real reason for both camps’ myopia, for their inability to contemplate that I could actually take steps towards changing my luck, was that my job was a linchpin not only in my life, but in theirs. For me to make that kind of radical change would have meant for them to have to adapt, too. For some of them it would have meant practical changes; I might have had to move, and would probably have earned less money (and, on reflection, my two live-in partners during that period were the jobs’ staunchest defenders). For some of them it would have meant dealing with a different me; a calmer, healthier, happier, stronger me. A me that had learnt that she didn’t have to eat quite so much shit just because someone put it on her plate, and she sure as hell didn’t have to say “thank you” afterwards. And it kinda scares me that, despite their pronunciations, they might have been more worried about maintaining their own status quo by keeping me in my proper place than about my welfare.

 

 

(Addendum: another possibility would be that they felt that powerless in their lives, too, and genuinely didn’t see leaving as an option. I’ve considered it and discounted it for those specific individuals, for reasons, but it is an option.)

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My dog Cassie is dying. It’s not  a shocking or unexpected thing. She’s been dying since I’ve first met her, and I don’t mean this in an “everything alive will one day die” kinda thing. I first met the girl when she was 14 yrs old, she came to live with me permanently at nearly 16, she’s heading towards her 17th b’day, and the life expectancy for a lab is 12 years. She’s officially older than sin, she’s had a good innings, I’ve known all along this was coming, et cetera. But now she’s circling the drain at an increasing speed, and it’s going to boil down to two things: either she dies on me, or I will have to call it. And wise statements notwithstanding, this sucks.

I’m not sitting about obsessing about it. I’m still working, eating, sleeping, walking around, etc. She might be getting more hugs than normal, and perhaps more than she deems appropriate, but that’s about it. But it is a big deal, and it’s a load on my mind. As much as anything, it’s a practical issue; her needs are changing daily, and they don’t always match either what she wants (she’s a meathead) or what the rest of the pack needs. There’s a tendency to want to pander to her because This Could Be Her Last Day, but that wouldn’t be fair on the rest of the bunch. It’s my job to balance that, so I have to think about it. I’d be grossly neglecting my responsibilities if I didn’t.

So I think about it. When I put her to sleep at night, I wonder if she’s going to be there in the morning. When I wake up and find her still there, I wonder if today’s going to be the day. And then we get on and have the best day we can have. And then we do it all over again. And it’s hard.

A lot of the advice I get (unsolicited, as per usual these days) is to run away from all of that. Shouldn’t have taken her to the vets, so you I wouldn’t know, so I wouldn’t have to deal with it. Should just take her to the vets and let them make the call. Should have had her put down as soon as she got wobbly on her pins (even though she was otherwise perfectly happy? Yeah, right.). Shouldn’t have taken her in in the first place; she was always a heartache waiting to happen.

There’s very few things I know, and one of them is that there’s no love like the love of an old dog. Dogs are born loving and, in the right circumstances, practice all their lives. Cassie emits a whole lot of high-grade love. I’m not going to turn away from it just because these days it hurts.

I’m pretty sure that’s OK. I’m pretty sure I’m meant to feel grief at the impending passing of an animal I’m attached to. I’m pretty sure I’m meant to get attached to animals who are part of my pack, even when I know from the onset that their life expectancy has already been exceeded. I’m pretty sure that I’m meant to worry about whether I’m handling this right; whether I’m doing the best I can for everyone involved. I’m pretty sure that loving comes with a whole bundle of joys and sorrows attached, and you can’t just pick the bits you want. Maybe that’s half of what love is: to buy into the entire package. Cassie probably knows, but she’s not telling. And I don’t fully understand the alternative. If I give up feeling my feelings, what am I leaving myself with?

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Just a twist in my anxiety.

While I was on holiday, week before last, I twisted my ankle. It’s not a new thing. I twisted that damn ankle too many times to remember.

