You got nothin’ to lose!

A friend of mine posted an article (that I obviously didn’t keep a link to, because this is how I roll) about how men and women are perceived and treated when using the same tactics to perform the same job. Certain attitudes and behaviours that are considered appropriate for the setting if coming from males are deemed inappropriate when coming from females. For instance, when a male lawyer takes a tough stance he’s just doing his job, but when a female lawyer does the same, she’s ‘a bitch’. From personal experience, the same is often true of women who work in rule- or law-enforcement. If a male person doing crowd control raises his voice or even goes physical, he’s ‘responding to the situation’. If a female person does the same, she’s ‘hysterical’ and ‘has allowed the situation to get out of control’.

How do I know this? Because I’ve lived it for over a decade professionally, because I see how other women in ‘traditionally male’ roles are treated, because occasionally I shut the fuck up and listen to people talking about their experiences. Not so a lot of the people who like to join in this kind of conversation, apparently.

In response to my friend posting the article mentioned above, a bunch of people insisted that the problem is that women are over-invested in everyone’s opinion. So what if the loser in a legal battle or a perp you’ve just arrested calls you a ‘bitch’? You just need to get over it and do your job. If you persist in being so oversensitive that you fail to do the job you’re paid for, that’s on you.

Unsurprisingly, all the people who commented thusly were guys. Also unsurprisingly, those guys were apparently incapable of parsing the responses women gave to their comments, which was that this isn’t a name-calling problem. It’s a sexism problem, but not intrinsically so: it could be an any-ism problem. It’s a discrimination problem, or at least an uneven-expectations-and-consequences problem.

The problem is when gender expectations put you between a rock and a hard place, because you are expected to achieve the same results as the guys (e.g. a legal win, compliance with rules, etc.) but without using the same tactics. When you have to do what the guys do, but you have to do so without upsetting anyone in any way, and if you fail at either goal then you have failed altogether. When that failure is seen either as your responsibility, a sign of your inability to perform your job, or as yet another proof that Women© just cannot operate in certain settings. When the fact that men and women are supposed to play the same game with different rules and handicaps is completely discounted.

The problem isn’t when ‘the enemy’ calls you a bitch. The problem is when ‘your people’ decide that you’re a bitch and treat you accordingly from then on just because you were doing your job in the only way it can be done. The problem is with having to choose between losing your social capital by underperforming or by performing in a way that is deemed inappropriate for people like you. That’s the first part of the issue: that, due to societal expectations, you can find yourself caught in lose-lose situations.

[Note: This isn’t something that happens only to women, but I’m familiar with that side of it because I’m saddled with looking female. Guys, feel free to write about how this affects your life in the comments section below or in your own blog. Me talking about my shit doesn’t stop you talking about yours. The airwaves aren’t full yet.]

The second part of the issue is that so many people fail to see those losses as real. They treat social capital as if it were imaginary, or a thing of no real value. They may regard it purely an ego issue (you needing people to see you in a certain light) or an insecurity issue (you needing everyone to looooove you). They therefore completely discount it in their calculations as to the pros and cons of making certain choices. From their point of view, you should do what you think is right, and if your social group doesn’t support that, fuck’em.

This point of view is fairly pervasive in self-defence and recovery. It isn’t completely incorrect, particularly in high-stake settings. If someone is threatening your life or welfare, that’s not the time to worry about the fact that clawing their face off would be unladylike. If someone wants you to remain a victim, their negative opinion of you making lifestyle changes to stop that should be a badge of honor to you. Unfortunately, extending that approach to cover all situations is a strategy that can fuck up your life. Acting with total disregard to how your social group will view your actions can cause you serious, sometimes irreparable problems.

Ostracism was and is a serious, overt punishment in many culture. If you fuck up they won’t slap you in jail; they’ll just cut you off from all social interactions, or banish you altogether from their territory. Our mainstream society is not immune to ostracism; we tend to do it covertly, but that doesn’t mean that it has no impact – and I’m not talking about purely emotional or psychological impact either. Your boss won’t throw you bodily out of the office and threaten to cut your head off and put it on a pole you if you come back; they’ll just give you all the shitty shifts or the projects doomed to fail. The person in charge of photocopying won’t pretend they can’t see and hear you when you speak to them; they’ll just put your work at the bottom of each and every pile. Once you get a reputation for being a problem person, and once enough people (or a few key players) start treating you as an undesirable, your life can get very difficult very quickly.

[If you think I’m talking shit because you’re a true roughty-toughty independent person who don’t need nobody as all true individuals should, I hope you’re reading this on a computer you built all by yourself, using your own designs and hand-made tools, from materials you mined. And congratulations on launching that satellite!]

