Parenting

Why I Arm Myself — And The Teen Girls In My Life — With Self-Defense Weapons

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For our holiday gift exchange last year, one of my girlfriends gave our coffee group Bombas and pink pepper spray keychains. This year, I will give my nieces something along the lines of lipstick tasers or tactical pens. These unobtrusive, chic weapons are the perfect gift and fit nicely in any woman’s Christmas stocking!

What bullshit. And the bullshit isn’t about ceding limited stocking space for a petite self-defense weapon; the bullshit is the ugly but realistic fact that we women need to arm ourselves with weapons at all. And why do we have to? Because we are women.

British barrister Harriet Johnson, reacting to the recent disappearance of Londoner Sarah Everard, had this to say in her viral March 10 tweet:

Johnson is not exaggerating. From the time I was old enough to start taking the city bus to school, my mother instructed me to “go for the eyes and pop them out like olives” if I were attacked. My girlfriends and I were shown how to hold keys to defend ourselves. (Do not slide them between your fingers; close your fist around one or two of them so they can be used to puncture. Think shower scene in “Psycho.”) And everyone knew that if you were being assaulted, yell “fire”—because if you yelled “rape” no one would come.

I have tried carrying pepper spray, but an unfortunate incident put the kibosh on that. Turns out that when a kid steals a teacher’s keys and goes on a “spray-spree” down the wing of a high school—causing 300+ hacking and panicked students and teachers to be evacuated—somebody’s gonna pay for it. (In this case, luckily, it was the soon-to-be-homeschooled freshman perpetrator. After a contrite apology, and swift intervention of the teachers’ union, this teacher was allowed to keep my job, as long as I never brought capsicum into the school again. And, thankfully, no one suffered any lingering post-pepper-spray effects.)

I have also tried manning myself with a Kitty Kat, a brilliant metal self-defense keychain that is the outline of a cat head. Sadly, a policeman at the Secretary of State’s office confiscated it. This is how it went down:

Policeman: This could do quite a bit of damage.

Me: Really?! That’s what I was going for!

Policeman: The only purpose for these is to harm someone—

Me: I know!

Policeman: —and that’s why they’re illegal.

One thing I really loved about my dear Kitty Kat is the way you could poke your fingers through the eyeholes and hold it like a pair of brass knuckles. Too often you hear of pepper spray being turned against the victim—and I imagine it’s about the same for any self-defense tool, taser, pocketknife, screwdriver, etc. An attacker could easily knock any of these from a shaky or sweaty or frozen grip. But, try to pry my Kitty Kat from my gnarled, bony knuckles and I am going to gouge your eyes out (like olives!) with her adorable ears.

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If it’s bullshit that we women need to arm ourselves, it’s double-bullshit that we need to hunt around for “acceptable” self-defense weapons. If you search up our options, you are going to confuse yourself. In Rhode Island, stun guns are illegal; in North Carolina, they are legal, but you cannot conceal and carry off of your property. In Michigan, pepper spray is legal as long as it is less than 1.2 oz. and does not contain more than 18% oleoresin capsicum; in New Jersey, you can have it if you’re 18 and not a felon. And, in 21 states, Kitty Kats are flat out illegal. All 50 states agree that Q-tips and styrofoam, with no restrictions, are lawful—so we might as well carry these to ward off our predators.

In her article for Motherly, Jamie Orsini angrily asserts that the conversation about how our women should protect themselves is misguided; the onus needs to be on men. “Instead of giving our daughters rape whistles,” she says, “we should teach our sons to not rape.”

I couldn’t agree more with Orsini. At this juncture, too many of our “sons” see rape as a potential punchline, something they can snort at and snigger about. Texas oilman Clayton Williams once told a group, including reporters, that “Rape is kinda like the weather. If it’s inevitable, relax and enjoy it.” (He later explained that he was “joking.” Hilarious, Clay, really hilarious.) Heartthrob Jason Momoa publicly quipped: “I love sci-fi and fantasy because I can rape beautiful women.” (He later apologized for his “truly tasteless comment” [insert eyeroll here].) And Trump? Who even needs to be reminded of his “grab them by the p*ssy” anthem—written off by a large percentage of the public as “locker room banter”?

These are just a micro-selection of not-universally-reviled “rape humor”—and it is, sadly, a reflection of a f*cked up society. Horribly f*cked up. Have we made progress since 1990, when Williams made his lovely rape-weather analogy? Is it time that we can take away our daughters’ self-defense rape whistles?

Obviously, not yet. And that is why, this December, I’ll beautifully wrap a darling and potentially-lethal Kitty Kat for every niece. Illegal or not, I’m putting one in my own stocking too.

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