Saturday, May 30, 2009

Reclaiming the forest for women (by Magda Santos)

Walking Florida’s wilderness trails is one of the most beautiful, peaceful and fascinating pastimes. The spiritual and philosophical become secondary to pure enjoyment.

However, as a woman, my first concern turns from peace and beauty to safety. My first thought is not communing with the forest and its animals or camping in the moonlight. It all turns into keeping myself safe.

Why? Simple, how many newspaper stories have you read about women attacked, raped, and killed? How many times have you heard the horrible statistics about domestic violence? Then there are the murders of whole families by angry distraught men. Here in Florida, we were unwillingly a part of the death of two women and two children by a husband and father.

Then there’s the difference in stature between the sexes. Most women are smaller and not as muscular or even as strong as most men. That keeps us at a disadvantage. Remember, we’re not encouraged to be physically powerful; it threatens men, alienates potential husbands, and doesn’t make us look feminine like the emaciated models on posters, runways, and magazines.

I can just imagine the first time a man chose a weaker woman. “No, no I don’t want an Amazon; she’s my equal. I want someone I can push around.” Eventually it became an important social thought embedded in our psyche.

So what does all of this have to do with women walking in the woods? It illustrates our need to evaluate risk, benefits and be careful, not carefree. Feeling carefree is not for people with access to little money, opportunity, and strength.
I host an Internet radio show called Speak Freely on Saturdays at 4 p.m., and recently, I interviewed someone who teaches a woman’s style of chi kung. We talked about the influences of nature on the many chi kung forms and at the end of the interview I asked if she practiced with her students outdoors?

Her response was it would be wonderful but some of the movements are provocative and it would be dangerous to practice in the park nearby. In addition, some of the women are survivors of cancer and violence and they would feel too vulnerable. I respect their decision and understand their feelings of vulnerability.

However, if you wish to venture outside, there are many ways of protecting yourself and as most personal security experts suggest the best idea is to look like a difficult target. You see most thieves, rapists, murderers, and other bad people look for the easiest target. They move on to the house that has no lights on, the keys left in the car, the woman without a dog.

They look for opportunity. I once left a camera in my car with the windows down in a suburban neighborhood and sat across the street. A thirtysomething white male with a female walked by the car and saw the camera; he reached in and took it, shrugging his shoulders as he looked around. I walked across the street and took the camera back from him. He was not apologetic or remorseful. I only tell you this story to show you how opportunism works.

So, hide your knife and make sure you know who’s next to you at all times. Keep your herd mentality and don’t be picked off. You don’t want to be the hiker that stays behind or eats alone.

A woman’s world is limited only by the amount of time and courage she wishes to use for a given task. Now, if she wishes to use her capital by spending time outdoors she will have to cultivate awareness and self-defensive skills. Self-defense classes are abundant, take one and tips on personal security are numerous. Hear are just two: Wear drab-colored T-shirts that help you blend in to the scenery and say, "I’m not looking to hook up." Then the old standby: There is safety in numbers. Hiking with groups like Florida Trails or the Sierra Club will help keep you safe. Nature is waiting to show you all her beauty and soothe your soul.

Don’t give up the outdoors out of fear. Reclaim the forest. Besides they don’t call her Mother Nature for nothing. See you on the trails.
You can listen to Magda on her radio blog. This guest post was posted by Suzie.