Will Women Never Know Peace?
Walking down the street as a woman can sometimes be a perilous task. Honestly, most of the time, I’m chill. I’m listening to music or a podcast, I’m pretending I’m in a music video or fantasizing about being in a dope action sequence, just normal, walking-down-the-street thoughts.
But then something will happen. A man will call for my attention. Someone will yell at me through their open car window. I notice that I am about to walk through a crowd of men and brace myself for the comments that may or may not come. It sucks. It’s uncomfortable and I wish that I, and all women, didn’t have to go through that.
But what does that even mean? Do we want someone to step in and stop that from happening? Do we want the knowledge that men will face repercussions for making us uncomfortable for simply existing? Because I know what I want. I want a world where it doesn’t even occur to a man to make a woman uncomfortable for simply existing. I don’t want men to suppress their urges. I want them to not have those urges.
In 2018, I read Jessa Crispin’s Why I am Not a Feminist. Because I was reading it for my capstone, I skimmed through most of it, but one of her chapters has still stood out to me, even to this day. It’s the second to last chapter in the book, and it’s called “Why Safety is a Corrupt Goal”. When we live in a world where a history of sexual assault is as common in a presidential candidate as an Ivy League education, we just want to feel safe. When we live in a world where a global pandemic means that domestic violence skyrockets, we just want to feel safe. When we live in a world where we protect abusers and harassers and attack the people they’ve affected, we just want to feel safe. But safety is a corrupt goal.
As Crispin says, when we feel hurt, abused, or oppressed, our instinct is to make the person hurting, abusing, or oppressing us just…stop. We want to protect ourselves from further harm, and that’s a completely normal reaction. However, when we prioritize stopping an action rather than stopping the conditions that make that action possible, what does that give us? It may mean that we feel safer walking down the street, but that surface level safety means that the homeless have been pushed out or that an increased police presence has silenced those that live there.
Jenna and I currently live in DC’s most boring neighborhood. Don’t believe me? We live minutes away from one of the top-rated elementary schools in the District. Not exactly the ideal environment for two twenty-somethings (!!). In our quest to find a place to live that we A. could afford and B. wouldn’t run into school children more than adults our own age, we had to think about the “safety” of different neighborhoods. And I have to be honest, I did start to get nervous. Maybe it was unwise to give up what for all intents and purposes is a safe neighborhood for one that on paper isn’t as safe. But what does safety mean? It means separate (we have no metro and a really shitty bus line). It means racially and economically homogeneous. It means an illusion of safety when in actuality, Jenna and I have both been catcalled and followed in this neighborhood. It also means that I get complacent in my “safe” neighborhood and don’t think about the conditions we need to create peace.
In a peaceful world, I am walking down the street and no one says shit to me. Not because they can’t. But because we have cultivated an environment where men truly understand the fear that comes from harassing and assaulting women and reject using that fear as a means to feel powerful. It means we’re better as people.
Maybe that’s naive. Maybe that’s a hundred years in the future and maybe that’s never. In the meantime, I’ll still be on alert. I don’t walk down empty roads with my headphones on. If I’m alone at night, I make sure I’m on the phone so at least one person is aware of my disappearance if I get kidnapped. In the meantime, I’m striving for safety.
But if I had one wish, it would be that someday, women will know peace*
*This sentence doubles as my response to the question-and-answer portion of the twenty-something. beauty pageant.
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