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A call to arms for America’s bullied women


Given the darkness that surrounds the path from my car to my apartment, I have built up a small arsenal of self-defense equipment: a canister of Mace on my key ring, a miniature flashlight and a toy cell phone. These items are supposed to keep me safe.

Deployment, however, presents some real problems, particularly since I have but two arms. Consider the following scenarios, all of which I have tried.

I sometimes employ my fake cell phone as a kind of preemptive ruse. Frustrated actress that I am, I chatter into the phone (perhaps chewing gum to make it look like I am conversing), my liberated arm circling groceries like a baby on my hip.

Surely a rapist would back off at the prospect of a woman hollering “call the police” into a telephone as he unzips his pants.

But what if he were to call my bluff? Or, maddened with drugs, not even see my toy phone? I considered buying a real phone, but then what? Tell the guy to wait while I dial 911?

Enter the Mace. Groceries on my left hip, I grip the Mace like a gun with my right hand and walk purposefully with a shoot-to-kill (or blind-and-choke) attitude. I’m ready to spray any would-be assailant.

The danger here, of course, is posed by nature. Suppose a downwind gust pickles my eye ducts before I can run like hell? Crippling myself hardly seems like the best possible form of self-defense.

So, I’ve got that cute little flashlight I got at Home Depot to fall back on. You must understand Tucson is dimly lit at night. Our university’s astronomers, with their advanced telescopes, depend upon it.

Hence, sometimes I employ the flashlight plus one other weapon. Forget evening grocery shopping. Stepping out of my car at night, I wield flashlight and toy phone. Or flashlight and Mace. While I can’t think of a way for the flashlight to backfire, the problem is that it won’t do much to ward off an attacker unafraid of the light.

Obviously, I can’t use the flashlight, phone and Mace all at once. This is what I mean about not enough arms. I feel like evolution cheated women, given men’s predilection for violence. The way I see it, with more arms we could fight back -- in the manner of our patroness, Kali, the many-armed Hindu goddess of destruction.

Far too many women could use those extra arms. Every four minutes a man rapes a woman. Every 15 seconds a man beats a woman. Four out of five murdered women are killed by men -- between a half and a third are married to their murderers.

“Forty-two percent of all women employed by the federal government, a group the size of Denver, Colorado, have been sexually harassed,” writes Kay Leigh Hagan in her wonderful book, Fugitive Information: Essays From A Feminist Hothead. The statistic provides one indication of how widespread a climate of hostility women face in America.

I confess I dream of owning a gun. I know this is not a politically correct fantasy. And yes, I know, I should sign up for a self-defense class. But in my fantasy I am so skilled with my little pearl-handled Beretta that I get the perpetrator -- not the other way around.

Please don’t cite all those statistics about how guns endanger the innocents more than criminals. I know the numbers and I am no fan of the National Rifle Association.

Instead, just take a moment to appreciate all the ways, big and small, women circumscribe their lives. I sympathize with those who live in high-crime neighborhoods. For women, our high-crime neighborhood is the world -- and, according to stats on domestic violence -- our own homes.

I have become expert at eyeballing parking lots as I walk to my car. But one can see only so much. Evolution short-changed us again: We have no eyes in the backs of our heads.

Demetria Martinez is a novelist and poet living in Tucson, Ariz.

National Catholic Reporter, September 12, 1997