WOMEN’S SAFETY: the messages we send women about who’s responsible.

Today I went for a walk by myself. Something I try to do most days. I wound up at the park and decided to lay in the grass. Something I used to do all the time as a kid. I looked around and cautiously decided to lay on my back and stare at the clouds. I began to daydream with my eyes closed while the breeze blew across my face.

It took less than 5 minutes in this serene moment for a vulgar man to walk past and start making crude comments just loud enough so I could hear. He sneered about what he wanted to do to my body. It was repulsive. And violating. It was also completely “normal” and unsurprising.

Most likely every woman reading this has experienced something like this at some point. I have been assaulted. Followed home. And grabbed. Once a (completely coherent) man kicked me on a bus traveling through Green Lake (a “safe” neighborhood), and told me that I deserved to die because I was a woman. I haven’t enjoyed riding the bus much since then. Many men do not realize that it is a privilege for them to be able to enjoy nature in solitude without this fear; for them to seamlessly plan their trips throughout the city without needing to consider the safety of their transit decisions. When I am walking along a path and see bushes or heavy trees, I cross the street to distance myself as much as possible so as to avoid a possible attacker.

It is a tragedy that I must separate myself from nature in fear of violent men. But this is something we have taught ourselves to do as women. Because, of course, we are responsible should we become victim to someone elses’ vile actions.

It has become the “norm” that women must always be cautious and protect ourselves. We shouldn’t “be stupid.” We must take self defense classes. Carry a knife or pepper spray. Never walk alone. Especially at night. Don’t wear clothing that is too “suggestive” or revealing, because society has sexualized our bodies to the point that we have little ownership over them in public spaces. And if we don’t do these things and are attacked, we are blamed for not having done enough. Women are responsible for preventing violent actions that are not our own.

I vividly remember when this reality first became apparent to me. I was in the 8th grade and my junior high school passed new rules about clothing: girls could not wear “spaghetti strap” tang tops and our shorts or skirts had to be finger-tip length. Boys did not have any rules about their clothing. When asked about why this was a rule, we were told that boys often inappropriately “snapped” girls tank tops and that short shorts were “too revealing.” I had long arms, so at the time I was mostly just annoyed by the fact that my shorts now had to be just a couple inches above my knees. But I remember thinking how strange it was that girls were being told what to wear instead of boys being punished for violating girls’ space and bodies. It seems nothing has changed since then.

At what point do we decide none of this is simply a matter of “boys being boys?” At what point will people who hear men snarling offensive comments at an innocent woman intervene, instead of walking by as if they are not witnessing a moment of violence? At what pont will women have the fredom to enjoy nature in solitude, without constant fear of being attacked by another human verbally or otherwise? At what point will men be held responsible for accountable for their actions, instead of women being responsible for preventing them? And what does it take to get to this point? Because I’m so tired of accepting this as normal.

This blog, like all of my blogs, has no conclusion. No revalation. No ending. No final message to drill home and demonstrate that I have all of the solutions to end violence against women. My intention only is to share my experience and insights with the hope that it stirs something in your own awareness. If you feel stirred, let me know what you’re thinking.

In peace and strength,