Friday, 14 June 2013
The Secrets of the Pyramids – Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and women self-defence. 14/06/2013
I’ve been tripping out on Maslow lately. It all started because of a podcast by Rory Miller. In this absolutely excellent recording Miller uses Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to explain certain types of violence to people who haven’t encountered it. I have been using Maslow’s model ever since to explain all sorts of phenomena which up until now have puzzled the crap out of me.
For those unfamiliar with it, Maslow’s model essentially states that there are 5 levels of needs for humans, as follows:
Once the basic needs are met, we strive for the higher ones. Once we have all five, then we’re truly happy bunnies. If we don’t have the basic ones, the higher ones are temporarily put aside – it is not a lot of use to me to know that I am loved and esteemed if I can’t breathe, or am starving.
Miller used the hierarchy of needs to explain the severity of predation by addicts, amongst other things. To explain to innocent people the extreme acts addicts will resort to in order to feed their habit, he asks what people would do to feed their children if they were starving – not just hungry, but actually starving and in danger of dying. Personally, there isn’t a great deal I would not do in that situation. The vast majority of my morals would be temporarily put aside. When addicts are desperate to satisfy their habit, they are in that sort of frame of mind. There is very little they will not resort to. If their potential victims do not understand that, if they try to relate to them as if they were in a position to be reasoned or bargained with, they can put themselves in very grave danger.
I used that model to explain to a young and rather naïve friend the perils of dealing with addicts, and the concept seemed to sink. Result! The girl is now aware! The pyramid got me wondering, though. I just can’t leave it alone. When you accept the fact that you are almost a different person when you operate at different levels, all sorts of mysteries are resolved.
Something that I’ve never managed to get my head around is the ongoing acrimonious debate about women’s self-defence. The way I look at it is quite simple: as with all other dangers, my first line of self-defence is to not put myself in danger in the first place. I take steps to reduce my risks. This means, for instance, that I tend not to go to certain places where I know trouble is rife. If I go out at night I tend not to wear revealing clothes. I don’t go out alone to places where people tend to go to find sexual partners, unless that’s what I’m there for. If I go out with friends I watch their backs and I expect them to watch mine, particularly if we are somewhere where minds are getting altered, i.e. anywhere where alcohol or drugs are present. To me it’s a simple case of taking sensible precautions, running basic safety checks, in the same way that I would if I was about to use a chainsaw. I know that it is not wise to use a chainsaw in shorts and flip-flops. If I did that and I had an accident, I would feel at least partly responsible for it.
To me it seems all pretty clear cut. I don’t avoid danger because I live in fear. I quite simply can’t see the bleeding point in getting myself into trouble and then having to get myself out of it. Yes, I could go out to the local meat market – sorry, club - on my own and wearing very little indeed, but frankly I don’t fancy having to spend an evening smacking people. I can’t see the point in presenting myself in a way that is likely to lead to misunderstandings which in turn may lead to potentially serious trouble. I also am deeply uncomfortable being off my face when surrounded by strangers or in unfamiliar areas. Partly this is because I’m a mistrustful little cunt and I want to be able to have my wits about me in case a situation arises. Partly it’s because I have seen plenty of people behave in rather unconstructive ways when under the influence and I don’t want to be one of them when in an unsafe area.
These are not in any way, shape or form hard and fast rules for me, and I don’t always follow my own advice. I have been in plenty of situations where my original plans were thrown out because, hell, there was good fun to be had, and most of the times no trouble resulted from it. However, if I was to take unnecessary risks and I ended up in a situation, I would feel at least partly responsible for it, as with the chainsaw analogy.
Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to say that anymore. Anyone who dares utter anything of the kind seems to get immediately jumped on and accused of “blaming the victims”. Apparently, suggesting that there are steps that women can take to keep themselves safer is equivalent to saying that victims of sexual assault are to blame for their ordeals. I couldn’t get my head around this at all, for the longest time. I just couldn’t fit the concept in my head.
I know that sexual assault is “not right” – evil, inexcusable, call it what you will. I know that I should have the right to walk around butt naked through my town, alone, in the middle of the night, and expect to get back home safe. I also know, however, that I’ve got a much higher chance of getting back home safe if I don’t do that, because that’s just not how the world is. For me it’s a no-brainer – keep your arse safe first and foremost, and fight for your rights second. It’s a lot harder to fight for your rights when you’re broken and bleeding, after all.
