‘Guarded’ women: Defense as Art

‘Guarded’ women: Defense as Art
May 9, 2016 Kyrie Long
A student clutches her keys in this photo from the "Guarded" series, by Taylor Yocom.

A student clutches her keys in this photo from the “Guarded” series, by Taylor Yocom.

The key to self defense is being on guard. At least, that seems to be the idea that spurs many women to have their guard up while walking alone.

“Guarded” is a photo project that began at the University of Iowa. Following student protest to remarks regarding sexual assault made by University of Iowa President Sally Mason, students Taylor Yocom and KT Hawbaker-Krohn put the project together. Yocom, who possesses a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography, took photos of several members of the University campus. Each subject photographed is holding an item that they commonly carry to use in self-defense.

This spring UAF students were introduced to the the artful security lessons of “Guarded” through a student-government sponsored show.

Sabrina Martin, a former ASUAF senator who sponsored the bill while serving on the senate, and Director of Programming for the Student Activities Office Cody Rogers worked together with the Student Activities Office to help with the project come to UAF.

“This is just another venue or avenue for students to get involved in a different way than they have before,” Rogers said. “So they’re sharing their stories with an artist… their voice is now being heard on a national level then. This project isn’t just for UAF.”

“They were interested in coming up here,” Martin said. “Especially since we’ve had so many title IX issues.”

The “issues” Martin referred to are the Title IX investigations that took place at UAF in 2014 and Chancellor Mike Powers’ subsequent apology on behalf of the university’s misconduct in October 2014.

ASUAF wound up sponsoring the project with $1,704 in a bill pushed forth by Martin and Haley Heniff, a student ambassador. Heniff, who transferred from the University of Iowa, knew the two artists from her previous university and initially caught sight of the project on Facebook.

“With all the budget cuts that are occurring, I couldn’t agree more that cutbacks need to be made here and there,” Heniff said. “But I feel that the university is here for the students and that this, this kind of situation—problems and questions about sexual assault and people’s comfort with their campus and feeling safety is of utmost importance.”

Students fearing assault use a variety of makeshift weapons to defend themselves. Some use weapons that can be disguised as other objects. For example, pens that once uncapped turn out to be knives or rings that are actually form brass knuckles. Others, however, use more commonplace objects in lieu of carrying a weapon.

Another student photographed for the "Guarded" project.

Nearly half of the students photographed for the project are carrying keys as weapons in their portraits.

“If somebody comes at me,” said Claire Burnham, a 19-year-old majoring in wildlife biology at UAF. “Keys hurt if you put them in the right spot.”

Burnham puts her keys between her knuckles if she feels unsafe while walking on campus. She also has a switchblade, but does not carry it with her.

Burnham described the frightening transition from small town Tok, Alaska to the larger city of Fairbanks. She said it made her feel safer to carry her keys this way when she first moved because she was unused to the amount of people. She added that she feels more secure, now that she has adapted to the city.

Keys are, by far, one of the most popular items photographed for the project. 17 of the 40 pictures on Taylor Yocom’s website feature subjects holding their keys, clutched between their knuckles.

The artists involved in the “Guarded” project, Yocom and KT Hawbaker-Krohn, were present at UAF to display the photos in the campus Wood Center. Yocom cited her desire to learn more about other campuses and their specific culture as her reason for travelling with the project. She has found student responses to be positive, if somewhat overwhelming.

According to Yocom, “this fear or this being on guard” in current society is what inspires people to use such commonplace items. She also described the phenomenon as being a cultural tradition.

Nearly half of the students photographed for the project are carrying keys as weapons in their portraits.

Another student photographed for the “Guarded” project.

“It’s taught and it’s passed down. My mom taught me. KT’s mom taught her,” Yocum said. “And it’s a very ritualized experience and method, and so I think that’s a pretty, pretty powerful visual.”

“I think that keys are something that everybody has,” Hawbaker-Krohn said. “In my picture, I’m carrying keys in mine.”

Hawbaker-Krohn also cited the convenience of keys as something people carry with them.

Grace Weller, a 19-year-old business student, used to live in the Sustainable Village on campus, where she recalls the walk home as “really scary.”

She, too, holds keys in her fist if she feels unsafe. Security apps, such as SafeTrek, offer another form of defense, according to Weller, explaining that users hold a button on their phone while walking home. If you take your thumb off the button, the app alerts 911 operators to the user’s location — unless the person quickly types in a password.

“I think it’s really eye opening to the community,” Weller said, of the show. “Just to see like, common objects and how people think of them as good weapons to use.”

Photos Courtesy of Taylor Yocom at tayloryo.

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