I’ve twisted it, walked it off, and gone on to climb up and down a mountain. I’ve twisted it, ripped off three ligaments, blacked out from the pain, and only avoided falling into a 30m deep collapsed sea cave because someone caught me. I’ve twisted it, sworn a lot, and carried on as normal. I’ve twisted it and had it go completely non-weight-bearing for two weeks; and then, when I thought it was fine, promptly re-twisted it and had it go completely non-weight-bearing for another three weeks. I’ve twisted it so lightly it was no more than a momentary inconvenience. I’ve twisted it so badly, causing it so much damage, that I had to wear a support for months; and people, particularly fitness-minded people, kept lecturing me about how the support was creating weakness, but I didn’t listen to them because I knew that at that point the support was the only thing allowing me normal-ish function while preventing further damage. Oh, and there’s been no correlation whatsoever between the apparent seriousness of an incident and the damage I incurred. I’ve had epic twists-and-falls on top of mountains, and got back up laughing. The worst damage to date was when a paving slab shifted under my foot on a pavement in the middle of town. I had to be rescued, that time, because I just couldn’t make my way home.

“So what?” I hear you ask. Well, I was reminded of my ankle when, in short succession, this article about anxiety and its rebuttal appeared on my newsfeed, prompting my friends to polarise themselves into camps, or to flit from one camp to the other as the debate progressed.

I know this is going to sound crazy, but I’m going to put it out there anyway: what if they were both right, and both wrong? What if what they are saying is right, but only for the right audience?

“Anxiety” is an umbrella label. A rather large umbrella, too: it covers a variety of conditions with extremely different origins, symptoms, and severity. People may embrace the label (or have it slapped on them) and as a result be treated as part of a homogeneous blob, when actually they are still individuals. What they need in the moment, what they need to get better, and what they need to not get worse may differ wildly. It may differ not only between individuals, but also from one day to the next. Life happens at people. Recovery has setbacks. To ignore those setbacks  and to plough on regardless is to jeopardise one’s recovery, perhaps permanently.

Following a physical incident, to arbitrarily decide what the level of someone’s damage is without examining their actual injury is moronic. Nobody with half a brain would start telling you how you should and shouldn’t feel, what you should and shouldn’t do, after you’ve “twisted your ankle” without actually finding out the specifics- what damage the twisting caused, were there any pre-existing problems, and so on. (Plenty of people do in fact provide this kind of advice. My statement as regarding their brainpower still stands.)

Following a physical incident, to force arbitrary goalposts on someone’s recovery following physical damage is counterproductive. You can set up a recovery programme based on what works for most people, but you should be ready to adapt it to fit the needs of an individual. And, ultimately, people can follow a recovery programme to the letter, but they cannot force their bodies to heal faster than they’re able to. A whole host of other individual factors will come into play, and disregarding them is unsafe and counterproductive.

Pain management and recovery following physical incidents are very individual issues. Is it perhaps possible that the same may apply to managing the infinitely more complicated processes of our minds? Is it possible that we may benefit from very different things because, even though we both bear the same label, our conditions are actually completely different? Is it possible that the myriad other things that can influence our lives and welfare from day to day are actually significant? Is it possible that what I needed yesterday is absolutely not what I need today, because my individual circumstances have changed? And what if it wasn’t up to some self-styled internet stranger, however well-meaning, to determine what’s right for anyone else?

Morass.

I went on holiday last week leaving behind a tangle of discussions that have been consistently and increasingly ending up with the participants polarised by gender. So often we end up degenerating into the rehashing of age-old chestnuts. It’s affecting me, so it’s ubiquitous. It’s not affecting me, so it’s not happening. You’re not listening to a word I say. I’m not listening because you’re not making any sense. You’re trivialising my problems. You’re making a mountain out of a molehill.

As the volume and urgency of our communications increase, the sense any of us are making often decreases; and at the end of it all, we so often find ourselves on either side of a seemingly impassable chasm, aligned neatly by gender.

