Anyone Else A Hot Mess?

I’d love to say this isn’t a fairly typical story in the Clark household, but having spent years comparing, struggling, and trying to get a grip with life, I have succumbed to the hot mess that I am, and laugh. What’s the best thing for the soul? Laughter! So I thought I would share the events of just the past few hours with you.

It’s ‘bins out’ day today. Feeling extra tired last night, I thought I would go to bed early, and give myself a rare lie-in, by putting them out ready for the morning.

After a long soak in a hot bubble bath, I got into my fresh sheets and started to dose off. Only to be roused 30 minutes later by the rustling of rubbish bags outside.

Leaping out of bed and running to the window, I caught a fox scratching away at my refuse. I opened the window and hissed at it, only for the pest to lie down and gaze up at me, daringly.

To cut a very long story short, after a six hour stand off with said fox, and by now, too tired to sit by the window hissing and spitting, I lay wide awake in bed, with my keys in hand, clicking my car locked and unlocked whenever the rustling began. Determined not to give in, and go down and move the rubbish back into the wheely bins.

Having had less than 30 minutes sleep all night, I gave up early, and promised myself to make the most of the day, despite resembling some kind of zombie. I pulled my gym kit on, and car key still in hand, opened the front door, as I received this text.

Anyway, I am off to sell some personal alarms……

Is Personal Safety An Outdated, Anti-feminist idea?

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I’ve been doing a bit of soul-searching recently and pondering my stance on personal safety.

Having always considered myself a feminist (I was brought up on the belief that if we consider men and women as equals we are feminist – surely we all should be then?) I am particularly interested in the increasingly popular idea that instead of telling women to avoid being harassed, maybe we should tell men to stop harassing?

Yes – I know men are abused, harassed, raped too! But the facts are that 20% of women in England alone have experienced sexual harassment, compared with 4% of men, and over 98% of perpetrators are male, so for now, please indulge me.

The glaringly obvious personal problem I have with taking the view that we, as women, should carry on regardless, taking no safety precautions, and expecting all sexual predators to stop, is that I would go out of business. Women’s Safety is after all, how I survive.  But beyond that, I am a mother of four daughters. Do I feel comfortable allowing them to just go for it? Give up their personal alarms? Walk alone down dark alleys? Accept lifts from strangers?

My answer is a definite no! In an ideal world, of course we wouldn’t have to worry about how other people are going to behave towards us. Whether or not our drink will be spiked by a rape drug. And I really don’t bow down to the idea of changing the way we dress, or the advice by the police to join a running club and not go running alone. That would be my idea of hell – trying to keep up with other joggers and without my earphones!

Yes, the emphasis should be on controlling the would be assailants, rather than victims (male or female), and the advice to not go out alone, or not wear certain outfits is beyond outdated.

But anything more radical and gung ho seems to be throwing all caution to the wind and in my eyes, a little irresponsible.

There always has been, and always will be, a threat to women, AND to men, in the form of other, ill-intentioned people. So surely a few cautionary adjustments in the form of being aware, carrying a rape alarm, and only using licensed taxis, are more common sense than a big step backwards for women’s rights?

That’s my thought anyway?

 

A Scary Incident

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Well it’s pretty well known now that my four babies carry a personal alarm with them everywhere, and have had safety awareness drummed into them from an early age.

We had an incident last month. Quite a scary one in fact.

My second daughter Jemima was travelling home from college on her regular 4.45pm train, when two young men got on the train and approached her.  One sat on her lap, and the other filmed the entire episode on his phone, along with Snaps to friends.

They were aggressive, and threatened to rape her, grabbing her phone and telling her boyfriend they were ‘taking his girl’ with them.

During the ten minute train ride, they touched her body, barricaded her in so she couldn’t escape, and made sexual, degrading comments and threats. A terrifying experience for a 16 year old!

There were a few other passengers on the carriage, and nobody did anything.

We were lucky. Jemima managed to jump over one of the man’s legs and make a dash for the doors as they opened.

It was only hours later, after making a police statement, and a hot bath, that we even remembered the rape alarm she had attached to her bag.  Unbelievable!

