Life truly is strange. Today I was the target of a prank call from the Howard Stern Show. I was working at my desk when the phone rang, and it was a radio producer asking me to fill in for a guest who had cancelled at the last minute. Talking really quickly, he mentioned the ad I had placed in the magazine that radio producers read to find guests, said he was from WXRK radio, asked me to record a release to broadcast, and said they wanted to go live right then with a segment about Moms' Night Out.
It was really nerve-wracking to go live right then, even thinking it was a legit segment, but I was game.
The "hosts" "Rod" and "Jack" came on, and started asking me the normal questions I'd get in this circumstance, What's your book about? Why do women need Mom's nights out? Then it quickly got weirder. They brought on "Bobby the Janitor" who said his wife had gone out with her friends, had an affair, and gotten pregnant. They started asking me what I thought of that. I just started saying "This isn't what I am about at all." It got lewder, and now I knew it was fake and was looking for an exit strategy. When Bobby said, "here's my son now" and I guy came on pretending to be mentally disabled, I quickly said "This isn't for me" and I hung up. Someone tried to call twice after that but I didn't answer.
It's hard for me to know how this story comes across in writing, but it was a really yucky experience being dragged in to such an awful show. It's pretty scary to go on the radio in the best circumstances (Summarize your book in 4 seconds--go!) and to go live under false pretenses was not fun. I felt really used.
After I'd had time to shake off the feeling of falling for their prank for even a minute, I became proud of how I'd conducted myself. It even became a Spark Seminars
moment, extracting myself from a jam. In Spark Seminars safety training, I encourage women to learn to say no in the smallest of coercive situations as practice for saying no in high-stakes situations. (This is good advice for parents teaching their kids as well.)
This Howard Stern stet-up actually had a lot in common with the way an acquainance rape situation is set up:
The "producers" established authority with their role, and validity by mentioning my real radio guest ad.
They rushed me on quickly which made the situation a bit confusing.
The "hosts" started out the interview as normal and slowly ramped up the weirdness. This is they key "compliance" factor--once I started participating it was hard to back out. To get away I had to do something rude and unprofessional myself by hanging up on a live radio interview--something I would never do normally.
Many coercive situations take advantage of this pattern. A "normal" social situation is set up to gain our trust and, importantly, our participation. Then things get inappropriate or pressured. By this time it would require us to be assertive or rude to leave, so we stay. Eventually physical force may be added to keep us there once an assault begins.
Our "niceness" is the weapon used against us. The best self-defense practice we can incorporate into our everyday life is to learn not to be controlled by our deeply-ingrained patterns of being nice and polite to everyone.
Practice hanging up on telemarketers. Tell a pushy salesperson to buzz off. Teach your daughters it is okay to say no to going on a date with someone she doesn't like. Don't open your front door to a solicitor you don't know. Practice in the weird, small opportunities that come up in daily life, even hanging up on Howard Stern. Then when a high-stakes situation comes along, you'll see it for what it is, and leave when you can.