Keys As Knuckledusters.

by Bec Hawkings

I pre-dial ‘000’ into my phone. I know how to use my keys as makeshift knuckledusters. I take down taxi numbers. I change my running route every few days. I text an estimated time of arrival to someone, and then text when home safely – and this person knows to contact the police if I don’t make that second text and if I’m not responding to calls. I use different bus stops wherever possible. I never leave home without my mobile phone. I sleep with said mobile next to my pillow; some nights, I’ve only been able to fall asleep because that phone has been clutched in my hand, my finger on the speed dial emergency feature that so appealed to me when I bought it.

All of this is second nature. It would be easy to dismiss the above as the paranoid precautions of a young lady who spends a fair amount of time by herself, and on public transport. Except that I’ve done all of the above in a place with an extremely low crime rate and in a house with three other people.

In Year Ten, the girls at my high school were required to attend a self-defence course, run by an ex-cop. We were taught how to protect each other when out at night, how to use keys to fight off an attacker, and which areas of the attacker’s body would be most vulnerable to the physical attack of a much smaller victim. It was implied, throughout the day, that the former would be male and the latter would be female.

We were taught to scream “fire” not “rape” if being attacked.

What’s worse than having to offer an admittedly excellent course* to young women? The fact that, seven years on, I know of so many women from my graduating class that have had to use the techniques taught to us. Including me.

With the tragic disappearance of Melbourne woman Jill Meagher has come a barrage of calls for women to be “more careful” when out at night; to “exercise more caution” and not to “put yourself in a potentially dangerous situation.” As if all of that wasn’t already well-ingrained into our collective female psyche. Here’s a fun afternoon exercise: turn to the woman next to you. Ask her what she does or fears when she’s walking home alone after dark. If the answer is “nothing,” I’ll give you twenty quid. If you need further convincing, check out @clementine_ford’s Twitter feed from earlier today; the sheer amount of women for whom keys become knuckledusters after dark is in itself horrifying.

We are taught that, once the sun goes down, we should fear our very existence. We know that even in broad daylight we can be targets of harassment; walking down a main road while in the possession of a pair of tits is an invitation to have abuse and catcalls hurled at you from passing cars. I know of no men who do the same. None who, when leaving the pub, says, “I’ll text you when I’m home safe.” None who knows the most effective bones to break if attacked from behind.  None who feel inherently safer if accompanied by a male friend when out after dark. Are men the victims of violence and abuse? Of course. Are they the victims of abuse because of their gender? Doubtful.

Yes, I know how to turn my otherwise-innocuous house keys into a potent weapon. Because I’m a woman, and because I don’t lock myself away at dusk. And even if I did, I’d still sleep with my phone clutched in my fist.

*Was reminded after I posted this that the self-defence course also included advice like “pretend to be into it and moan” as a means of escaping a sexual attack. Which is, obviously, slightly ridiculous and teeters dangerously close to victim blaming bullshit territory.  Ugh. This is why we can’t have nice things, universe.