Would it have helped? Who knows. Studies have shown a safety alarm is more likely to deter an assailant than to attract help. Thankfully it didn’t matter this time that we hadn’t used it. But it has shown us that anything can happen at any time, and I don’t think we’ll be forgetting it again in the near future!

 

They’re Flying My Nest!

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I know it’s a cliche, but where does the time go? It only feels a short while ago I was excitedly stocking up on nappies and baby lotion.

As we sat nervously in the Nursery School welcome meeting, I still remember tearing up as the head made her speech about how excited she was at welcoming her new ‘gifts’ in the September, and spending the next three years ‘unwrapping them’.

And now we’re taking it in turns to view halls of residence and universities all over the UK. Two of my fledglings are off to uni already!

I seem to be a constant walking mix of two emotions at the moment – overwhelming pride, and complete anxiety. Reading up as much as I can so I am completely armed with knowledge for anything the events might throw at me, I came across a wonderful piece in The Huffington Post, by Marshall P.Duke, Professor at Emory University,

“It is a moment that comes along once in a lifetime. Each child only starts college once. …Such moments are rare. They have power. They give us as parents one-time opportunities to say things to our children that will stick with them not only because of what is said, but because of when it is said.

Here is what I tell the parents: think of what you want to tell your children when you finally take leave of them and they go off to their dorm and the beginning of their new chapter in life and you set out for the slightly emptier house that you will now live in. What thoughts, feelings and advice do you want to stick? “Always make your bed!”? “Don’t wear your hair that way!”? Surely not. This is a moment to tell them the big things. Things you feel about them as children, as people. Wise things. Things that have guided you in your life. Ways that you hope they will live. Ways that you hope they will be. Big things. Life-level things.”

I am really lucky with my eldest. Meg will be renting a house with her boyfriend, who is an absolute hero and I know she will be well taken care of.

And my second is extremely independent and mature for her age. But as we concerned parents know, it’s doesn’t always matter how you conduct yourself.  If you’re anything like me, you will have conjured up images of everything from getting lost on the way home, and ending up on the Orient Express, to aliens invading and choosing only my baby to abduct.

We’re also lucky that thanks to SafeGirl, we know an awful lot about personal safety, so not wanting to be selfish, here’s a few tips to put your mind at ease a little:

I am actually a  huge advocate of the ‘why should women be told to act differently , dress differently, not wear earphones etc, and we should be telling men not to attack women’ philosophy, but the sad truth is that I personally would rather ensure my babies are a little safer, and we can all sleep a little better at night.

Make sure your mobile is charged and able to make calls when you go out, in case of an emergency or if you lose the people you are with.
Try to leave a pub or club with friends, keep money you need to get home separate so that you don’t spend it, and pre-book a licensed taxi or know the locations of official taxi ranks.

When you do go out, know how you will get home, and plan ahead if you’re going somewhere you don’t know. Let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to be back.
If you have to walk alone in the dark, try to avoid badly lit areas, parks, alleyways and underpasses. When alone on public transport, sit near the driver on a bus, and in an occupied carriage on a train or the underground. Avoid using your phone in isolated places, as it can distract you from your surroundings.
Carrying a personal alarm with you is a good idea – many men see these as female accessories, but figures show that male students stand a much higher risk of being attacked in the street.

Watch how much you drink
It’s easier to do something risky or foolish when you are drunk, and you’re more likely to lose your belongings. Eat before you drink alcohol, and drink plenty of water to help you not get drunk. Keep track of what and how much you’re drinking. Drinks do get spiked with drugs, so never leave your drink unattended or accept a drink from a stranger. Think about carrying some rape drug testing coasters.

Consider taking a student safety kit with you. Filled with a safety tips book, a door wedge alarm, a personal alarm, and much more, we can’t take away the tears as your baby birds flee the nest, but we can alleviate some of the worry….

 

 

 

Baby Driver

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Meg, 19, and my eldest of four daughters, bought her first car just before Christmas.

As with so many things I have been realising of late, I only now am beginning to appreciate the anguish I put my own mother through as a young new driver.

Every time I left the house, keys to my fourth-hand, battered but beloved Austin Metro in hand, I heard the same phrase yelled out after me,

‘It’s not just you but everyone else on the road you have to worry about!’ a sentence that has actually  gone through my mind pretty much every time I have attempted the North Circular as a responsible 30+ year old driver and all the years since.

