There’s a classroom activity done in Women’s Studies courses that illustrates the differences between what it’s like to be a man in the world and what it’s like to be a woman in the world. It’s very basic; I mean “in the world” in the sense of “walking down the street”. The men in the room are asked to describe the things they do to ensure their safety when they go out. The usual response is crickets. When women are asked how they keep themselves safe, there’s a flood of responses. Never go out alone. Carry mace. Hold your keys between your fingers so you can a) jab a potential attacker with them and b) aren’t fumbling around at your car like a sitting duck while you try to unlock the door. Imagine what it’s like if you happen to be trans or gender queer or your sexuality doesn’t fit the dominant narrative. There’s a whole pantheon of extra things you have to do to stay safe, then.
I tend to disregard all these ingrained rules for being Out and About While Female. It’s not a smart decision to wander around as if I have the same privilege as men, but I do it anyway because I’m really mad that I’m denied the simple right to feel safe in my own community. My logic is nonsensical, and I’ve regretted my lack of mace/key shanks/rape whistles more than once when a man has felt okay stepping in my path, touching me in some way, or suggesting I spend my evening with him.
In our culture, we teach girls and women to be constantly on guard and take preventative action. Violence is assumed, and it’s our responsibility to make sure it doesn’t happen to us. This also assumes that the violence will be inflicted on some other girl or woman, one who (maybe like me) wasn’t willing to play the precaution game. If you’re harassed, assaulted, or raped- it was probably your fault for not fending it off well enough. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could get our lives together and start reframing these issues as the perpetrator’s problem? Rape isn’t a woman’s issue. Rape is a man’s issue. Instead of teaching our girls and women not to get raped we should be teaching our boys and men (hold it in your holsters here, pals, this is one heckuva thunderbolt coming your way!) to not rape.
Last night, my friend and I were out together when we found ourselves propositioned by two of the most flap-mouthed, milk-livered gudgeons I’ve ever encountered. We just couldn’t seem to shake them- even when we moved to another bar entirely. This is the moment when that Personal Safety bit came up again. There’s a line between maintaining social decorum and feeling safe. These men were total jerks sure, but was it enough to justify being rude and giving them the what for? But, why is that even a question we felt the need to ask ourselves? This was our night out- why did we feel obligated to keep spending our time with these (im)perfect strangers?
Because we’re socialized to be nice and polite and pander to men. Ugh. Even us Angry Feminist Killjoys fall into that trap sometimes. And then one of the dudes bought us drinks. That’s the kiss of death on a quick getaway. My friend and I took one of those group trips to the bathroom so we could discuss how we were going to make our escape. That’s when we were told we couldn’t take alcohol into the bathroom. Because of course we couldn’t. This bar happened to have a strange setup where the bathroom was technically outside of the bar, so while I understand the liquor licensing issues going on, that presents a huge problem for Lady Safety.
What were we supposed to do with these brand new drinks? Leave them with the absolute codpieces who purchased them? That would definitely work… if we were hoping to get drugged. We ended up making a desperate plea to the employee barring our entrance. My friend said, “We’re with these awful guys” right as I said, “Look, I think they might actually slip rufinol in these.” She was very kind about it, babysat our alcohol, and I’m pretty sure she was ready to help us sneak out the back. Ladies have to help each other out, you know. We broke away shortly thereafter. The fellas didn’t take our departure kindly, which was just so endearing it made me want to change my mind and spend more time with them after all!
The point of this post wasn’t merely to complain about that uncomfortable experience, but to illustrate the frequency with which these same stupid situations crop up in our lives. Every time my lady friends and I go out without a gentleman amongst us, we end up spending the night fending off handsy dudes. Sometimes we meet really great people and have nice conversations and a fun time, but… there is always the assumption of violence. Is this situation safe? What do these people really want from us? Is this going to end poorly? The presence of even one male in our group will change the course of our night entirely. At one point, my friend mentioned her boyfriend to the dudes. Even though we’d been saying we weren’t interested all night, they didn’t hear it until a male partner was invented. Why is it that men will respect men (even imaginary ones!) more than they’ll respect the women they’re courting?
It’s exhausting. It’s frustrating that none of our male friends ever fully understand what we’re trying to tell them. I was out with two male friends once, and they couldn’t understand why I was frustrated when they vanished for a quarter of an hour. We were in an unfamiliar city and I had to spend the entire time alone, trying to escape leering eyes and unwanted advances. (I was tipsier than I should have been, because until they disappeared, I felt safe with my friends around.) I really pride myself on my independence, but there are some situations where even I know that being mouthy and snarky is going to get me into trouble.
Our culture keeps making all of this my problem, but it’s not. I shouldn’t have to be constantly sparring and on edge. Because this is a man’s problem. Apparently that’s a really difficult concept in our society, so here are a few things you can stop right now: expecting sex because you bought me a beer; assuming that I owe you my time; becoming rude and violent when I don’t give you my time or my body; touching me without my permission in any way, at any time, ever; generally being a nuisance. Let’s start there, okay?