I don’t usually write about contemporary issues; I would rather let the world pass me by unnoticed most of the time. I decided to weigh in with an opinion on this one though. There has been a lot of articles, opinions and comments on social media lately about the rape culture we live in as modern humans. Some people seem to think that this is fair and ‘the way things have always been’ while others rail against the status quo. I can’t really decide which side I am on.
On one hand; I too have felt the fear of walking alone, of being uncomfortable with male company and unable to politely move away. I too have felt the need to check whether I was showing too much skin, to make sure I have a semi-sober girlfriend to make sure I get home after a night out (I have been the semi-sober girlfriend too…occasionally). All this is now a memory, in the past; fear of being attacked by a man has lessened over the years. I think because I am older and less attractive. I have been attacked by men, I have had unwanted attention from men, been physically attacked, verbally attacked and abused. Now my instincts are much better, I can usually sense a situation I will not be comfortable in and avoid it. Does that make it OK? Does my withdrawal from many activities in order to feel safe, make it acceptable to live in this culture? My daughters both phone me or each other while walking alone in the city, they say they want a witness to their death if someone attacks them (very reassuring for a mother who is thousands of kilometers away, I can tell you). Neither of them do that in the bush, they are happy to tramp about in nature all day by themselves, the difference? There is a much slimmer chance of running into a man in the bush. Why should my big, strong, confident daughters feel that they need to have someone on the phone when out night or day (even on a bus)? Why should they feel that they have to guard themselves always (clothes, actions, speech) in case they attract the unwanted attention of a man?
On the other hand; I am a farm girl, I know I am strong. I have had more than one physical fight. Although I am a gentle person who doesn’t go looking for a fight, if one finds me, I know I can defend myself. I have noticed over the years that I am at least as strong as most men I meet (sometimes considerably stronger). I am brave; I am the snake and spider remover, the big, scary animal facer (including men). Why do women feel the need to be frightened? Can’t we all just learn to not be frightened? In my twenties and thirties, I walked home from work in a city centre at 2am by myself, I spoke to dodgy looking men all the time (it’s a bit hard to avoid when you are a barmaid) and I had to woman-handle the odd bloke out of the bar a time or two. I learned that I am capable of these things and I gradually let go of my fear.
Men apparently don’t feel fear of walking alone in the city at night, or fear being in a room full of other men (usually) or even a room full of women. Why? They don’t worry that the button-up shirt shows some chest hair which might be taken as an invitation for someone to run a finger over it. They apparently don’t worry about walking past a group of women standing on a corner in case there are cat-calls and lewd comments (there often are lewd comments boys, just not very loud).
I think men do face some of the same issues that women do, maybe not as an ingrained and expected part of life, but they do face them occasionally. Tell me men, have you ever hesitated to go into your bosses office with the door shut in case she/he made a move on you? Have you ever felt unsure about walking to your car because there are a lot of men standing around? Have you ever been the only person in a train carriage when a vaguely threatening man came in and sat near you? Have you ever been too drunk to drive home and worried that the taxi driver would attack you because you were not on the alert? I know the answer is “Yes”; almost every man I know has experienced this or something like it at some point in their life. The common factor here though, is ‘men’; would you be so worried by a bunch of women standing around your car? or a vaguely threatening woman sitting near you? What about the boss’s office? Are you worried that she will make a move on you? We are raised to see men as more dangerous than women, and so they become more dangerous than women.
There is no reason why a woman can’t be as dangerous and obnoxious as a man. Most (certainly not all) domestic violence is perpetrated by men, what if women took to beating their significant others with a bat if they were late home, didn’t do the washing or made meatloaf not steak for tea? Most inappropriate comments and cat-calls made in public are made by men, why can’t women shout out to men in the street about how we like their rear ends or shoulders? (I wonder if that would make job-site workmen put their shirts back on?). Most random acts of intimidation in public places is done by men, why can’t women stare at a man alone on the bus, move closer to them and whisper lewd comments in their ears? Why can’t women follow a man walking alone on the street ‘just to watch his behind jiggle’ and make him cross the street? Maybe it is time to show men what it feels like to live a life of constant vigilance, what it feels like to be always subtly under attack. If they won’t listen when we tell them, maybe they will believe when we show them.
I’m not sure whether women behaving like men would solve anything, maybe it would make things worse. I think I am just angry and venting. My world is safe and secure at the moment, I am happy and valued, but it wasn’t always so and my daughters have to live in the world outside my bubble, I would love to make it a better one for them.