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Safety

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As a woman who travels alone, safety is very important to me.

Of course, most women travel alone sometimes, even if it’s a walk to the corner store or a commute to work. Safety is important to all women, so I share my ideas in hopes they will help women who live in conventional housing, as well as those who live in vans, cars, RVs, etc.

(Yes, I know safety is important to men too. However, since I am a woman, that’s the perspective I’m going to write from.)

When I’m out and about in the world alone, I’m careful about what I wear. Yes, I believe women should be able to wear whatever we want without being harassed. Unfortunately, the reality of women’s lives is that some clothing we may be comfortable in allows some men to feel justified in making rude and lewd comments to us. While I tend to dress very colorfully, I usually wear clothes that cover my body. I wear long hippie-lady skirts and loose shirts that show no cleavage. If I’m wearing a tank top in the privacy of my van, I’ll usually throw on another shirt over it before I go outside. In public, among strangers, I don’t wear booty shorts, miniskirts, or sports bras as outerwear—nothing to give anyone a notion I might be out looking for sex with strangers.

I’m also aware of the how the clothes I’m wearing might help or hinder me if running or fighting in self-defense might be necessary. (My long skirts might not be the best choice in such situations.) I don’t typically wear flip flops unless I’m on my way to the shower. Flip flops or other shoes that could easily slip off my foot could be a hindrance when running from an assailant or kicking an attacker in the knee. I usually wear closed-toe shoes fastened securely to my foot. Since heels could also slow a gal down if she needed to run, I prefer flats.

As women, we are socialized to be “nice.” In a million ways, we’re taught we must smile at men and giggle at even their stupid jokes. We’re taught we need to respond to the overtures of chitchat from strangers. Sure, many men are just trying to be friendly, but too many men think a woman alone must be out looking for a man, and our every smile and giggle is encouragement that he might be the one. I do my best not to give strangers any sort of encouragement. I don’t instigate eye contact or  smile if I don’t feel pretty confident I’m in a safe place, and I’ve almost trained myself not to giggle at stupid jokes. (I love to laugh, but only when a joke is truly funny.) I try to present myself as bland, rather than hostile. I often pretend to think a joker is serious, and I respond seriously to a supposed-to-be-funny-but-not question or comment. In any case, unless I do actually want to spend time with someone, I try not to show any interest. Out in public, I mind my own business and try to appear boring so on one thinks I’m worth paying attention to.

I typically don’t party using alcohol or other drugs, either with strangers or on my own. I’ve very sensitive to alcohol and other drugs—after one drink, I find it difficult to make wise decisions. I might party a little if I were with trusted friends, but I usually feel as if I need to be at the top of my game—alert, aware—and I don’t necessarily feel that way if I’m chemically altered. Better to be boring than out of control.

Whenever I’m spending the night in my van in a place among strangers (Wal-Mart, truck stops, public land), I don’t go traipsing around outside in the middle of the night. Once I’m in the van with the curtains closed, I’m in for the night. I have my pee bucket and supplies for a defecation emergency, so I don’t have to go anywhere in the dark. I don’t know if nighttime is actually any more dangerous than daytime, but darkness feels scarier, so I plan to stay in during the wee hours.

Another precaution I take, whether I’m traveling or staying in one place for a time is checking in often with a trusted friend. I text this friend every day when I have cell service, even if just to say good morning. When I’m traveling, I let her know where I’m spending the night. If she doesn’t hear from me and can’t reach me the next day, she’ll have an idea of where to start looking for me.  If I know I’m going to be away from cell phone service for a while, I alert her so she won’t worry when she doesn’t hear from me.

Body language is important. Although my posture is terrible, I try to remember to not to walk like an easy mark. I do my best to stand and walk with confidence: head high, back straight, no slouching.

Sometimes making eye contact with a person invites further—unwanted—interaction. Years ago in a women’s group, I learned a way to avoid eye contact without looking weak. The woman leading the group told us that looking at the ground to avoid eye contact makes a person seem—and feel—passive. She suggested we keep our head and eyes up with avoiding meeting a stranger’s gaze. When I use this technique, I feel as if I’m sliding my eyes past the eyes I’m trying to avoid. I continue to feel confident while conveying that I’m not interested in a conversation.

“Situational awareness” is a phrase tossed around a lot these days. The concept is not new and has other names, such as “paying attention” and “getting your head out of your ass.” (The latter was a favorite of my father.) Situational awareness basically means knowing what’s going on around you and doing your best to avoid sketchy/scary/dangerous situations. In order to maintain situational awareness, I avoid walking around absorbed in my phone or wearing ear buds that block out the sounds of the world around me.

I recommend reading this article about situational awareness to learn more about staying alert in order to stay safe.

Our society tells women the world is a dangerous place and we should be scared all the time. While the world can be dangerous, it’s no fun (and probably not healthy) to focus constantly on being scared. Knowing I’m taking precautions to keep myself safe helps me overcome my fears and enjoy my opportunities to travel and visit new places.

What do you do to stay safe, either while traveling or while staying in a conventional dwelling?

You (Don’t) Need a Man

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Apparently at the 2016 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous some man (or men) told a woman (or possibly more than one woman) that she/they couldn’t travel/live in a van alone, that she/they needed a man (or at least a dog).

