On Fretting

by naomiparker

You may have picked up on the fact that I’m a nerd. In true nerd fashion, I didn’t often go out with friends unless it involved band rehearsals. So it caught me off guard when, as I was preparing to leave for college, the warnings began. “Don’t walk alone at night,” my mother said. “Stay aware of your surroundings,” one brother said. “Don’t drink the jungle juice,” said the other. “It’s not really juice.”

I didn’t take kindly to what I felt was unnecessary fretting. Our campus is small and safe. The rare cases of rape and assault reported are almost never between strangers. The people at big state schools had something to worry about, but not me. Certainly everyone on campus would agree.

But they didn’t. Our first night of orientation, we were lectured about safety. The speaker admitted that our campus is quiet and safe, and that she rarely gave a second thought to walking alone at night. She then admonished that practice as foolhardy and suggested we all try a bit harder to stay safe. Granted, she was a hired speaker. A precautionary measure. Looks good for the school. Certainly all this fretting didn’t infiltrate our everyday lives.

But it did, and it still does. I had a girlfriend, a rather tall and burly one at that, who refused to walk back to her car by herself if it was dark. One of our supervisors prohibits me from walking home from closing shift alone. She has often assigned a male co-worker (whom I don’t know very well) to “walk me back.” In fact, there is a table where I work, among other places, where you can go and pick up a free bodyguard if you don’t want to walk alone. This people were making it very hard for me to be in denial.

So what is it that makes me (and quite a few others) so ill at ease in these situations? I am in support of the bodyguard tables and the hired speakers in theory, but in practice I just don’t like them. I found my answer in an essay by Lisa Maria Hogeland entitled “Fear of Feminism: Why Young Women Get the Willies”.  Most of the essay discusses in detail the points I mentioned in my last post, but then there came a simple observation that I’m embarrassed I didn’t make for myself.

Young women who have not been victims of men’s violence hate being asked to identify with it; they see the threat to their emergent sense of autonomy and freedom not in the fact of men’s violence, but in feminist analyses that make them identify with it.”

I had to admit that I was (and still am) in the mindset of “it can’t happen to me”. This is often viewed as a personal decision, with personal consequences. Unfortunately, it has consequences for the feminist movement, and in particular for rape awareness activism. Going to an event like Take Back the Night, volunteering at a women’s shelter, or even listening to your fellow Gadflies denounce the rape culture is very difficult for those of us who would rather not admit that violence against women is a pervasive problem in our society. Our uneasiness can turn us against our feminist allies, and worse, our apathy can convince people that there is no problem.

While I may not be hiring a bodyguard anytime soon, I won’t let my discomfort prevent me from actively and publicly supporting feminism and rape awareness programs. And if your only reason for not attending an event or lecture is “talking about rape and violence is depressing/ uncomfortable/ unnecessary,” then I’m dragging you with me.