I have a confession to make: I’m not afraid to walk after dark.
I’ve read and participated in quite a few discussions about women and the sorts of things they do to protect themselves when they go out alone - clutching of the keys like claws, checking the backseat of a car before going in, never talking to anyone after dark - and I don’t do these things. It’s not that I think they’re being foolish, and it’s not that I’m unaware of what can happen if you’re caught unawares, but I just don’t fear things enough to do that. (I suspect this is because I grew up in smaller communities, and well, it’s not that violence doesn’t happen there, but there’s a different attitude about it overall that affects how I view it - I just don’t see myself as at that much risk.)
I really want to emphasize that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the women who do do these things. Just different ways of dealing with the world.
Because, see, I’m not afraid of walking after dark. What I am afraid of is, if something happens to me, I’m going to be taken to task by everyone I ever knew, including my mother, for not being “prepared” for some random act of violence to happen. Of being told I “shouldn’t have been there”. Of the questions about what I did to be attacked. Because heaven knows that I should know better than to go out after dark, by myself. Look at what could happen!
Amy and I were talking about this a few days ago, and she brought up a statistic that I can’t quite remember about the number of women in Perth who feel unsafe if they go out after dark. (I can’t find it; my google-fu skills are obviously unl33t, but I remember the number seeming unreasonably high to me.)
Because, you know, if a woman goes out after a certain time of night, or if she’s dressed a certain way, or if she just walks in the wrong way, she did the wrong thing. She shouldn’t have been there.
Walking While Female, as I said before.
So, where do we draw the line? At what point is the woman responsible for the violence that she suffers from when she goes out of her house? At what point does how she act or react make it her fault? Where do you think these attitudes come from?
[Do you notice that, despite the fact that most violence is done by men, I’ve managed to write this entire post so far without mentioning them? Passive Sentence Construction is actually a big part of the dialog around this stuff - “the violence she suffers from”. “A victim of male violence” sounds so accusatory to me, which is also very relevant to the discussion.]
Personally, I think walking after dark shouldn’t be something that automatically puts the onus on women to carry their keys like a weapon or to dress in a certain way or to risk being told that being attacked, robbed, raped or killed was her fault. And, as I alluded to, I think the way we talk about this stuff is what contributes to the culture of fear around it - women are raped, but apparently men do not rape? “A man raped a woman” sounds accusatory to me, and I wonder if it does to other people as well. “A man robbed a bank” does not - probably because I’ll hear that sentence construction quite often, and not the other.
The other thing I think contributes to this is that the Big Three Religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) have expectations of “modesty” that do affect the greater Western Culture, even those who aren’t religious. This recent Modesty Survey (where teen boys rated how much of a “stumbling block” to their salvation the clothing teen girls wore was for the boys) reflects the idea that it is Woman’s Job to keep Man’s thoughts pure. In Orthodox Judaism, like Orthodox Islam, women pray in a separate room from the men. I was told that this is to help keep men’s mind on God, and not on the bodies of the women in the room. Women are gatekeepers.
This again gets back into that idea that Men Are Children Or Monsters, and without womenfolk to care for them or keep them away from the “uncovered meat“, men will go crazy and be forced, forced against their will, to attack the women.
We have a responsibility, after all, to not go out after dark in a t-shirt and jeans but no bra where we could distract some man and drive him into a frenzy of lust and violence.