Thursday, August 28, 2008

culture of fear.



As I was walking to Whole Foods (I'm not normally this organic, it's just the only grocery store in the area I know of. If I could I'd be guzzling Diet Coke and devouring Entenmann's orangutan-killing chocolate donuts, trust), I started thinking about how it was already almost dark at 8. I decided that while I'm here, in an unfamiliar city and all, I should be inside by nightfall when alone. My little walk got me wondering whether this is a normal (or, I should say, common) mindset to have.

Before I went to college, I never worried about getting raped. It just never crossed my mind. Once I started my first year at JMU, I noticed my three best guy friends taking certain...protective steps, I guess, around me. I lived in the crappy dorms on the ugly side of campus (with the worst roommate ever) while they lived together in the nice honors dorms, a bit of a walk away. When we would hang out, I'd always go to their place to experience air conditioning and life without HockeyBabe (my roommate). When I left at night, at least one of them would always insist on walking me home. It felt pretty condescending, to be honest. I even wondered if it was a sign of romantic interest (AWKWARD). But then I realized it was their way of "protecting" me. This same type of thing happened when I went to school in Florida.

But I don't know if it's just me or not. I'm very, very tiny (not even five feet). I look young, weak, and unassuming. That weak part is definitely true. Am I just an easy target? Do most women have this constant fear of being attacked while walking alone at night? Do men?

Part of me thinks this attitude is very defeatist. My best friend Laura and I used to always get into overly-excited rants where we'd talk progressively louder and louder about the hypocrisy of society and end up red in the face over it. We'd just agree on a point and start yelling complementary statements about how flawed a certain way of thinking was. I think a few innocent bystanders witnessed our fury over the years. (Those were AMAZING times.)

Anyway, by thinking of ourselves as victims, by saying we can't walk home alone at night, can't drink too much, can't wear revealing clothing, aren't we just perpetuating our status as victims? We're never going to fix the problem if the answer is to avoid it. (Girls, just dress modestly, drink lightly and travel in packs. Rape will never happen to you again! Except for the date variety.) Furthermore, by saying our actions play a role in any rape or attempted rape, aren't we also partially blaming the victim? Because in the end, does it matter what we're wearing? Walking home alone might make a difference, okay. But if a man is looking to rape a woman, does it matter if she's wearing a miniskirt or a burqa? Do muslim women not get raped? I haven't been able to find any statistical evidence that clothing matters.

The line between keeping safe and thinking of yourself as a victim is tightrope-thin.

And why is it that women are constantly told how to avoid rape? Why isn't the emphasis on telling men not to rape women? There's a nation-wide group called Oneinfour, a support system for rape and attempted rape survivors, that's run by men. This I commend, but I'm not sure their work involves going to fraternities, high schools, or even elementary schools and emphasizing to young men the need to respect women.

The fact that men did not have to learn how to rape, the fact that it comes naturally, universally, is perhaps why I have such a pessimistic view of humanity. And its historical significance! Unlike school shootings and other "contextual" patterns of violence that have emerged fairly recently, this is something we've been grappling with for all of history. There's probably no easy fix.

Portland feels like a safe city. Sort of like Barcelona feels safe, in that what you have to worry about is being pickpocketed rather than murdered. Better to take my money than my life, of course (Actually, take my credit card and I'll just cancel it, bitchezzzz!). In fact, the incidence of homicide in Spain is so low that the current "most wanted" serial killer on the loose has killed two people over the course of several years. Two. I think one of those was accidental.

But parts of Portland are scary. All cities have scary parts. And what makes me sad about this fact, beyond the paralyzing effect it has on women, is that I love city life but don't know how to reconcile wanting to be safe with wanting to be autonomous. If I move to Richmond or DC, walking alone at night is not a "safe" option. So what do I do? Drive everywhere? Get a big dog? A gun? A taser? ...A boyfriend?

Relying on some "other" for my safety doesn't make me feel very strong. It makes me feel like a second class citizen.

1 comment:

laura said...

Oh, I know this is way late.

But you forgot to mention the awkward silence we'd have after the yelling. Then "You want another beer?"

"SURE!"

Then we'd have one more and then sleep like kittens..

This is how I chose to remember it.

-L