NB. This post discusses sexual violence, victim blaming and rape culture (wording taken from Jo below because I am really bad at writing trigger warnings).
Jo at A Life Unexamined wrote a piece a little while back that really resonated with me. (Holy shit, that was in March?? That is a while back.) Basically, Jo wrote that whenever a woman is sexually assaulted and that assault makes news, the powers that be invariably remind women of ways to prevent such a thing befalling them too. Don’t dress like sluts. Let a male friend walk you home. Stick to well lit areas. That is, they get on their personal safety high horse, apparently believing that if women just do everything right, they will be immune from street harassment, sexual assault (or worse). Apparently believing that we might have forgotten to do these things, or that we have forgotten that the streets are a dangerous place for us.
The point Jo makes in her post (apart from the personal safety message’s problematic perpetuation of certain rape myths) is that we are already careful. This isn’t our first rodeo, as my friend Liz is fond of saying.
The way we (that is, women) have absorbed all these personal safety messages was really brought home to me the other night. Literally. Me and the bearded one caught a taxi home and to my horror, he got the taxi to stop just outside our place. I hung back on the street and waited for the driver to speed off while my beloved opened the door.
“But… now he knows where we live!” I exclaimed. Beardy just shrugged and then I berated him about personal safety for a while, and then I got to realising how the fear of stranger rape (because that’s what it is) disproportionately affects my everyday life as a woman.
We are careful.
It’s not that I leave the house expecting to be raped, not at all. I generally walk the streets of the city comfortably and without fear. I take public transport by myself and I don’t feel that it overly bothers me. But the sense that I must protect myself from strange men is an overarching concern that affects my behaviour every single day.
1. I sit in the back seat of taxis and get the driver to stop around the corner from my home. A lot of women I know pay cash so the driver can’t read their details too.
2. And yet a taxi still seems like a safer option than walking any distance at any time after 10pm.
3. I don’t make eye contact with strangers and generally try to seem unapproachable, headphones in, the works.
4. But I don’t have my headphones up so loud that I can’t hear people behind me.
5. I opt for flats instead of heels because not only are they more comfortable, they are easier to run away from an attacker in.
6. I lie about my name, profession, suburb, whatever, if asked by a stranger. Further to this, I don’t display work-branded merchandise in public.
7. I sit on single seats so people can’t squeeze next to me and “accidentally” encroach on my personal space.
8. If I can’t sit on a single seat I quickly scan other passengers to decide who looks the least dangerous. I usually try and sit among other women.
9. Either way, I will still shrink into the seat, trying to look as small and unobtrusive and invisible as possible.
10. I try and dress “modestly”, even if I am going out for the night. Again, I try not to attract attention outside of my intended destination. Sometimes I layer so I can strip back to a more “party” vibe once I get inside.
11. Finally, I stick to well-lit, familiar areas, so much so that I actually get quite nervous when I go to new places now.
This post isn’t meant to be a big critique of the personal safety message sent to women and it’s not scientific and it doesn’t even make that much sense but I just wanted to share my experience and tell the world I am careful. Every day, my behaviour in the world is modified so I can make myself “safe” but all the precautions I take still doesn’t stop strangers from asking me if they can help take my groceries home. For real.
We are careful. So what else have you got?
Up next: Feminism fatigue, or, where is Morpheus with my blue pill?