Of course, for the thirteen or so years prior to any fear or safety awareness dawning on me, I was blissfully unaware of anyone else on the road. Sounds blaring from my one working, if extremely crackly speaker; ciggie in hand; no seatbelt; 8 or so mates crammed into the back of ‘Cruella’ (named by said mates as my driving style apparently bore more than a slight resemblance to Cruella Deville – my mother never knew this!).

Ambling in at 2am, after night whizzing up and down the Southend Arterial, chucking my keys on the table, smoke still in hand, I sometimes asked why mother was still up, as I headed to the kitchen for night time snacks.

Now I get it! Looking back, how on earth did she remain sane at all in those days before smart phones and family RAC membership?

Luckily, Meg is a lot more conscientious than I ever was at that age. And of course, I am hassling her constantly by text – berating her if she doesn’t reply immediately, then lecturing her she’s not texting while driving!

At then end of the day, if our young drivers are as careful as they can be, and abide by the safety rules, many dangers are out of our/their control.

We’re only 5 months into our new regime of me sleeping even less than usual, and Meg pulling over every 5 minutes to tell me to stop texting her, and we have already had 3 breakdowns. The first being a rookie error of leaving the lights on and draining the battery.

Ashamedly, despite being with Meg when said incident took place, and being the retailer of booster cables for young drivers and women, as well as lots of car safety products and gifts. And having ensured the car was stacked full of every one of these products before we had even left the car showroom forecourt, neither of us knew how to actually use the jump lead booster cables. 

There’s a story for another time. But needless to say, we do now!

The good news is the cables are now only £8 a set. That’s an extra 20 minutes sleep for you and me!

 

Does Anyone Actually Like Valentine’s Day?

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I hate Valentine’s Day…and I’m a woman!

There I said it…and I bet many of you are breathing a sigh of relief, nodding your heads in agreement. Valentine’s Day is nothing more than a commercial money grab, a perverted holiday marketed by the greetings card companies that leaves most of us feeling lonely or inadequate.

It’s my second worst day of the year after New Year’s Eve. But at least Hogmanay is an excuse to get completely smashed and sob your heart out with others, singing about years gone by and drowning your sorrows with a whiskey and a god awful rendition of Auld Lang Syne as the clock strikes midnight.

On Valentine’s Day, however, the pressure is on to be that sweet, demure well-behaved love goddess who makes an appearance once every 12 months before reverting back to that normal foul-mouthed, badass trouble-making babe by mid-morning on 15th Feb.

If it wasn’t bad enough before (and it was), the bar has been raised further in this era of Instagram and Facebook. That endless competition for the most Insta-worthy gifts is so incessant, it has forced my daughter and her mates to come offline until it’s over.

And, of course, everything is so over-priced. Restaurants charge more (because they can) and the service is never as good as the rest of the year. We’re crammed in with other fake couples staring gooey eyed at each other, pretending they weren’t there, or arguing over him banging her best mate, or whose turn it is to unload the dishwasher later on.

It’s a shallow, rootless, artificial holiday; the facade is all romance but the reality is all capitalism. It’s a billion-pound industry. People in relationships buy each other expensive gifts, and single people buy themselves Haagen Daaz and a bottle of Malbec to commiserate (or secretly celebrate) singledom.

Okay, cynical rant over. Still, on the upside, my excitement for Pancake Day is starting to build.

I shall leave you with these gorgeous heart shaped sparkly personal alarms. If you do still have to purchase something for your loved ones this Valentine’s, you might as well make it something useful.

And they look fab on Instagram too…..

 

Does Rape Culture Exist?

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According to Wikipedia, ‘Rape culture is a sociological concept for a setting in which rape is pervasive and normalised due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality.  Behaviours commonly associated with rape culture include victim blaming, slut-shaming, sexual objectification, trivialising rape, denial of widespread rape, refusing to acknowledge the harm caused by sexual violence, or some combination of these.’

But does it really exist, or is it just some propaganda invented by extreme feminists in a bit to shame men as a whole?

The statistics certainly seem to show a lack of understanding when it comes to consent.