Social capital is a thing, and an important thing too. Losing it will cost you, at least in the short-term. People who tell you otherwise tend to fall into three categories:

  • People who’ve never lost it. People who have always been in a secure, comfortable position in a stable social group, with enough latitude to live their life while naturally matching societal expectations, find it remarkably easy to blather about how they wouldn’t care if they lost it all. They have no idea of what that loss would look and feel like. It’s easy to be word-brave when you can’t understand the cost of actions.
  • People who never had it. People who’ve had truly shitty social lives, particularly those raised by shitty families, may not comprehend the value of social capital because they never had any. It’s easy for them to talk about just walking off from your community at the least provocation, because their community never truly benefited them.
    [FYI, this is my bias. It makes me remarkably useless to talk to on a number of issues, because that’s what I tend to default to. “Heeeey, just do the thing! Come out! Take up naked bog-snorkeling! Write your shit and publish it! What have you got to lose?” In Bo Burnham’s words, “all of your friends and the approval of your parents.” For me that doesn’t fully register.]
  • People whose social capital is non-standard; in particular those who self-identify as outsiders to mainstream society but also as members of a special, extra-societal group. For instance, those who identify as ‘outlaws’ or ‘nerds’ may see no benefit whatsoever in conforming to the expectations of mainstream society: they don’t, and they do perfectly well! What they fail to see is that they are conforming to the expectations of their group of choice, which is at least as important to them as mainstream society is to its members.
    The cognitive dissonance is not only vexing, but often downright dangerous. In my experience, people who subscribe to this point of view, particularly if they do so unknowingly, can take swift and aggressive actions towards those who dare upset the internal running of their little group. While they preach individuality and non-compliance, they tend to stomp hard on internal whistle-blower. The more they identify with being against a type of behaviour, the harder they’ll stomp on people who point out that behaviour in their own midst.

If you are a normal-ish person with a normal-ish background and normal-ish social life, you may be aware of and attached to your social capital and the benefits it brings you. Even if you never consciously think about it, chances are that it will be a factor influencing your decisions. Most of the time, there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s how you get to be a functional member of a social group: by actually giving a damn about other people and behaving accordingly. It becomes a bad thing if you can’t switch that mechanism off when you’re dealing with dangerous situations. If someone is trying to kill you or rape you, that’s not the time to worry about how grandma said that ‘hands are not for hitting’. But to switch that mechanism off altogether, to ignore what your social group deems appropriate in each and every conflict, regardless of the stakes, is terminally unwise.

I think, but I’m not sure, that that’s one of those situations when the blending of principles and tactics causes systems to fail their users. The principle, as I see it, is that you should use reasonable ‘force’ (still applicable in non-physical settings): do as much as you need to and as little as you can to resolve the situation safely and to your satisfaction. The tactic, in lethal setting, may be to abandon all of society’s rules and expectations – don’t hit, don’t scream, don’t scratch off people’s retinas – and go balls out until the danger is over. When that tactic is seen as a principle and applied to lower-stake settings, that’s when things can get a tad unhelpful. That’s when you get self-defence experts effectively teaching their students to fuck their personal and professional lives up.

Lost in translation.

Storytime. Long one. Feel free to skip it.


Once upon a time, when I was 17, I managed to sneak my way into scholarship-only boarding school. It was just as well, really: my lifestyle had evolved in ways that were neither wise nor safe. I was personally mostly well behaved, within a given value of “well” and “behaved”… However, I was running with people who were routinely engaging in activities that were both unsafe and illegal, and not being clever about it either. I was also increasingly under pressure to become financially independent from my family.

Let’s rewind it a bit. When I was 11, I realised that I had to leave home asap. I also realised that I did not want to run away from home. Running away when you’re underage makes you a fugitive, not unlike a medieval outlaw. Not only you have to fend for yourself and stop bad people from hurting you, but you have to do so while being completely invisible from all of society’s formal structures and services. You can’t go to school. You can’t go to hospital. You can’t go to the police. You can’t be even seen by the police being out and about at odd times. If you are found, you will be caught and shipped back home. The services designed to help citizens are traps for underage runaways. They are left with only illegal recourses to income and support, all of which invariably carry high costs and/or risks.

