Got into a brief conversation this morning with some fellow rats about self-defense, and everyone’s assumptions about how much it was necessary to prepare yourself for violence. One participate said that it rarely occurred to him that violence was a risk he’d be facing, in the cultural context of middle-class Britain. I realized over the course of that conversation that I have a lot of habits and assumptions about my personal safety that I haven’t examined for a while. So I’m going to lay out the important factors here (or at least the ones I consider important).
I. Personal Background/Culture
I grew up in Eastern WA, and spent a large part of my childhood in southern Idaho. My maternal relatives were Southern Baptists, lower-middle class, and fairly devout. My biological paternal relatives were also Southern Baptist, of the Louisiana flavor. My adoptive, paternal relatives were a mix of Catholic and Mormon. Grandpa's side of the family is Hispanic. They were more firmly middle class than my mom's side of the family, but are also from Idaho and shared a lot of that pull-yourself-up-by-bootstraps" attitude.
I was exposed to guns at a young age. The safety talks started when I was really little, and I think I was nine or ten the first time I got to shoot a handgun. I wasn't that interested in shooting, myself, until I met my husband-to-be and he took me on a few dates to a range. I'm still nowhere near the hobbyist he is, but I like target shooting and carry a small Ruger LCR that I got for Valentine's Day. Despite all the guns I spent time around, random gun violence wasn't really a thing.
My dad was a pretty serious martial artist, and practiced a number of styles. From age four onward, I was periodically involved in one martial arts class or another. He also did occasional drills with me at home, and talked to me a *lot* about practical self defense.
Most people I grew up with were exposed to guns and martial arts as kids, too, and nearly all of my hometown friends have looked into self-defense to some degree.
II. Some Assumptions I Have About Defense
The steps I take to keep myself safe depend on my environment; if I'm going to be in a dangerous area, or around a lot of aggressive people I don't know well, I'm going to think a lot more about how to project a "don't fuck with me" vibe. I'm not necessarily preparing for violence, which I don't think is a well-understood concept when some people hear the phrase "self defense." I'm putting inconvenience in the way of bothering me at all. It would be a failure of self-defense to permit escalation up until the point where I have to use my gun or pepper spray.
Making myself too inconvenient to mess with is one strategy, but another would be to fly under the radar entirely. I don't have to posture to keep people from messing with me; I just have to do whatever it is the locals to that results in their general safety. If a British friend says "In my town, you can walk down the road totally wasted in the middle of the night, and no one will bother you," that falls into the range of acceptable safe behavior. Preferably, I would be able to confirm this with more than one person. Sometimes, it's enough to be with a local. Sometimes you just avoid the place entirely.
An example of something I might actually do where I live: if I'm going to a bar, alone, and don't want to have to fend off drunk dudes, I won't drink enough to get intoxicated and I might throw up the bitch shield a little harder. I have to accept that I'm going to a place with lots of drunk people, and some of those idiots are going to bug me. I know from experience that dropping my murder-face means I get bugged more often, so I don't. I will make a note of exits and any bouncers, and make friendly conversation with the bartender. Now I have a friend, and I look like a cunt to any dumbasses who might get ideas. This is a fairly safe situation to be in. If I have other female friends with me, I usually take the role of "scary friend." I'm not a small woman and I apparently scare people shitless with my resting face.
If being a bitch isn't a credible deterrent in some situation or another, that is a bad option for personal safety. Some environments, the bitch shield is an escalation in itself, I so avoid it.
Obviously, avoiding dangerous places would be the safest option, but that's just no fun.
This all sounds like I'm in Constant Vigilance mode, but I'm really not. Again, if I don't have a reason to believe that a risky situation will arise, I let my guard down a lot. But I do think about this, fairly often. It seems naive or negligent to not do a quick scan of your situation and see how risky it is.
One last time for emphasis: violence is much rarer than potentially violent situations, and it's the latter that I'm really trying to avoid. I don't want to shoot people, I don't want to run from attackers, and I don't really expect to. But I treat it much like driving. Car accidents are way more common than car accident deaths, but I still wear a seatbelt when I'm in a car.