I don’t buy this. I don’t buy the inevitability of this. I’ve spent most of my adult life studying and working and playing and living with men, and I know they are people, too. They have the same scope for thinking and feeling and empathising. And they’re not always selectively deaf by pitch: they can hear us just fine, provided they’re not in a frame of mind that prevents them from listening. And that’s the frame of mind that, all too often, our discussions, or simply the language we use to conduct those discussions, seem to be creating.

Words are failing us. They are not only not facilitating communication, but they’re actually hindering it. And the communication morass is getting dug deeper with every rehashing of the usual arguments. Like wheel ruts on boggy ground, every time we go over this we make more of a mess; we make it harder to drag ourselves through to a place where we all can stand and talk. And it’s getting to the point that many of us, faced with wading through an ever-deeper, ever-stickier mess, have given up trying. We just yell at each other from a distance, instead, and then wonder why our arguments can’t seem to get through.

Sometimes the words seem to fail because we’re using the same terms to discuss totally different experiences, and the difference in experience is deeply gender-biased. I’ve never been a man. I can try to conceptualise what their lives may be like, what pressures and demands and advantages they may be faced with; but there’s no guarantee I will get it right. The reverse is true of men trying to understand my life. The more differences involved (size, strength, socio-economic background, etc.), the less the Venn diagrams of our experience overlap.

It’s hard to explain to someone who’s never felt it what it’s like to realise that someone bigger and stronger, someone who could overpower you without breaking a sweat, has completely dehumanised you, and sees you only as a resource, for the simple fact that you have a vagina. That the only reason they aren’t using you as the thing they consider you to be is that they don’t believe they could get away with it, right here and now, but it’s still on the cards. It’s always on the cards. How do you explain the implications of “othering by gender” to someone who may have never experienced either “othering” or having to live constantly at a physical disadvantage?

So we make words to fit our meaning, like “objectification”. And we throw them at the guys: do you see now? And they often don’t, because the word per se doesn’t convey any added meaning to someone who’s never had that experience. The word becomes a barrier, in fact. Yes, you like it if a woman likes your dick, but that’s not what we’re talking about. No, you’re not objectifying me if you think my boobs are nice, I’m not saying you’re one of them. But I also can’t explain what the difference is in a way that makes any sense to you, so you may still feel accused by association.

So we try with analogies. It’s not like a smaller woman telling you that she likes your dick. It’s like a larger, stronger man, a man who you know could overpower you with scant difficulties, telling you that he likes your ass. But more than that, it’s realising that, to him, you’re not a person with an ass. You’re your ass; a tool for his pleasure. Not a person, and definitely not an equal. And the man in question would have seen your struggles as nothing more than an inconvenience to overcome, your “nos” as a routine soundtrack, and the very fact that you dared try to gatekeep him from the bounty you are carrying as iniquitous.

And we’re getting halfway there, because we’re starting to translate our experience into something relatable… and we get accused of tapping into the all-to-common homophobia permeating our culture. So we take a step back.

Catcalling is like aggressive panhandling for sexual attention. Does this make sense? The people doing it may not be asking for much to start with, but they are deliberately pushing you to give up something you don’t want to. They’re also pushing right up against the boundaries of what is socially acceptable: asking is OK, demanding is a crime, asking that forcefully is… iffy. And because these people are so comfortable edging close to the boundary of what’s allowed, and so comfortable pushing against your consent, you can’t possibly know how far they’re willing to go to get what they want. You cannot rely on their inner moral compass or their respect for social standards to keep you safe. You can only rely on your personal resources, and if they are not sufficient, or the circumstances conspire against you, you could find yourself in a tricky situation.

Maybe we get halfway there. Maybe we get to the point where we’re absolutely not in agreement, but at least we all know what it is we’re trying to talk about. And although this seems unreasonably slow and convoluted, frustrating beyond belief, what is the alternative? Shouting the same crap at an ever increasing volume over a void doesn’t seem to be helping us any.

 

Gatekeeping.

