Feminist Rage

Sep 30, 2012 09:01

When you read a news story about an old person or a disabled person who has been robbed or beaten or murdered or otherwise attacked in some way, the outrage is always, always unqualified. No one ever questions where they were or what they were doing or who they were with or what they were wearing.

When you read a news story about a young, able-bodied woman who has been attacked, we as a society need to do a questionnaire before we can decide whether or not we sympathise.

Where was she?
Why was she there?
What time was it?
What was she wearing?
Where was she going?
Where had she been?
Had she been drinking?
Who was she with?
Why was she with them?
Was she flirting with someone?
Did she kiss someone?
Did she - god forbid - have sex with someone?

And then we make our judgements and proclamations of where she went wrong. It comes under many guises - 'commonsense', 'just how it is', 'life in the real world', 'sensible advice', etc. etc. What it comes down to is deciding whether or not a woman is deserving of sympathy when something horrible happens to her. And there are many times we decide that she isn't.

It's hard to explain the entrenched fear of attack and threat that women go through life with. I can't say I've done any extensive studies, but I would venture to guess that men do not feel the same as a matter of course (perhaps in particular situations). I've asked a few men before if they have a fear of attack when they're just going about their business and they have stared blankly at me. Women go through their day hyper-aware of the potential threats around them. A man in prison would have a very genuine fear that he could be raped at any time. A man walking down the street likely doesn't. Women, however, carry that fear constantly. And what we do not need is men telling us that we 'should' be doing X.

Don't go out at night.
Don't go down dark streets.
Don't wear revealing clothing.
Don't be alone anywhere.
Just dont.


I wanted this to be a nice, clear, linear post, but I have many stories jumbled in my head, so I'm just going to list them and I apologise if together they don't make a whole lot of sense. I am really just trying to illustrate the anger I feel generally about this issue.

My 14 year old daughter and her friends are regularly subjected to wolf whistles, cat calls, and cries of "Show us yer tits!" while walking to school. So regularly that they just shrug it off now as a normal part of being a girl, even though she has told me many times that it scares her when it happens.

Once I was walking home from work at about 4:30 in the afternoon and headed down a laneway towards my house. A very obviously drunk man was heading towards me from the other end of the lane. He must have seen me stiffen, as he called out, "It's okay love, I'm just walking." I felt bad for automatically assuming that he might harm me, but on the other hand, as women know, there is a very real danger that he could have. He was bigger than me and stronger than me.

When I was young I had a boyfriend who was a really big guy - well over 6 feet and built like a brick shit-house. He told me once that he had been walking home late at night and there was a girl walking in front of him who seemed to be freaking out that he was behind her. She kept looking behind at him, and walking unnaturally fast. He felt bad so he crossed the road to let her know that he wasn't following her. I have never forgotten this story - it always depressed me that anyone could possibly think he would harm them, as he was one of the most laid back, easygoing people I've ever met. On the other hand, if I didn't know him and he was walking behind me in the middle of the night, I'd have been shitting myself too. This is our lives. This is what we as women deal with. If you're a man reading this, maybe one small thing you could do from now on is cross the road. You might know you're harmless - that girl walking in front of you doesn't. And she is afraid of you.

Most of the women I know have been flashed at one time or another. Most of the women I know have had to physically fight off unwanted advances of one degree or another. Both of these acts constitute a type of assault, but I've never heard of anyone bothering to report it because it is so prevalent that it's almost like a terrible rite of passage in the journey to becoming a woman. We are so accustomed to this behaviour that it would never occur to us to try to do anything practical to stop it.

Years ago I read a survey in Marie Claire of high school boys and their attitudes to women. One third of those surveyed said they thought it was acceptable to 'forcibly coerce' a girl into sex 'in some circumstances'.


Two nights ago I was walking home from work at about 6pm, it was starting to get dark so I decided to go the long way around the main streets near my home rather than take the short cut through the lane way behind my house. Two busloads full of screaming, drunken young men came around the corner - they were all hanging out the window yelling abuse at everyone (including me). Buck's night? Sports team pub crawl? Who know? Who cares? The buses passed me and then pulled up about 20 feet in front. I would have to walk right past them to get to my house. I stopped, thought for a second and then doubled back around the block and went up the lane way. At dusk on a Friday evening, walking down a deserted lane seemed a less threatening option than walking down my own fucking street.

Women are conditioned to be 'nice' and 'polite' (witness the outcry against Catherine Deveny a few weeks ago when she went up against Peter Jenkins on Q & A - she wasn't 'nice' and we were horrified. We were not so horrified that the person she wasn't 'nice' to was talking blatant hate for a minority group, because he did it 'nicely', with a quiet, calm manner). We are an attacker's dream, because although we may feel threatened in some instances, unless there's a clear sign that we are about to be attacked in some way, we generally won't cause a scene. We put up with a lot. We don't want to make people feel bad (as an aside, this is how 'nice guys' get put up with too - women don't want to hurt their feelings by telling them they're being creepy).

There are so many more things I could say but I'm tired of it all. I am really, really angry about all that women are still putting up with in 2012, and in fact I feel like it's getting worse. When 14 year olds in school uniforms just expect to be abused on the street as part of their daily life, what hope do we have for their future interactions?

And men, I know most of you are just trying to be practical and helpful, but you come across as patronising when you lecture us about how we should behave. The reality is that we do take care, and bad things still happen. And until (some) men stop attacking women because they're out and about in front of them, nothing will change. Do you really want to let women know you care about it too? Be involved. Go and march in Reclaim the Night. Retweet, reblog, repost things women write about their experiences. Stand united. Do not hijack conversations about issues that largely affect women and try to make them about you and your gender. Understand that women talking about issues that largely affect women are not a personal attack on you or your gender. And above all, give support, not advice. 
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