I grew up in an area that gave me the opportunity of witnessing high doses of reality happening at people. I knew I didn’t have the skills to live in the wild (not that there’s much wilderness in my parts for anyone to live in), and I didn’t fancy the life of the urban outlaw. Running away only to be constantly hunted didn’t sound like freedom. Even at an age when my greatest aspiration was still to be a Jedi knight, I knew that I didn’t want to put myself in a position that risky unless I absolutely had to. So I packed and hid a go-bag (the stupidest, least useful go-bag ever packed by any human, I swear), and filed that as option B.

Option A meant waiting until I was 14, and then wrangling things so I could leave home to study. I wasn’t running: I was allowed to leave. That kept me safely within society’s fold, so I still had the benefit of all our services and institutions, and even then it was still a shock to the system. I was quite simply unprepared to manage everything on my own, without help or guidance. I had to accept that although I was academically intelligent, I didn’t in fact know shit about life. Not a damn thing. I went from childhood to adulthood without any prior preparation, and discovered that being a grown-up is actually rather involved. I still don’t feel as if I’ve caught up.

The main shock to the system, though, was realising that I was on my own. Although I was largely financially dependent on my family until my majority for the simple reason that I could not get a job without their permission, that wasn’t going to last long. I needed to sort myself out. In no time at all I’d be <<drumroll>> independent! So many people think independence is all freedom and self-expression, and those are the people who’ve never actually been independent – self-supporting; unsupported; self-responsible; on your own. Free to mess up and starve or freeze.

By more luck than judgement I managed to make it all the way to 17, and found myself suddenly staring at 18. 18, if I got there, would be the game changer: I would be an actual person under the law, able to self-determine, but that would only be a reality if I could be self-supporting, and opportunities did not look abundant. I didn’t have any marketable skills – well, no, I had a ton, but no legal ones. Not being allowed to work, I had no income, hence no savings. In fact, I couldn’t have official savings if I wanted to, because I needed my family’s permission to open a personal bank account. I did have personal connections, so I was getting a lot of unofficial job offers, but all of them involved activities which, although quite lucrative, didn’t look like healthy long-term options. I was incredibly reluctant to do anything that may cause me to lose my freedom or die a violent death, but it was starting to look like my only option.

Just in the nick of time, out of the blue, I got a two-year free ride at an all-paid school, and a damn good school to boot. When I’d first put the application in I felt I didn’t stand a chance, but somehow I got in. Nobody there ever got to know it, but it’s very possible that that scholarship saved my life. It definitely changed my life, as it gave me the opportunity to get a tuition waiver to go to university afterwards. Ok, I had to work for my grades, but compared to my other options it was hardly a chore. It was interesting, indoor work with no heavy lifting and no risk of getting killed, raped, or sent to jail… Yeah, I could get behind that, no bother.

So I partied hard, because the company was excellent, but I worked damn hard, too. I’m not entirely sure that the majority of classmates ever understood why I was so driven. In fact, I’m pretty confident that they don’t understand why I kept being so driven for so long afterwards. It turns out that although the school was scholarship-only, it’s a lot easier to get a scholarship if you come from a good family – not necessarily a rich family, mind you, but definitely a supportive one, or at least a functional one. Although some of the kids made a huge song-and-dance about how they didn’t get on with their families, they could all go home. I couldn’t.

I couldn’t go home, and I couldn’t get help; if I fucked up, I would have to deal with the consequences on my own. And yes, it was a personal choice, because my folk would have had me back; but it was a choice derived from knowing that absolutely any other option would be preferable. I would rather sleep on a park bench than go home, and I know about sleeping on benches. I would rather go hungry, and I know about hunger. In fact, the list of things I wouldn’t rather do is pretty damn slim, and not altogether pleasant to contemplate.

That school opened a whole world of opportunities for me. Still, the road hasn’t always been easy: I have lived in some veritable crapholes and eaten mostly shit for a number of years for the simple reason that I couldn’t afford anything better. It took me four years after university to earn enough to be able to reliably meet my basic needs – and I’m talking roof-over-head and food, not smart phones and nights out. Four years living below the breadline might not sound like much, but at the time I didn’t know how long it was going to be like that. I didn’t know if thing were ever going to get better, let alone when. At one of my lowest points, I was staying in a house that didn’t have a kitchen because that entire room had fallen into the floor below. I lived on peanut butter sandwiches until the weather got colder. Then I had to stop eating those because the peanut butter froze in the jar and I couldn’t warm it up enough to spread it. I am already starting to pay for it health-wise, but at the time I did not have a better option.

Aside from a few bumps in the road, though, my situation has improved all the way. I now am in a position where I’m relatively financially secure, and can afford everything I need. I can’t afford everything I want, though, not by a long shot. I cannot be financially reckless, because the cost of fucking up is too great. I have no cushioning, no parachutes, no room for error, other than those I provide for myself.