A wee while ago, a friend got into a discussion about libertarian politics on his FB page. The guy he was talking to, when asked to explain an aspect of the issue, linked him to an 11-hours video lecture. When my friend mentioned that he didn’t have 11 hours to spend on the subject, his interlocutor told him that, in essence, he’d failed the entry test for that conversation. If he wasn’t willing to engage with the subject at a deep enough level, he didn’t have the right to discuss it, let alone question it. The fact that this statement was made without any prior attempt at checking my friend’s existing knowledge of the subject was just the cherry on the cake.

That was the most glaring example of a behaviour I’ve seen a lot without really noticing it, because I had failed to categorise it. It’s very, very common in the martial arts/self-defence circle to tell people that they don’t meet the requirements for being able to participate in a discussion. It’s common in other fields, but I don’t go there as often so it doesn’t annoy me as much. Plus, I think the behaviour is inherently more egregious when applied to SD – lemme tell you why.

One of the most common entry price people fail to pay is that of “experience”. You do not have enough experience to be entitled to an opinion on the subject. Your opinion is inherently invalid because of your lack of experience. Just shut the hell up and listen to us, the Experienced People!

… except that I thought the entire point in self-defence teaching and training was to prevent people from going through certain experiences. I appreciate that some things cannot be fully grokked unless you have gone through them; however, I thought it was our job as teachers/trainers/bloggers/wafflers to bring people as up-to-speed as possible without them having to go through shit. I thought it was why we taught the subject in the first place. And I thought reducing the discrepancy between our students’ understanding and the reality of the situation was one of the ways in which we could measure the quality of our teaching. Am I missing something?

The people who are learning by listening to us will never fully understand us; they will never fully know what it means to be us, to carry the weight of our experience, to understand the price of our knowledge. Personally, I class that as a damn good thing. Aside from the fact that I find pain painful, just think of the trade-offs. I dearly wish I could have spent all the time and effort that went into dealing with situations and recovering from them on something else entirely; something pleasant, ideally. Playing the cello. Baking. Raising prize poultry. Our students are getting as much as possible of the benefits, without any of the risk, damage, and loss. 90% understanding and no scars… Where’s my time machine? Where do I sign up?

Instead of celebrating this achievement and trying to make the knowledge gap as small as possible, we’re increasingly smacking our students in the face with mixed messages. We’re telling them that they’re less-than-us because of their lack of experience… while teaching them how to avoid getting that experience. We’re telling them that physical self-defence is the very last resort… and that until they’ve used it, they’re not entitled to talk about self-defence at all.

Now I’m having conversations with young, un-fucked-up people who want to get fucked up. They want to get themselves into high-risk situations, knowing that they are high-risk situations, because they have been told that that’s the only way to get experience. They have been told that until they have enough experience, they’ll always be second-class citizens in the self-defence community. And they have been told that in the context of their self-defence instruction. Violent incidents as rites of passage; it may be true, but it’s also unconscionably stupid.

More fools them, anyway, because not every experience is equally valid. If their experiences cause them to develop opinions clashing with ours, they weren’t the right kind of experiences at all. They got a too-narrow view of the subject. They failed to learn What We Have Learnt(TM). Instead of pushing them through an eye-opening satori, like ours, their experiences acted as blinkers, and now prevent them from looking at the situation as a whole. They’re too damaged to understand us now, more’s the pity, and any disagreement they have with us is a function of that damage. Plus the plural of anecdote is not data, anyway.

Arthur and Clementine.

 

One of my oldest possessions is a book titled “Arturo e Clementina” (“Arthur and Clementine” in English). It was published in the 70s as part of a series called, in Italy, “editions on the side of little girls.” (In English the series is called “non-sexist children literature,” which I think may be a misnomer. “Non-misogynistic” might have been more accurate.) The book is out of print now, and often wretchedly expensive, but a summary, lacking some of the subtlety, can be found here.

The book is the tale of two tortoises, Arthur and Clementine, who marry after a whirlwind romance. Clementine is looking forward to a life of activities and adventures with Arthur. Arthur does not disabuse her of her notions, but he has other plans.

