lederhosen: (Default)
[personal profile] lederhosen
Following on from yesterday's post: Clementine Ford wrote a very good column on the same topic.

In the comments, you can see a lot of well-meaning people asserting that it's not victim-blaming to warn women that the world is a dangerous place, and they should take precautions: avoid dangerous areas, or catch a cab even if it's only a short distance, or let a male friend escort them home.

This may not be intended as victim-blaming, but I think at best it's deeply unhelpful, and both symptomatic of and contributory to a misogynistic attitude towards risk.

Why this is unhelpful:

Women already know that the world is a dangerous place. Really, they do. I'm pretty sure any teenage girl has heard this warning dozens of times. She has probably had frightening experiences of her own to reinforce this message; even if she's been lucky enough to avoid that, almost certainly she has friends who haven't been so lucky. (Clem Ford is currently tweeting a whole bunch of responses from women describing some of the things they do to protect themselves.)

In most cases I assume that a woman has a much better understanding of her personal safety environment than I do, simply because that's where she lives and she probably spends a lot more time thinking about it than I do. I wouldn't tell an electrician "you should watch out for live wires" or a carpenter "mind you don't hit your thumb with that hammer, that can really hurt", and for the same reason I don't tell a woman "you should be careful at night".

If I have some specific information that might be useful to a woman in making her own risk decisions, that's another matter: "If you don't know this area, X Street gets pretty rowdy late at night, Y Street is usually quieter." But if all I've got is generic "watch out some guys attack women", I'm going to save my breath.

Plus, the generic advice is often simplistic and potentially dangerous...

Several of the commenters on Clem's article urged women to take taxis home, even if it's only a short walk. By some coincidence, she's just retweeted several women describing the things they do to protect themselves against assault by taxi drivers.

Some commented on the fact that Jill Meagher had declined a male friend's offer to walk her home. ("If anything of value comes out of this story so far is that two heads are better than one if you can... there's safety in numbers especially if you are going home late at night.")

But, let me tell you a story and stop me if you've heard this: almost exactly ten years ago, I was at a conference in Sun Valley with a bunch of young grad students. One young lady had drunk rather too much, and was not safe to walk herself home (I think she'd only just hit legal drinking age, she wasn't sober enough to find her way back, and it was cold enough outside for that to be dangerous). So one of my colleagues offered to escort her back to her cabin.

All well and good, except... because I was sharing a room with this guy, I was well aware that he'd been hoping to get lucky at this conference, and he evidently had designs on this lady. So I "helpfully" said I'd come along too, as did a couple of others. From his body language it was pretty clear that he would rather not have had us tagging along, but we acted oblivious and accompanied them all the way to her cabin, and waited until the door was closed with her on the inside and him on the outside.

(Before she went inside, he kissed her on the doorstep; in the morning she had no recollection of it happening and wasn't pleased when we told her.)

At the time I felt I was maybe being overprotective; he seemed like a nice guy, and I wasn't really expecting him to try anything until she'd sobered up enough to make her own decisions. Ten years on, I don't think that was AT ALL overprotective.

Point being: sometimes a male escort is NOT the safer option. I don't know and will probably never know whether that was a consideration for Jill Meagher; there are several other, equally-valid reasons for why she might have declined the offer.

Why it ties into misogyny:

By and large, we treat male risk decisions very differently to female decisions.

When an Australian soldier gets killed in Afghanistan, you'll see a range of reactions. To some he's a hero who gave his life for his country. To others he's a victim of bad foreign policy, and to a small minority he might even be a killer who deserved what he got. But you will never hear anybody suggest that it happened because he didn't know Afghanistan was dangerous.

Likewise, when Peter Brock crashes into a tree, or Steve Irwin gets killed by a stingray - "he died doing what he loved". These guys are APPLAUDED for their courage, as evidenced by the manner of their death: they understood that they'd have to take risks in order to live a rich and fulfilling life, and they accepted those risks.

But when a woman accepts risk and comes to harm, the response is usually much more patronising. Women are expected to minimise risk first and look for fulfillment in whatever safe options remain. If she DOES take a risk, then either she's foolhardy or perhaps her soft little woman-head didn't realise that it was risky.

(FSVO of "risky", anyway. I would want to see some evidence before I accepted that "walking home alone, late at night in Brunswick" is actually more dangerous than playing football, or cycling to work, or many of the other things that guys get killed doing on a regular basis.)

Aside: according to Google, the expression "he died doing what he loved" is 8x more common than "she died doing what she loved". I am unsurprised.


Here endeth the rant, for now.

Date: 2012-09-27 01:33 pm (UTC)
17catherines: Amor Vincit Omnia (Default)
From: [personal profile] 17catherines
It's very frustrating to watch this again and again. I mean, I know it's one way people make themselves feel safe (I take all these precautions, therefore this could never happen to me), but it's still infuriating. And so patronising. Do these people honestly think we *haven't* been hearing this advice all our lives?

And it's a horrible thing to do to the family, frankly.

(and your point about not necessarily feeling safer walking home with an acquaintance than alone is well taken. It really depends a lot on the acquaintance.)

I've always felt safe in Brunswick and Coburg. I don't feel less safe today than I did last week (perhaps because I tend to view myself as fairly invisible, these days). The only time someone ever did attack me on the street - and it never got past the verbal intimidation phase - a woman in a car stopped to ask if I was OK, and two large Tongan men crossed the road to engage my assailant in conversation while I walked briskly off towards the police station.

Date: 2012-09-27 11:19 pm (UTC)
chaos_crafter: (Default)
From: [personal profile] chaos_crafter
I am glad to see that referenced though. I think it is worthwhile for us to remember that a lot of the commentary is people trying to work out how they can avoid it happening to themselves or those they love.
Still, I think we need to start teaching people that when someone says "she shouldn't have been wearing X" they say to lots of potential rapists that what they are thinking of doing doesn't count if she's wearing X. I'm not saying it's clear-cut, but it is part of a conversation that allows some people to argue to themselves "She must want it or she wouldn't be X, Y and Z", and this is a type of thinking we have to put an end to.

Date: 2012-09-28 12:51 am (UTC)
winterkoninkje: Shadowcrane (Default)
From: [personal profile] winterkoninkje
Thanks for the rant. Clear, concise, and to-the-point as always. Which is nice, since this topic came up recently in another community, and now I have something to point people to. So sorry to hear about Ms Meagher though.

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