No man told me I needed a man. I heard the story from a young guy who’d heard it from his female friend. The female friend had been told (by a man) that she needed a man (or at least a dog) to travel with and (it was implied, I suppose) to protect her. This woman was already suffering from anxiety from being around so many people at the RTR, and this dude’s little public service announcement (not!) was more than she could handle. She packed up her camp and left.

When the young guy told me this story, I jokingly asked if we should go rough up the man (or men) who made such a stupid statement. First, let me say, I honestly had no intention of perpetrating violence against someone who’d made a stupid remark. I used a hyperbole (an exaggerated statement or claim not meant to be taken literally) when I probably shouldn’t have.

After my comment about roughing someone up, the young guy started saying as a Buddhist…nonviolence…etc. Point taken. I get it. I didn’t really want the young guy to get physical with dudes saying something dumb. But I did want him to say he’d gone with his female friend to confront the guy(s) or that he’d spoken to the guy(s) privately. I didn’t get the idea either of those things happened.

Some people will probably say I shouldn’t be spreading this information. After all, it didn’t happen to me. I don’t even know the woman it happened to. At this point, I’m repeating a he said she said that guy over there said. Fair enough. But I’m repeating this story anyway because I believe it happened, if not at the RTR then on a Facebook group or on the Cheap RV Living Forum or somewhere in the rubber tramp world. In my experience, it’s common for men (in all walks of life) to tell women what they need (to be or do or get).

No fellow has told me I need a man (probably because I’m too old and fat and hairy and most fellows wouldn’t want me to take them up on what they probably fear I would take as an offer.) Men like to tell me I need solar or I need a five gallon propane tank. But it doesn’t take much imagination for me to believe a scenario where some dude tells a young woman that she needs a man (or a dog, he might add hastily, if he’s trying to make it seem like this isn’t some kind of pickup line).

In the interest of community, I’m going to address all partied involved and share my thoughts and advice.

Men, quite telling women what they need (to have, to be, to do). You want to know the last thing women need? The last thing any of us needs is some dude bossing us around.

If you are attracted to a woman and trying to start a relationship (or even just get a night of sex), cut the caveman crap and try listening to what the woman has to say. (And if you don’t care what a woman has to say, buy yourself an inflatable sex doll and a tube of lube and leave us alone.) Want to try something revolutionary? Ask a woman what she needs. Ask her how you can help.

If you honestly fear for a woman’s safety (maybe she’s inexperienced, maybe she’s taking dangerous chances), offer her your assistance. Address particular issues. Tell her what you see, and offer your help. If she doesn’t want your help, drop the subject. You tried. You’re not responsible for her actions (dangerous or otherwise), but you’re also not the boss of her.

And men, if you didn’t know, most women who are physically and/or sexually assaulted know the perpetrator. According to the National Institute of Justice,

most perpetrators of sexual assault are known to their victims. Among victims ages 18 to 29, two-thirds had a prior relationship with the offender. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reports that 6 in 10 rape or sexual assault victims said that they were assaulted by an intimate partner, relative, friend or acquaintance.

The American Bar Association  states,

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, between 1998 and 2002:

  • Of the almost 3.5 million violent crimes committed against family members, 49% of these were crimes against spouses.
  • 84% of spouse abuse victims were females, and 86% of victims of dating partner abuse at were female.
  • Males were 83% of spouse murderers and 75% of dating partner murderers

So when you’re saying you need a man (and implying to protect you), a woman who’s been abused by her dad or raped by her husband might be thinking incredulously, Yeah, right. Even if we haven’t experienced violence at the hands of men, many women are probably thinking the same thing because we likely know women who have been abused by men. We know that simply having a man around does not mean we are protected.

For men who would never try to tell a woman what to do, support your women friends when they tell you about men who do try to boss them around. When I told a female friend at the the RTR my concerns about women there being told they needed a man, her husband absolutely dismissed what I was saying. He said he hadn’t heard anyone say anything like that. I looked at him and said, Of course you haven’t. You’re not a woman traveling alone. Because he hadn’t experienced it happening, he refused to even entertain the notion such a thing could have been said to a woman.

Nice guys, hold other men responsible for the way they treat women. You don’t have to call other men out publicly or get into a physical altercation. But let them know you don’t think it’s ok to boss people around. Even just saying, Buddy, I don’t think you’d like it if someone tried to tell you what to do gives the guy something to think about.

Women, guess what? You don’t need a man. I’m living proof, and there are plenty of other women in the world traveling alone.

Being scared is valid. Most people are nervous at some point, especially when they try new things. If you are afraid, ask people you trust for advice about whatever aspect of traveling alone is worrying you. There are several groups on Facebook for solo women travelers. If you go to the RTR, attend the women’s meetings and ask for help there. Make friends with woman who are already living the way you want to live. Consider taking a self-defense class. Research self-defense online. Read up on situational awareness. (I’ve read two good articles on the topic. The first can be found at http://www.artofmanliness.com/2015/02/05/how-to-develop-the-situational-awareness-of-jason-bourne/. This article is suitable for people of any gender, despite the name of the website. The second is at http://www.survivethewild.net/situational-awareness/.)

We’re into the second decade of the 21st century, and while male companionship is something many women desire, none of us need a man in order to live on the road. As the Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin said, sisters are doin’ it for themselves.

(Read more about the 2016 RTR.)

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I took the photo above.