Jewish World Review August 8, 2002 / 30 Menachem-Av, 5762

Tresa McBee

Tresa McBee
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Why women will remain the at-risk gender | The female gender is at a disadvantage.

We don't, however, like to admit it. It's as if in doing so we'd be admitting a character flaw, a distasteful personality quirk we'd really rather do without.

But no matter how many gender neutral policies we put in place, how equal our pay becomes, how many top corporate positions we occupy, how many once-all-male fields we conquer, how convincingly we push fathers to the periphery of parenthood, women will remain the at-risk gender.

As much as we prefer to pretend that biology is merely an unfortunate footnote to our existence to be pushed aside if only societal oppressors would get a clue of enlightenment, there's no escaping that women are smaller, possess less upper body strength, and, by virtue of design, are more likely to be violated.

Which says nothing negative about women. This isn't a weakness that screams we're less. That's where we get all tangled up, linking innate physical differences with ability and accomplishment and possibility.

One does not equal all those others. But all those others put us in more places, often alone and sometimes at night. Curfews no longer call co-eds back to all-female dorms. Societal constrictions no longer cloister us, no longer tuck us away waiting for the chaperone.

Opportunity opens up where we go, when and with whom.

Consider the 16- and 17-year-old girls abducted in California last week while with their boyfriends. Authorities say the two girls were within minutes of death and burial in a remote desert location. For anyone who's loved a child, it's the material of heart-thumping, middle-of-the-night dreams. I instantly thought of my niece.

She's 17. She has a boyfriend. They go places together. In his car. I know I'm not the only one who thought, there but for the grace ...

But now is not the time to succumb to this summer's version of shark attacks. Despite high-profile abductions of girls in California, Salt Lake City, Philadelphia and Missouri, stranger child abductions are actually down.

It's also not time to freak out small children by teaching them that any stranger is a potential abductor prowling around every swing set. As no-nonsense psychologist and syndicated columnist John Rosemond points out, loading very young children with information they aren't prepared to handle accomplishes only the opposite of what's intended, increasing fear and anxiety. As Rosemond says, it's parents' job to make sure little children stay close and accounted for at all times.

No, it's time to ensure that as our daughters grow and become increasingly independent, they are armed. With knowledge.

With common-sense instruction. With what ifs for the unexpected. It's time to turn information into empowerment.

If we're going to teach our daughters -- and we should -- that they can achieve in whatever realm they choose, so should we instruct them in the dos and don'ts of a world that can take advantage. Just in case.

Do trust your instinct. It's your best guide. I well remember getting lost in downtown Indianapolis with a friend, each in our own car, so I couldn't tell her not to stop where she did --- at night, in who-knows-where, surrounded by several unsavory young men. Oh, but for the grace ...

Do drive with doors locked, do walk to your car with keys in hand, do observe who's around you and where. Do walk with purpose. Do cultivate a don't-mess-with-me glare. After one exercise in a self-defense class where we defended against a would-be attacker, a few women told me I looked determined and annoyed.


Don't leave doors and windows opened or unlocked. And please, don't open the door to anyone, even if he seems nice, smiles a lot and says he's supposed to be there. Ever. Even if he's in uniform. Call first. And don't check out strange noises alone. That's what cops are for.

Some might call me paranoid. I call it prepared. And by all means empowered.

We shouldn't live in fear. But we should teach our daughters to be smart, to think before leaping.

And then we should pray. Because leap they will.

Help them get ready.

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JWR contributor Tresa McBee is a columnist for the Northwest Arkansas Times. Comment by clicking here.

08/01/02: Girl: The new four-letter word?

© 2002, Northwest Arkansas Times