A survey for Amnesty found 37% of respondents thought a woman was responsible for being raped if she didn’t say “no” clearly enough.

One in 20 men said they would try to have sex with someone who was asleep, according to a shocking 2010 survey of young people aged between 18 and 25 by the Havens, the specialist London-based sexual assault referral centres. A significant proportion also seemed confused about what constitutes rape: only 77% of young men agreed that having sex with someone who has said no was rape. While in 2009, a study for the NSPCC found a third of girls aged between 13 and 17 who were in relationships had experienced unwanted sexual acts, and one in 16 had been raped.

I think it’s important to realise that just because you aren’t a rapist, doesn’t mean you aren’t contributing to society’s attitudes towards rape, whether you agree that a ‘rape culture’ as such exists or not?

We laugh off rape jokes like ‘No means yes; yes means anal’ as harmless fun. Nobody actually got hurt, right?  But are we trivialising rape and endangering women?

We slut-shame. I watched an episode of ‘Love Island’ last summer, with my teenage daughters, and found it interesting that one of the participants was anxious to get her point across that she wasn’t a ‘slag’ in this modern age, and that she had had a fair few sexual partners, and why shouldn’t she? Nobody bats an eyelid when it’s a guy. More interesting was despite her repeating her empowering message a few times, and my daughters all agreeing, 20 minutes later watching the same episode, they were shouting at the tv about another female contestant who had moved on to her third guy in as many days, using the very insults we had all just condemned.

Later as the programme drew to its dramatic conclusion, ensued a fair few remarks on the women’s choice of attire,

‘She looks like a slag with her tits out like that. What does she expect?’ and so on. We’ve all contributed to rape culture by calling someone else’s dress “slutty.” We’re validating the people who say that women “ask for it” when they wear revealing clothing or have many sexual partners. Rape is rape regardless of your choice of clothing, or of how much consensual sex you have participated in.

Christin Bowman, a PhD candidate for critical social-personality psychology at CUNY, says we contribute to rape culture “when we create school dress codes for teenagers because apparently the natural female form is ‘distracting’ for male students and teachers.”
Apparently, women must present themselves in a way that caters to the male gaze.

Another way we contribute to a rape culture is body-shaming, and in my own experience, women are the biggest culprits. We put each other down instead of building each other up. We judge each other harshly;

‘Her bum looks too big in that’, ‘she has no tits’, she’s too fat to be squeezed into that dress’.

These kinds of proclamations promote the idea that, again, women’s bodies are there to be judged and consumed. And once a woman is seen as an object (particularly a sex object), it is much easier to commit violence against her.

We victim-blame. When women are being raped and assaulted, government, police and public figures say ‘women, change your behaviours… do something different’. Don’t go out alone, don’t go out after dark, don’t wear earphones, dress in this way.

Why are women supposed to change their lives and their behaviours for sex offenders? Shouldn’t we be telling rapists not to rape? The only thing that causes rape is rapists. Not how much women have had to drink, not what they are wearing, and not if they are walking alone.

Victims aren’t reporting rapes because they are worried that they might not be believed, that they might be blamed, that they may be dragged through the mud, that a conviction might result in a six month jail term out of a possible 14 years (Brock Turner).

Our society is not a friendly place for victims of rape. And until we dismantle rape culture and make it one, rape will continue and rapists will get away with it.

 

Do Personal Alarms Work?

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Personal Safety Alarms are designed to emit a loud noise when triggered. This alarm is a high-decibel noise that’s meant to warn other people that someone needs help.

The noise can register at up to about 130 dB. That’s a lot of noise if you consider that a train whistle only registers to about 90 dB.

Using this much noise against a potential attacker and you will cause panic or momentary confusion, as well as alerting others within earshot.

Crimes such as mugging and individual attacks are mostly  committed after dark, and given the natural curiosity of people, the attacker is immediately faced with the chance of being confronted by the public or a police officer.

Therefore, the chances of being left enough time to complete the attack are drastically cut.

As well as the practical safety reasons for carrying a personal alarm, most women report feeling safer and more confident just knowing they have one on their person. Because of this, we at SafeGirl have come up with some beautiful, stylish safety products any fashionable female would be proud to show off.