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.

18 January 2011

Pitouie reviewed

Just sit right back and read a tale, a tale of a fateful trip...

Pitouie (Derek Winkler) is one of those novels that's hard to describe without revealing important surprise plot points. The blurb on the web site of its publisher, The Workhorsery, probably does the best job possible of explaining it without giving anything away. My version goes like this: in the present day there is a small, obscure, independent island nation in the South Pacific. In the early 70s, there are men working at a DEW station in the high Arctic. The common thread between the two settings is how far large corporations are willing to go to see their profit line jump a few points, and the, ah, absurdities that can lead to. Some of the absurdities are funny. Some are chilling.

Pitouie is not for those who believe that the corporate sector provides all that is good in this world (okay, they ought to read it, but chances are they would have a hard time not being too annoyed to finish it). For the rest of us, it offers a lot of laughs, excellent storytelling, and some sobering ideas to ponder after the last page is reached. The plot follows a "crazy enough to be true" line that has made the book difficult for me to describe to my friends — twice I've been asked to clarify if it's fiction or non-fiction.

And maybe that's the point. The story is a tall tale about tall tales, about what humans are willing to believe if the right details are added in. There's even an official web site for the South Pacific island of Pitouie, nudging the story of the novel out into the virtual real world, if not the physical one.

The writing is straightforward and clear — good, accessible subway reading. Character development? Nah. Lars, the radar operator at the DEW station, has a character arc, but most of the rest of the characters are only there to push the plot along. Even Otis, the main character of the South Pacific thread, just seems to be present so he can ask everyone else what's going on and reveal the story.

The story lives up to its top billing, though. It starts with a simple enough premise, but after three chapters I was hooked, and I found the final half of the book difficult to put down.

If you want some light, fast-moving reading that still offers food for thought (lots), check it out.