It's Armageddon Week on the History Channel. With the awesomeness of a new decade (no pedantic arguments please, we all know how much everyone loves round numbers) and the looming approach of 2012, it's just been a free-for-all of survivalist crazy and fun times predicting what it would be like if we all died from Hamthrax or a Solar flare, or giant volcanoes under Central Park. Bob and I have been happily watching all the fun "what if..." programs, but I'm seeing something that started with Bear Grylls and is only continuing with all the "It's Armageddon, What Are You Going To Do Now?" programs.
They're for men. Women, apparently, are useless, and will not survive unless they're kept in cages and only brought out to be breeding stock and homemakers once society has been put back on its feet by the big manly mansome men.
As an autonomous being with a mind of my own and girly bits, I object. After The End Of The World As We Know It (known as TEOTWAWKI in the thriving survivalist blogosphere), women have absolutely no guarantee of having a manly mansome man around to protect them, not to mention the fact that most women are somewhat unwilling to trade their body for protection, even though there's a lot of men who are hoping for that very thing. So, here is Laura's Supplemental Guide for Women Who Are On Their Own Post-Apocalypse.
Most survival guides will have lists, suggestions, and useful ideas that will work for both men and women. As a woman, you'll need to streamline your emergency bag, and make sure it's not too heavy for you to carry, but all the other preparedness ideas will work for you as well as the men they're aimed at. The difference comes after the disaster, and when you're well and truly on your own.
First, let's talk about the whole rape thing. It's going to be a big consideration in your encounters with other survivors, especially if they don't have any women around. Thanks to the culture of rape apologism that exists today, many (if not most) men have grown up with the idea that they are entitled to women's bodies, and if they really want a woman, especially in non-standard situations, the full and enthusiastic participation of the woman involved is not really important. In short, men are going to want to trade their resources for your body, and may feel entitled to do so over your objections.
(Men, if you're offended, get over yourselves. You cannot honestly tell me that you believe in a changed world, that women will not be vulnerable to men who feel totally entitled to fuck them, when this is the day-to-day reality of the world we live in right now. Besides, this survival guide is for the wimminz. Go watch/read all the other guides which are directed at you, and ponder the fact that none of them will talk about the risk of rape for women survivors*, because they're written by men for men.)
(Also note that any protest or offended screeds in the comments section will be deleted. I'm not writing this to offend you; this is the reality that women will live with in a TEOTWAWKI situation, on top of all the other risks that everyone will share. Chew on that for a bit, instead of getting pissed at me for pointing out an uncomfortable truth.)
Back to survival. The risk of rape is not a reason to give up, nor is it a reason to trade your bodily autonomy for the supposed protection of men, it's simply something to be aware of in a post-disaster world. Since you aren't going to be able to fight your way out of a bad situation (and, let's face it, most men won't either), your best bet is stealth and speed. You need to keep your head low, move at night or twilight, going to ground during the height of the day. Since you probably don't have the upper body strength of a larger man, your survival pack is going to need some special equipment.
You have a survival pack, don't you? It can come in handy even today - say you get stuck in the snow, wouldn't it be nice to have maybe a heating pack or two, and the ability to make hot tea? A book to pass the time, warm dry socks, and a energy bar or two wouldn't go amiss, either I bet. Bob and I both keep emergency packs in our cars. In the event of a world-changing disaster, a properly packed survival bag can support you for quite a while, and if packed in a backpack, is eminently portable even for relatively unfit people (backs are strong). Check out resources on-line for some good suggestions.
The special things they're not going to talk about are the ones I want to cover here - most survival lists will include things like tampons (coyly called "feminine hygeine"), but fail to consider that a woman might be on her own. This isn't really surprising, since most survivalists are a bit right-wing women-belong-in-the-kitchen types, and the idea that a woman might be setting out without male protection doesn't even cross their minds.
(If it did, it would probably give them the vapours.)
So - special woman stuff.
First, you need a pair of flexible reinforced palm gloves. Search for ones that will allow you a lot of fine motor control, fit snugly (so they don't slip off at a crucial moment), and have leather or tough synthetic palms. These will save your life if you have to climb a rope or grip something tightly. A lot of the suggestions made in survival programs involve a lot of climbing. It may take more time, but you always want look for other options, since most women lack the upper body strength to pull themselves up on a rope. However, sometimes you will have no choice, and a rope will be your only way through/out. Get a lightweight rope and pre-tie loops large enough to put your foot in spaced along it, and you can use the loops like a ladder, your legs pushing you up, rather than your arms pulling. The rope will need to be longer, so make it as lightweight as possible.
Next, find yourself some close-fitting, comfortable, dark clothes - pants, light top, heavier top (for cold), socks, hat, shoes. Your shoes need to be sturdy but flexible - think rock-climbing combined with hiking. Buy them half to a whole size larger, and get cushioned insoles and soft wool (or polar fleece) socks. Your pants (you won't need a skirt for a long time, if ever) should be tough and reinforced at the knees and seat - think lined wool, horse-riding, motorcycle-riding. You want them comfortable enough to run, jump, climb trees, and crawl through small tunnels in. Wool means they can get wet, and they'll still keep you warm. The tops can be anything, as long as they're not too bulky and you can stretch in them. Think knit silk, cotton, and light wool. Get a beanie/wooly knit hat.
All your clothes need to be dark brown or black or green, to keep you from being seen. They also need to be as gender-neutral as possible, so anyone seeing you from a distance won't be able to tell your gender right off.
