It's not Tupperware. It's not Mary Kay. The new push in women's home parties is to sell empowerment.
The items are considered weapons, but are legal for you to carry and marketed towards women.
“We don't try to make it look like a man's tool,” said Melissa Blackmon. “These are for women."
Blackmon is with Damsel in Defense, a self-defense company started by two moms in Idaho in 2011. They were looking for non-lethal ways to protect themselves and their families. Blackmon helped bring it to Charlotte 18 months ago. She says the goal of the company is to make women comfortable and confident so they're not someone a criminal is looking to attack.
She says all this while casually holding her own stun gun. She calls it "her baby."
“I don't leave home without this,” she says with a smile. “I have broken down on the side of the road where I had to pull over next to two men who were also broken down. They immediately walked up to my car. I got out with this. They both slowed down a bit and looked at me and said, ‘What is that?' and I said, ‘Oh, it's a stun gun. Do you need something?'"
She said a police officer then arrived and told her more women should have them.
“Criminals are like cockroaches,” she said. “Police will tell you that. They don't like the light and they don't like attention. They want someone who's an easy target. With this, I don't look like an easy target.”
It's not just stun guns. There are also flashlights that act as a seat belt cutter and glass breaker in case of an accident. There are alarms that go in the door of a hotel or dorm room in case someone tries to come in. The pepper sprays come in a glove-like contraption so joggers can have the spray easily accessible.
Blackmon says it is legal for you to have any of these weapons in North and South Carolina. There are currently restrictions for carrying or purchasing pepper sprays and/or stun guns in Maryland, Illinois, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Washington D.C. and all of the U.S. Virgin Islands. There are also restrictions specifically in three areas in Delaware – New Castle County, Wilmington and Newark – and in Philadelphia.
But again, Blackmon says, all their products are legal in the Southeast.
Lots of the women who are at these parties end up talking about the “why” of how they got there.
"I work in property management,” said Michele Watson, from Charlotte. “I can't tell you how many leasing girls will come in my office saying, 'Michele, I don't really feel comfortable showing these people.' But because of fair housing laws we have to show everyone. Protecting my girls with a flashlight that could change to a stun gun would make me more comfortable."
Michele's daughter Amber Sanchez, also from Charlotte, agreed. “I want a weapon because I'm an overprotective mom,” she said. “I want to look into having something for myself and some type of loud alarm for my daughter.”
“For me it's about travel,” said Lisa O'Brien, who lives in Mountain Island Lake. “It's a creepy feeling when you're traveling alone and going into a hotel room alone at 11 o'clock at night, looking over your shoulder.”
“The hotel room thing is always in my head, too,” said Diana Howell, from Huntersville. “That's because years ago I actually had someone break into a hotel room and attack me. I have no idea where the guy came from. I put my key in the door and he just came from nowhere, from behind me. It was about three hours I sat there with a knife at my throat. It was horrible. It was horrible. It was life-changing. But I convinced him not to rape me."
It's a sobering story on why more and more women are saying better safe than sorry.
"This is something that helps cover the gamut from lethal to non-lethal,” said Kisha Simon, from Charlotte. “For women who aren't comfortable carrying a pistol, this is something they can carry that helps empower themselves."
"Plus having this kind of protection just makes me feel like Shera," laughed Marti Dreher from Rock Hill. "Now I HAVE THE POWER!"
Amidst the chatter at these house parties, self-defense tips are also shared.
Blackmon's main one is to teach women the "Five NEVERs of Self-Defense."
She says when confronted with an assailant you never:
NEVER go with the assailant to a second location. (There are several possibilities why he'd want you to go there. They're all bad.)
NEVER give up your weapon.
NEVER get in a car with someone threatening you with a gun. (This leads back to the first NEVER.)
NEVER let someone tie you up.
NEVER give up. NEVER give in. NEVER surrender. Run, fight, attack. Use any weapon you can. Even a #2 pencil can kill. If you think he can run faster than you, use terrain, obstacles and darkness. IF you think you're faster, run straight away on the most level, smoothest ground you've got.
"These products are meant to help us protect ourselves and our families," she said. "Often as women we're with the kids or carrying a baby. We can't just leave them behind. Part of what we do in these house parties is empower people to know, it's okay to stand your ground, and give them some tools to help them feel confident to do so."