False Promises: Oh, But Miss Fairchild, A Phone Will Keep You Safe…

This moment made me pause and I still feel caught in the implications of this conversation.

I don’t remember what started me down this road in my Introduction to Women’s Studies class, but I was sharing with the group that I am one of the few people who still has a flip phone. It’s a bit of a conversation piece for me, especially on campus where it seems that students have their faces in their phones as soon as class lets out, walking between classes, and even during class, if they can get away with it. I explained that I have not felt a need for a smart phone, except for once when my flight was delayed and I missed my connection from Chicago due to weather. As the plane sat on the tarmac for a few hours having been diverted to Indianapolis, and everyone realized that connecting fights in Chicago had been cancelled, EVERYONE, EXCEPT FOR ME, was on their phones making reservations for a hotel room in Chicago for the night. This was the first time I felt at a true disadvantage, because everyone else had a capacity to take care of themselves that I did not have.

In a sincerely concerned voice, one of my students said, “Oh, but Miss Fairchild, the phone will keep you safe.” She went on to describe an app that you can activate and press a button for help if you are in a dangerous situation. When my students and I talk about self-defense during our discussions about violence against women, it is not uncommon for a student to share that she carries a knife or pepper spray for protection. These strategies and their promises as self-defense tools, along with the smart phone, worry me. This is why…

I still carry my training in women’s self-defense in my body and in my thoughts today, even though the several years that I studied with Impact Bay Area was over 15 years ago (in those days the acronym was more fun—BAMM—Bay Area Model Mugging). I learned that the most valuable and effective self-defense tools are in your own body, in your muscle memory—if you are assaulted and need to fight back, YOU are your best chance. An assault may come out of nowhere. A physical assault is most likely to come suddenly without time to dig into your purse, pull out and aim your pepper spray. A knife or other weapon is more likely to be taken away from you and used against you in an assault. I learned that something like 85% of assaults are broken off with determined resistance alone—if you are not an easy target and resist with your voice and actions, then an assailant is likely to back off.

I learned that our instincts are essential to keeping us safe—we are animals, after all, and our senses and gut instinct guide us in dangerous situations. Back when I was training with BAMM, there were a number of high profile cases where women were murdered when they were wearing headphones (remember the Walkman?) while jogging. There was lots of advice at the time for women not to wear headphones when out alone, to not block out one of our most valuable senses—hearing. Today, total distraction is the norm with smart phones; not only do women use headphones, but also their sight is focused on the phone. Not only one, but two of their senses are shut down, severely limiting instinctual responses to the world around them. I learned that awareness of your surroundings and confidence are important to walking through the world safely—if you move through the world this way, you are most likely to be left alone. The goal of self-defense training is to never have to use it.

If a women is attacked violently, and suddenly, she will need all of her faculties and instincts to assess, think quickly, maybe fight, to get out of the situation. In BAMM, we learned how to go from zero to 100 when fighting off an attacker. It is hard for me to imagine a woman with her hearing and vision tuned to her phone sorting out a situation in a flash second and responding at 100 percent. The phone may be dropped, the purse with the knife or pepper spray may be dropped, but a women has her raw instincts, her judgment and training, and her body to defend herself. Contrary to the promise of safety, I feel that if a woman believes that her phone will keep her safe, the same phone that steals her vital attention away from everyday ways to remain safe in the world, the reverse is actually true. This promise of safety makes her more vulnerable…

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