By Jodi A. Shaw
Today, for the first time in my life, I was concerned for my safety based on my gender.
Working in a northwest Calgary neighbourhood, I was informed by a resident that a “perv” had reached inside a woman’s bedroom window (in a house just down the street) and fondled her breasts in the middle of the night. She indicated to me the address of the man she suspected as being the “perv.” Just minutes before I had been on his doorstep.
I wasn’t afraid, though — just a little uncomfortable. I thanked the woman for the heads up, and told her, “I’m not worried. I’ll be fine.”
“You have to be!” She said. So I asked why. “Because,” she answered, “you’re a woman.”
I’ve always rejected the notion that I should live my life on edge and constantly on guard simply because I am a woman. I resent the term “weaker sex,” though I do acknowledge that yes, most women are smaller in size and stature, and therefore not as strong, as most men. So does that mean it’s time for me to admit that I am less safe in this world because I am a woman?
I’ve always known my risks — girls learn from an early age to be extra careful. We are made aware of all the potentially dangerous situations: Walking to your car alone, drinking too much while out with friends, leaving a drink unattended, using public transportation alone at night, to name a few. Not to mention methods of prevention: Use the buddy system, always tell someone where you’re going and call them when you arrive, stick to busy streets and well lit areas, don’t wear your hair in a ponytail because it’s easy for an attacker to grab, and so on. We are told throughout our lives how not to get attacked. How not to get raped.
And then the onus is on us. But why should we live in fear?
Women need to be informed and aware, not afraid. Knowledge is power. Of course, we should also be aware of dangerous situations and take preventative measures. I walk alone at night on a semi-regular basis and I’m seldom afraid. I’m always paying attention and I’m always making smart choices. I walk on the sidewalk where there’s adequate lighting, not only because it’s safe but because the sidewalk is safer than the street and the lights help me see where I’m going. But that’s just common sense, not fear.
We also need to talk to the boys.
Tell them when they’re young. Tell them throughout their lives, as vigorously as the women have been warned, not to attack or rape. Tell the boys: if you see a woman walking alone at night, leave her alone. Insist that men do not abuse their position as the “stronger sex.” Instill in them the same concern for every scenario . . . if a woman’s bedroom window is unlocked, keep your hands out of it! A good friend of mine once said, “We wouldn’t have to protect our drinks if men would stop slipping drugs in them.”
Not that I was so composed as I walked my route. (I deliver mail.) After five or six warnings in half an hour, I started panic. I felt unsafe. There I was in broad daylight, a strong, confident woman capable of self-defense, shaken. Waiting for something bad to happen. And then I was angry, because I should not be afraid.
Telling me I’m more vulnerable makes me so.
My advice? I think all women should take self-defense courses. We owe it to ourselves; if someone else isn’t going to respect our bodies and our safety, we need to be equipped to do so ourselves. As early as elementary school girls should learn how to compensate for their smaller size, and how to protect themselves and ward off threats. And we should make a life-long commitment to taking courses and encouraging other women to take courses. When schools educate females by placing “No Means No” stickers and posters in the girls’ bathrooms, they should also appear in the boys’ bathrooms. Boys should be active participants in women’s safety.
Not all men are rapists, attackers, or peeping toms and I don’t think we should treat them as though they are. But we should educate them equally so that boys grow up with an understanding of what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour, and what their role is in women’s safety.
As women we should stop allowing fear to dominate us. We don’t have to be afraid to be safe.