Every time Clementine tells him that she would like to do something or go somewhere, he poo-poos her ideas. He explains to her that she’s just not good enough to learn or do anything much at all. Instead, he buys her stuff. He buys her heavy stuff that she hasn’t asked for and doesn’t want, and ties it to her shell. He buys her so much stuff, in fact, that after a while she can’t move anymore, and has to rely on Arthur to feed her.

Until one day Clementine has enough, and leaves her shell to go for a walk. She’s back on time for lunch, so Arthur doesn’t find out. She enjoys her little escapade so much that she goes off again, and again, and soon enough it becomes a habit. Arthur notices that the house is not kept properly and that Clementine is uncharacteristically happy. He makes sure to tell her that her smiles”look idiotic,” but at this point she’s too happy to care about his criticisms. Until one day Arthur comes back home, and Clementine isn’t there. She’s done a runner, leaving her shell and her possessions behind, and she’s never seen again. Arthur consoles himself by telling all his friends how ungrateful she was: “I bought her everything she could possibly want. Just think, she had twenty-five floors filled with treasures…”

This book has shaped the way in which I look at the world so deeply and at such an early age that I have no idea what my life might have been like without it. I don’t know what kind of person I would have been, what kind of things I would have done, if this story and its lessons hadn’t lodged itself in my three-year-old brain. It was certainly instrumental in me leaving home, and not feeling half as bad about it as I was told I should. It was instrumental in me breaking up with guys who insisted that they looooved me, but whose love demanded that I become something I’m not. Something lesser. Something secondary; a satellite, rotating around them, content with reflecting their brilliance.

I thought the book was great, until a friend read it and pointed something out to me. All the way through her relationship, Clementine does not set or enforce boundaries. She’s constantly asking Arthur for his permission to do or be, rather than doing or being. She’s constantly bowing down to his superior knowledge, even when he’s telling her that she’s careless, or clumsy, or stupid. She allows him to control her life. And then she just dumps him, without giving him the chance to make things right. What is this, a book to teach little girls how to get a divorce?

At that point, I was deeply immersed in learning self-defence. And, in self-defence, boundary setting is A Critical Thing. If you don’t state your boundaries, you can’t expect people to respect them. You can’t blame people for failing to read your mind. You sure as hell can’t punish them for it. So when my friend pointed out Clementine’s lack of clearly-stated boundaries, I had to agree. Clementine consistently failed to stand her ground, and then just abandoned her poor husband. How was he supposed to know that he was doing anything wrong?

That was three years ago. It’s taken me this long to realise that this interpretation is kinda true, but it’s also kinda bullshit.

 

I’m reminded of Shamus Young’s “Philosophy of Moderation,” which I personally consider to be the ultimate statement on the safe, sane, and pleasant running of an online community (the highlight is mine):

 

We’ve all seen a rule along the lines of, “You will not use any forum or other community section to post or transmit any material that is abusive, hateful, racist, bigoted, sexist, harassing, threatening, inflammatory, defamatory, knowingly false, vulgar, obscene, sexually-oriented, profane or is otherwise offensive or in violation of any applicable law, rule or regulation.” The thing is, sane people know this. They understand it without being told. Nobody needs to post rules on the door to Olive Garden telling customers not to spit or punch. If someone breaks these rules then they’re sick, and we call the cops. The crazy people are the only ones who need these things explained to them, and even when you do explain it to them, they just see your rules as a problem to solve. The problem isn’t that they broke the rules regarding saying hateful things, the problem is that they wanted to say something hateful in the first place.

The problem isn’t that Arthur broke the rules regarding treating his partner badly. The problem is that Arthur wanted to treat his partner badly in the first place.

Yes, Clementine’s inability to defend herself from Arthur’s belittling, insulting, infantilising, manipulative, controlling, oppressive behaviour is an issue. But the real problem is that Arthur thinks it’s OK to belittle, insult, infantilise, manipulate, control, and oppress his partner. He doesn’t do it once, or over a specific sticking point: he does it all the time. It’s his thing. And he not only doesn’t see it as a problem, but he absolutely believes that Clementine taking issue with it is further proof that she’s an idiot. He sees her unhappiness not as a relationship issue, or, heaven forfend, as the direct result of his behaviour: he sees it as proof that she’s a fool incapable of comprehending that her life, as he is making it, is precisely as it should be. The unhappier she is with her life, the more she’s proving unfit to self-determine.