Most of my schoolmates, who are highly intelligent and very open-minded people, fail to get it. Why don’t I ever attend the school reunions? Why don’t I ever make an effort to go visit them? And I constantly have to explain to people that I can’t afford it. And no, it’s not that I don’t physically have the money. I could rustle it up at a push, but I can’t spend it on whatever it is they are planning to do because there is always something else that needs to be prioritised. Food. Bills. Building repairs. Vehicle maintenance. Saving for emergencies. Which of this should I be willing to give up for a jolly?

For instance, I got invited for drinks in London last summer – a do that I strongly suspect was a covert fundraiser. The person doing the organising was kind, but rather insistent. They would so like to see me… They haven’t seen me in years… Surely I could make the time to see them? And she had no idea of what she was asking of me, or rather of how her request got translated in my head.

Drinks in London on a weekday night. That means:

  • 2 days’ work lost (I’m self-employed): circa £200
  • Train tickets there and back: between £60 and £150 (no, I’m not insane: British train prices are time-dependant).
  • A night in a hotel or B&B (although I’ve spent plenty of nights sleeping outside in London, I’m getting a bit superannuated for that sort of thing): £40 as a minimum.

Let’s be conservative and call it £300. That’s a lot of money to spend for the privilege of going for drinkie-poos – and doesn’t include the drinkies themselves. On its own, though, that figure doesn’t mean much. The issue isn’t the value per se, but what it means in my world. That’s a month of bills. That’s three months’ worth of food. That’s close to the cost of my last van (£350, I kid you not). That’s money that, if I need it and don’t have it, would cost me a lot to borrow, because borrowing money is expensive for people in my financial bracket. That’s money that, if I was desperate for it and absolutely couldn’t get it, could really mess my life up. Late payments snowball on you. I know people who lost their cars, which lost them their jobs, which lost them their homes, which lost them most of what they owned, because of a £30 parking ticket.

But my schoolmates don’t get it. The ones who can process the information seem to treat it as a kind of aberration: what’s wrong with me, that I have no money? They have no idea of how hard it is to start from nothing or very little (I didn’t, by the way. I had a couple of very unpleasant and unmissable relatives die on me along the way, or I’d never, ever have managed to become a homeowner. I could have never saved enough for a deposit while paying rent). They have no idea of what it’s like to have no support net: to know that if you fail, however temporarily, you could lose everything you’ve managed to accrue so far. They don’t know what it’s like when the Bank of Mom and Dad just isn’t there and, with nobody to bankroll you and no collaterals, real banks won’t touch you either. They don’t know how it feels to know that if your grades drop, or your boss gets spiteful, or your business doesn’t thrive, or you hurt yourself too much to work, or you get sick, or you and your partner split up, you may end up on the road. They might understand it conceptually, but they have never felt it. They’ve never felt the pressure of living without a financial parachute.

They don’t get it, and I can’t explain it in a way that would make any sense to them. So they’ll keep inviting me to drinks in London, or weekends in Berlin, or concerts in Geneva, and I have to remind myself that they are trying to be kind, to be inclusive. I have to remind myself that there are no intended slights in those invitations, only those I choose to read in them. And if they sound condescending or pitying when I decline, I have to understand that, ultimately, we have always lived in different worlds. Although we walked side-by-side for a little while, we have always had different points of views and priorities, and we will probably do so until the day we die.

Read this.

Lazyblogging, but not quite. It’s just that I firmly believe that everyone involved in pretty much any kind of training and self-defence training in particular should read this.

I have nothing to add to it, beyond advising people to look for training programmes that respect these criteria and run the fuck away from programmes that don’t. You only have one body and one life. Paying people to fuck either of them up “for your own good” is neither big nor clever.

Free stuff!

’tis that time of year again!

For a glorious FIVE days starting TOMORROW, this wonderful creation me and a few friends knocked together because we felt like it will be FREE & for no money. It’s absolutely NOT worth buying, so grab it while it’s hot! Guaranteed to be worth precisely what you paid for it!

Do share it if you feel so inclined. We made so people would read it. We’re not being terribly successful at that.

If you feel overwhelmed by our generosity and want to give us money, you can do so by buying any of the following, and/or adding ?tag=swiindeewat21-20 to the addressy thingie you use to get into Amazon, or at the end of any Amazon links. That gets me a minute percentage of the money that would otherwise go straight into Amazon’s pocket, which means I can buy coffee & comics.

(I don’t do this for the money, but the electricity company no longer accept my joy as currency, alas.)