But no, that’s considered plain wrong in some quarters. If you teach women self-defence, you must EMPOWER your students. This means, apparently, that you must dispel their fears and make them aware of their rights, so that they can assertively embrace them. It doesn’t matter if their fears are fully justified. It doesn’t matter if their problems are likely to result from people who don’t respect their rights, and are larger and stronger and meaner than them. According to that school of thought, it seems to me that it ultimately doesn’t matter if their training results in them making choices that put them in greater danger than they were before. That, frankly, pisses the hell out of me.
I have a stepdaughter I love dearly. I have lots of younger, innocent, sweet friends I am also very fond of. If anyone ever tries to convince them that they should throw themselves on the grenade, that they should put some nebulous right ahead of their safety, that person is gonna get it from me. I don’t want them to be scared. I don’t want them to miss out on life. But I want them to be aware – aware of what is out there, of the best steps they can take to avoid it, and how to deal with it if the shit still hits the fan. Aware of when they are taking a risk, so that they can decide whether it’s worth it.
Ranting and frothing at the mouth aside, I just couldn’t work out where the hell these people were coming from. The ultimate goal is reducing the incidence of violence, yes? But we shouldn’t tell women to take those steps which are proven to reduce their chances of encountering violence? In a nutshell, WTF? Then I thought – Maslow. Of course. The pyramid holds the key.
My approach to violence avoidance stems from having encountered it. I first met a sexual predator when I was 11 (a teacher). I was ambushed at 15 on the way back to school and had to fight my way out. I have literally lost count of the number of times I was exposed to various forms of sexual predation and general bother in my teens. I didn’t live in a particularly rough area and I definitely did not court trouble, but I spent a lot of time commuting and travelling on my own, so I was exposed to what trouble was out there. I know full well that there are people who quite simply do not see me as a fellow human, worthy of any respect, consideration or empathy. They have no concerns about causing me harm – they just don’t care. People like that, in an ideal world, just wouldn’t exist – but they do. In fact, there are also people out there who deeply care about causing me harm, because that’s how they get their kicks. They would care for nothing better than to watch me cry, plead, bleed or piss myself in fear. I’m not saying the world is full of evil – and for fuck’s sake, I’m not saying all men are evil. But there is evil out there, and if you disagree with me then consider yourself lucky, because you haven’t seen it.
I came to my views on self-defence from the second level of the pyramid. My security was regularly in danger and I had to take urgent practical steps to protect myself. This has affected the way I look at the issue. It set my priorities. I have to remind myself that my point of view, thankfully, is not normal. My experiences, whilst nowhere as extreme are those of people who have really suffered, are still more extreme than those of most. With a bit of luck, my stepchild and my friend will never share my point of view other than in a purely theoretical way. They will hopefully keep themselves safe, but it will be out of a reasoned choice rather than as a reaction to circumstances.
I am willing to bet my left arsecheek that a large proportion of those campaigners out there who put empowerment before practical safety are talking from much higher up the pyramid. I am guessing that they live on the top floor - self-actualization. They are taking the long-term moral stance. That’s just grand, but it’s not a luxury afforded to anyone who has to deal with the issue, day in, day out. It also won’t save your arse when the shit hits the fan.
Understanding this has, bizarrely, calmed me down a lot. I feel almost glad that those people exist, that they managed to get to an age when they can verbalise lofty concepts unencumbered by the memories of a tragic past. I still wish that they would shut up, mind you, because I think they are dangerous, but I cherish their naïveté. I cherish the thought that we live in a world where most people have never had to stare at a predator in the eyes and fight for their lives. I cherish the fact that I am a statistical oddity and that the women I care for are unlikely to have to deal with much of what I’ve seen. Mind you, I could be wrong. Those loud campaigners might have lived through bad experiences, yet have decided that ideals come before practical solutions. Hey, after all we’re a species that decided that it was necessary to put “Warning – Contents May Be Hot” labels on cups of coffee. We ain’t all that clever, I guess.
 Yes, ok, I have done that. Just once, though.