If Clementine wanted to change his behaviour towards her for good, she would have to push him through a major paradigm shift about how their relationship should work (hint: it shouldn’t rotate around him). Until or unless she achieves that, she would have to challenge and fight him all the time, on all fronts. She would have to fight him to assert her intelligence, her abilities, her right to self-determine. She would have to fight him to make him treat her as an actual human person. And, whether that war is winnable or not, it sounds utterly exhausting, and utterly unlike a loving relationship.

And now I’m wondering how often we fall for this. In self-defence, we’re so keen to tell people about boundary settings that we sometimes forget that having to constantly defend your boundaries can be the sign that a situation is already compromised beyond repair, and you should just look for the exit sign. That it can be the sign that you’re dealing with somebody who is quite simply not OK, because OK people wouldn’t dream to treat you like that. Particularly when applied to intimate situations, or those in which a party is inherently vulnerable (e.g. in patient-therapist relationship), our love affair with boundary setting could do more harm than good.

Found on the ‘net – 3

I’m going where the wifi doesn’t reach for a few days. In the meanwhile, I shall keep you busy with some superb posts I found on the ‘net. In the immortal words of Shamus Young, while I’m gone please “be nice, don’t post angry, and enjoy yourself.”

I don’t feel that I know enough about autism to comment as to the accuracy of this blog by Sarah Kurchak, discussing how autism is regarded and spoken of in martial arts. However, a lot of what Sarah says echoes my sentiments towards how way too many people treat my “learning difficulties” (I have dyslexia with a hint of dyspraxia). The general consensus is that they should be either politely ignored, as if they weren’t at times frustratingly obvious, or that they should be treated like ticks on my back, rather than a part of me. So I don’t know if Sarah is right about autism, but she’s right about me:

Martial autists don’t succeed in spite of their autism, nor the succeed only because of it, Rain Man-style. They succeed with autism. Like everything else about us as fighters, from body structure to psychological makeup, it provides a combination of strengths and weaknesses that can both make and break us in on the mats, or in the ring or cage. Wouldn’t it be far more intriguing to analyze autism as such, instead of reducing it to a two-dimensional barrier? Wouldn’t it be more fascinating to treat every neurodivergent condition this way?”

Found on the ‘net – 2

I’m going where the wifi doesn’t reach for a few days. In the meanwhile, I shall keep you busy with some superb posts I found on the ‘net. In the immortal words of Shamus Young, while I’m gone please “be nice, don’t post angry, and enjoy yourself.”

This blog by Kai Morgan offers a very balanced view of the possible benefits of martial arts training for survivors of abuse. (The same benefits may apply for survivors of violent acts.) It’s concise, but I believe it’s pretty comprehensive. Although the subject matter is potentially triggering, it is presented very gently (I think/hope).

The blog quotes heavily from this blog by Paul Linden about survivors of childhood abuse in Aikido classes. This second blog is not concise and is potentially triggering , but it’s a damn good read, too.

Found on the ‘net -1

I’ve gone where the wifi doesn’t reach for a few days. In the meanwhile, I shall keep you busy with some superb posts I found on the ‘net. In the immortal words of Shamus Young, while I’m gone please “be nice, don’t post angry, and enjoy yourself.”

If you’re planning to buy or sell women self-defence, please read this blog on Kitsutoshi.

I particularly like:

Martial arts training is a hammer, which makes every “protection” problem a nail. Everyone has heard “the vast majority of sexual assaults are committed by someone the woman is acquainted with.” But when women sign up for a martial arts program, what they’re getting is stranger-attack skills. In the real world, women’s acquaintances are not hiding in the bushes or in deserted parking lots to leap out and subdue their friends. Spending just a little time thinking about the on-the-mat skills taught in almost every martial arts school anywhere, and comparing with the scenarios encountered routinely by 1:4 women in their teens and twenties shows the obvious. That isn’t training for the risks those women will encounter.