You want to keep one or two easily concealable weapons on your body at all times. If you choose knives, make sure you know how to use them. You're better off with a small flexible nightstick or something like that. Knives and tasers can be used against you, guns run out of ammo (and ammo is heavy), and mace isn't foolproof. Something small that masquerades as something else is best - why not combine two useful items in one and get a metal flashlight that can double as a weapon?
An extra you might consider is a voice-changer; if you make contact with people by phone or radio, it is in your best interest not to let people know you're a woman on your own. A lone woman broadcasting that fact is catnip to every human predator in hearing range, and puts you at risk. Even if rape isn't on their mind (and men who consider themselves good guys admit anonymously that they rape - though they won't call it that), a woman will likely be seen as a weaker, more easily overcome target, and your resources will be at risk.
Finally, get yourself a pair of good binoculars. A woman on her own is going to need to be ten times more cautious about approaching any settlement or group of people than a man, and here is where you are actually likely to do better and be safer than a man who relies on his strength or charm to get out of a bad situation. Your binoculars will give you all sorts of information from a safe distance, and you want to spend at least one day observing without being seen to get an idea of what you're getting into. Look for things that don't seem right, and trust your instincts. You'll be on your own, so no second-guessing that first impression. If it doesn't feel right, move on without being seen. You'll save yourself a world of trouble.
A woman has some advantages over a man**. We generally are smaller/shorter, and so more easily concealed. We fit into smaller spaces (our heads are smaller, and anything you can fit your head through, you can get the rest of you through), we're more flexible (our pelvises move more), we need less calories and water to survive, and we are tougher than we look - especially when there isn't a man around to be charmed by our adorable helplessness.
(I'm going to get in trouble at the next women's meeting for admitting this, but it's true - we sometimes let you men do stuff so you can feel manly. We can do it ourselves, but you guys pout when you feel left out.)
At some point, especially if you can't make contact with a friendly group, a woman on her own may consider making a Devil's bargain and offering her body in return for resources and/or protection. Understand that there is no dishonour in this choice - your survival is the most important priority. But here, as in all other choices, take your time deciding whom you're going to approach. Observe groups or individuals from a distance for a few days first, and let their behaviour while they assume they're not being watched be your guide. Men will put on a great act to convince you to throw in your lot with them, but you're better off on your own than in a situation where you might be gang-raped, abused, sold, or otherwise ill-treated. Loneliness is better than slavery.
Before TEOTWAWKI, it's a good idea to get on with the book-learnin' - learn about native plants, what's edible, what's useful, figure out how to hot-wire a car, change a tire, do basic engine maintenance - to give you a good background if you do find yourself on your own. You'd be surprised how many of these skills will be useful today - changing a tire and basic car maintenance will keep you safer on the road, and knowing native plants will help you if you like hiking or camping (poison ivy is sneaky). you don't have to embark on a mad fitness regimen, but being able to walk a mile at any pace*** is not a bad idea. increasing your back strength will have immediate benefits, and help you with a backpack kit if the need arises. Quitting bad habits *like*smoking*cough*cough* will allow you to be clearer-headed - it's hard to pay attention to your surroundings when you're jonesing for a cigarette. Women, despite some silly men's ideas about our weak little lady-brains, have the ability to multi-task well, and the more you know, the better off you will be at any given moment.
As a woman, you may not have the physical strength to match a Navy SEAL, but it's not muscle power that's going to get you through a bad situation, it's your smarts. A clear understanding of the special risks to women caused by a breakdown in societal mores will keep you alive.
(I want to state this again, because it's not being said elsewhere: Many men will see this breakdown as an excuse to rape. Men, I can feel your indignation, but you need to get the fuck over it. Other sites may be squeamish about stating the truth, but I'm not, and world statistics back me up. Women, you can do everything right, and still be assaulted. Do not blame yourself, blame the men who think that their "needs" entitle them to the body of a woman.)
You can laugh at survivalists, but keep in mind that many of the basic suggestions have immediate use, like the car emergency pack, knowing how to clean spark plugs, or increasing stamina. I don't really believe that the world is going to end in a massive disaster in 2012, or even in my lifetime, but having food stores at the farm is helpful if I lose my job for a bit and don't have the money for groceries. If we're snowed in and one of us gets sick or hurt, having medical supplies on hand when the nearest hospital is an hour away is a good idea. And knowing how to change a tire is handy. Even if the zombies never come, I'm not doing myself any harm by improving my health and knowing the native flora and fauna. An emergency pack can help in a localized disaster, like Katrina. You don't have to be paranoid, separatist, or a cult leader to be prepared for possible power outages, snow, income loss, or zombies.
In the end (or even the Beginning of the End), the survivalist skills are life skills. And that can't be all bad.
*Yes, men get raped too. I'm tired of it being pointed out to me like I'm not aware of it. But men, even ones who would not call themselves rapists, automatically assume a woman is available to them, which is not the case for men. In both cases, however, I'd like to point out that almost all rapists are still men.
**This is ableist, by the way - the assumption of all survival writing and programming is that the people surviving are able-bodied. This whole post, like all the survivalist movement, comes from an ableist viewpoint. The difficult truth is that people with disabilities are going to have a harder time surviving in a post-apocalypse environment, but it isn't impossible, and anyone who assumes that someone in a wheelchair (to pick the ovbious thing that most able-bodied people think of when they think "disabled) or otherwise differently abled won't be able to take care of themselves is simply demonstrating their inability to think out of the box.
***Um, yeah. There's that ableism again. I'm just pointing it out.