24 January 2011

amazons are made, not born

I am, according to my doctor, exactly 175cm tall. That's almost-but-not-quite five feet nine in Imperial measure; the actual fraction is five feet, eight-and-nine-tenths inches or something awkward like that. Since the average Canadian woman is only five feet four, that makes me stick out as a tall woman, at least in this country.

Being a woman, I talk about personal safety with my friends from time to time. It's just the usual stuff that gets distributed in those "safety tips" e-mails that float around the internet — how to carry your purse so that a mugger will decide you're not a good target, how to keep your cell phone handy so that you can call for help quickly but not get noticed by a cell phone thief, and so on. While we're on the topic, we might discuss toxic relationships, domestic violence, what to do if someone tries to assault us. Not something to dwell on and get paranoid or hateful about, but information needs to be shared, right?

It never fails, though: there's always a more petite friend who will turn to me and say, "You're lucky. You're tall, so you can protect yourself better."

This blog post is about why that is complete and utter nonsense.

Yes, I'm fully aware that many sources (like this one) will mention that women can be at risk because of their smaller size (they should say "on average", but this is rarely included). But consider: being tall just means that I'm tall. It doesn't turn me into Wonder Woman. I am most definitely not stronger than the average man my height or even a few inches shorter than I am. I don't have any special innate self-defence skills because I have long legs. It doesn't increase my pain threshold, or how likely I am to get bruised or broken when struck hard enough. I have no idea how to throw a punch, or how to shield myself while I'm throwing it.

If anything, I would argue that being tall puts me at a disadvantage to some extent. I can't move as fast. It takes longer for me to duck. It's harder for me to escape if I'm in a tight spot.

I've also got the myth going against me. I'm tall, so I'm supposed to be at a lower risk. If I do have someone smaller, man or woman, assault me, and I try to defend myself, what do you think is going to happen to me if my assailant claims I started the fight?

The thing is, height doesn't make might any more than might makes right. There's this weird perception out there that just because a woman is tall, that means she has other physiological attributes normally associated with men her height, like relatively greater strength. There's a whole host of other ways this assumption manifests itself in non-violent situations, but that's a rant for another day.

Meanwhile, stop thinking that just because tall people can reach the top shelf without a stepladder, we can "fight back" any better than shorter people.

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