And:

People who train to punch and kick on mats in an air-conditioned and well-lit school don’t suddenly have skills that make them safe walking blindly down a mountain in the middle of the night, or the ability to whip a perfect merengue, or to perform an appendectomy, or to spot the red flags that often signal a controlling relationship that can lead to sexual assault and abuse.  Specialized skills require specialized training.

Beware the Masher!

A wonderful person called Adrastia commented to the last blog by recommending the following book: Beware the Masher: Sexual Harassment in American Public Places, 1880-1930 By Kerry Segrave. (Adrastia also recommended Suzette Haden Elgin a few blogs back… so she’s definitely in my good books, if you’ll forgive the pun.)

“Beware the Masher” is WONDERFUL! I’ve not read it all yet, but it contains excerpts from opinion pieces and letters to newspapers of that era describing both the mashers’ behaviour and its impact on women. Some examples:

A masher (street harasser) “may be described as a Moral Spittoon, and his mission on earth is to pester respectable girls with his nauseous attentions and to receive the scorn and contempt of all real men.” 1883.

“A masher is a coward too, for he knows that an unescorted girl can only express her resentment by ignoring him.” 1914.

“The man who speaks with a girl in a public place, with the evident desire of forcing his companionship on her, is showing no respect for her, and consequently is not to be recommended for a place among her friends.” 1904

chatty3As a friend of mine commented, “Those passive-aggressive Romance-era paintings make so much more sense now.”

I think we need to bring back the word “masher”: precisely because it fell out of use, it would be infinitely clearer than many of the terms we use and abuse now. We could use it to clearly label those guys who set out to interfere with women in public places – the catcallers and the joggers-stoppers and the what-are-you-readingers, and also those who harass online. We could use it to highlight the fact that the behaviour is targeted and deliberate, as opposed to innocent or accidental. We could use the label as a club to drive into some people’s heads that no, we’re not having a go at every poor bastard who’s genuinely just in need of directions to the nearest bus stop.

The term comes, of course, from a very different time: a time when social formalities dictated that men should not approach unknown women in a public places at all. Some of the quotes in the book suggested that some writers disapproved even of known men approaching women in public places; it was a lady’s prerogative to acknowledge the acquaintance and initiate the contact, if she so wished. In fact, this was a time when the presence of unaccompanied women on the street (well, women of a certain class, anyway) was relatively new and not entirely approved of. However, demanding that women only go out escorted by a male protector or a duenna was widely recognised to be generally impractical.

The mashers were seen as taking advantage of that opportunity – the availability of unprotected women in public places – to get away with behaviours that were widely held to be unacceptable. They were breaking rules, if not laws. And they were held as figures of contempt.

Things are different now. Very few people would claim that women shouldn’t go out unchaperoned because it’s inappropriate… though there’s always some guy ready to tell us that women should learn where they can and can’t go safely, and if we ignore the evidence of our own eyes it’s our own fault if we end up in trouble. Because, of course, that’s practical. If you know that there will be mashers on your commuter train, just walk those 60 miles to work. If you know that there are mashers in your neighbourhood, just move to a better one. If you know that there are mashers on the streets, just teleport. Are we stupid or stubborn that we just can’t think our way around this problem?

Other aspects of the issue have also changed. Because while street harassment was, by the sound of it, as much of a problem then as it is now, the way in which it is regarded seems to have changed a lot, at least in some quarters.

There are men now openly teaching men to be mashers; for instance, but not exclusively, the pick-up artist community. There are large and growing online communities of men proudly teaching men that women are iniquitous, cruel, gatekeeperish creatures that cannot be successfully coexisted with; and, if men show them respect and consideration, will punish them for it. So women should only be used for sex and then discarded. Like Kleenex. And that picking up those Kleenex on the street is perfectly fine; that’s what they’re there for.

