This blog is one that’s been bubbling for a while as it’s something that I frequently have in my head, especially during the long nights of Winter. And then, last week in Melbourne, a woman was raped and murdered while walking home from work and it has pushed it to the front of my mind again.
It’s a terrible thing to happen and the fact it was somewhere so familiar and close to home made it all the more stirring. What made it infinitely worse was the reaction – police reminders to women about how to keep themselves safe and some media outlets reporting it as if she had any control over what had happened.
It’s not a new story. The message we’re told, either directly or indirectly, is that women shouldn’t be out alone at night. I have frequently been told by people that I shouldn’t run on my own at night and, if I do, I should make sure I don’t wear headphones and go only in ‘safe’ places. I’m not sure what constitutes a ‘safe’ place and people seem to have different definitions, depending on who I ask. Busy places or out of the way places or suburban neighbourhoods or out in the countryside.
I consider my biggest danger to be from cars reversing out of driveways or turning into roads and not seeing me and I do what I can to avoid such issues. I wear bright, reflective clothing and a headlamp. I am very mindful of driveways and when crossing roads and, while I do run with headphones in, the sound is low and my headphones allow some outside noise in so that I am more aware of vehicles around me. I am happy to share the responsibility for my safety with drivers in this way as we are both exactly that – responsible.
I refuse, however, to share responsibility for my safety with any man who chooses to attack women. Nothing I do or don’t do will make any difference or reduce those odds. Women are attacked during daylight and darkness – I can’t avoid both. They’re attacked while out in the community and in their homes – again, I can’t avoid both. They’re attacked by strangers as well as (more commonly) by people they know and love. Yet again, doesn’t give me many options. The only possible way to keep me safe is for those men so inclined to stop attacking women.
Through all of the conversations that happen when horrendous crimes like this occur, there’s often a defensiveness in that it’s not all men. And that’s true, it’s not. We’re really talking about a very, very small percentage of the population. However, even if other men (and women) aren’t perpetrators of violence, we all have a role to play in changing the dialogue as it’s this conversation that sets the foundation that those men build their warped ideas and actions on.
We need to be better at calling each other out on the things at the bottom of the pyramid, the day to day statements, jokes and off hand comments that build the wrong foundation. And this includes well intentioned but completely unhelpful safety advice. Don’t tell me not to run alone, or at night, or with headphones in. Each of those bits of advice, in small but meaningful ways, reinforce the idea that my actions are what control whether I’m shown respect or not. And that simply isn’t true.
Lisa Wilkinson of ‘The Project’ said it so much more eloquently than I have so please, watch this.