How a simple clipboard can impact safety on the street
When I worked as a door-to-door canvasser in the greater Los Angeles area, I was repeatedly amazed by the power that a simple prop like a clipboard conferred upon me when I approached strangers. And others' perception of me possessing some sort of unknown power or authority over them often kept me safe in situations that might otherwise have looked like an opportunity to victimize me.
I worked for several months as a door-to-door canvasser in the greater Los Angeles area in 2005. It was a fascinating (if unintended) social research experiment, giving me a totally new perspective into communities, neighborhoods and households that would be difficult to obtain in other ways. But as a young woman walking on streets after dark and approaching strangers to discuss issues/fundraising, I did take note of the impact that holding a simple clipboard had on my perceived and/or real safety.
I felt fairly confident and secure in my work, so I am sure that that was the most powerful deterrent to abuse in my case. However, there were a few times, in sketchy neighborhoods (for instance one in which gun fire was heard and then none of the residents were willing to open their doors due to their own fears) where I noticed that the difference between having a clipboard in my hands and not having one was significant. This I believe was for the following reasons: to others, that clipboard signified and conferred upon me a certain level of authority and purpose. Of course, in reality, it did no such thing! But the image it created for people passing me on the street caused them to wonder who I was, what I was doing and if I was a threat to
them. Was I a government official, someone important, etc? It was such a simple prop and yet it held a surprising amount of power when I was out there meeting people face to face.
I believe that finding ways to create that kind of social response, to tip the balance in favor of women in a way that makes them perceived as powerful and/or capable of enacting consequences when faced with injustice, rather than powerless and easily victimized, has to be a central part of making communities safer.