There are men who aren’t mashers, yet openly fight for the rights of other men to mash; those who insist, for instance, that there’s nothing wrong about catcalling. That women should see it as a compliment. That we should not be such bitches, and smile more; we’d look prettier that way (and isn’t this wonderfully meta?). And, in case we’d forgotten, they’re happy to remind us that women in Saudi Arabia have to worry about having acid thrown in their faces, while we’re over here bitching about guys finding us attractive. We could have it so much worse. I’m sure the implied threat is accidental.

There are men who like to remind us that we, the women, demanded equality. Now we have it, and yet we’re still bitching. If we wanted to be treated like ladies, we shouldn’t have stopped acting like ladies, and we shouldn’t have started punishing men who treat us like ladies. And when we point out that this isn’t equality, because men don’t treat other men that way, we’re told that we’re wrong. To be the equal of men is to interact with them on their own terms; i.e., as individuals, and using physical force as the bottom line. And if we don’t have the means to prevail, because we’re going to be smaller and weaker on average and we don’t train or equip ourselves to compensate for that, that’s too damn bad. We should have thought about it sooner. There by the grace of men go women; and if we come to realise it only now, that’s our own fault.

It’s easier to drive holes the size of Kentucky into this sort of arguments. It’s also draining, though, particularly when you’re having to do it day in, day out. And it starts to feel entirely pointless where you’re having the same arguments with the same people month after month. Thankfully, these guys are in the minority; but they’re surely a very vocal, very time-consuming minority.

There are also a lot of men who says that it would be just peachy if we didn’t keep tarring them with the same manky brush. Men who aren’t mashers, would never mash, have never seen anyone mashing, wouldn’t stand for it if they did, and are summarily fed up having to hear about the iniquities of Men. Men who are absolutely right, but still get up our noses because their reaction, although perfectly justifiable, is just not what we need right now. Because what they forget is that if there are 300 men on my commuter train and only 3 are mashers, yes, the preponderance of Men is righteous and lovely and I should remember that and bear it in mind in my pronunciations. But my reality is that I I’m spending the bulk of my time on that damn train fielding the attention of those 3 assholes. The bulk of my interactions with guys are negative for the simple reason that the bad guys are the one thrusting themselves in my face. And having the guys who I thought had my back busier defending themselves than they are defending me is just so damn frustrating that it makes me want to both scream and cry… which really isn’t conducive to any useful dialogue. So then it all becomes chicken-and-eggish about who offended who first, and who ought to calm down first, and who’s exaggerating or trivialising; and in this way we not only lose some very valuable allies, but also allow the mashers of this world to drive a wedge between us. We help the assholes win.

It can all be rather disheartening. The worst of it, for me, is that the bulk of my friends and associates come from the self-defence community – the natural result of half a decade of monomania on my part. You’d think that what I hear from “my tribe” would be different, given the importance of early awareness of developing situations to successful self-defence. We’re constantly telling people that they need to be situationally aware – that if something pings them as not-right, they should respect that feeling and act accordingly. That it is not only their right, but their responsibility to respect the evidence of their own eyes.

So how is it that there are people within the self-defence community championing mashers? How is it that there are prominent teachers telling women that they we should ignore the fact that these men are deliberately crowbarring their way into our lives? Knowing how crucial it is for us to ensure that our sexual partners will respect our consent all the way through, and knowing that people’s behaviour tends to worsen the higher the stakes are; why then are these teachers trying to persuade us to ignore how despicable these kinds of approaches are, and how they are the sign of a despicable and potentially dangerous attitude towards us?

How does it make sense for self-defence experts to on the one hand be telling women that this kind of thing is NotThatBad®, and that we’re over-reacting neurotics if we respond to it badly; yet on the other hand telling us that we’re damn fools if we don’t spot problems as they develop and nip them in the bud early enough?

I don’t envy the lives of women in the 1880s. Rights-of-women-wise, they did the heaviest lifting on my behalf. I do envy them, though, the fact that their war against harassment seemed to be largely fought on one, clear front. Having to watch myself from all directions is proving exhausting.