Last month I was walking to my favourite bar, which lies on the Reeperbahn, the red-light-district of Hamburg. It has sex-shops and striptease bars, but mainly “just” bars, and, from ten to two in the morning, mostly drunk 16 year olds. I was crossing the street, and walking up the street was a man, who I ignored. He looked faintly like a friend of mine, but I didn’t wear my glasses and my friend had told me he wouldn’t be coming to the bar that evening. But the main reason why I ignored him is that, as a woman walking in that part of town, you try to ignore men. You make no eye contact, you only vaguely look in their direction. To assess the threat, while not giving any opportunity for comments. Let me repeat that: to assess the threat.
When we both entered the bar a minute later, amidst much hugging and laughing, I was giving a mild ribbing about not recognising him, and I both joined in with the “must be getting old” jokes, but also with explaining why I was deliberately not looking at him straight. Now, that friend being rational and reasonable, I know that he understood that reason. But I have a faint doubt, that he *grokked* it, which is why this whole thing is still nagging me, one month later. I strongly believe that most men cannot comprehend the amount of latent fear that permeates a woman’s life. I know they know the caution with which one walks down a dark alley at night. I doubt they understand, that for a lot of women, the default state of being is one of constantly assessing threats, constantly judging strangers, whether they are likely too grope, harress or rape you.
If you are a bloke, please imagine (I really hope you only have to imagine, not remember) standing in a full bus and feeling somebody’s erect penis being pushed against your arse. There are two things that make me angry about that situation. The first one obviously being the asshat doing the rubbing. The second one being that if you randomly asked ten women if they had ever had that happen to them, their response would likely be something like “you mean the last time?” or “you mean this month?”. You are constantly living with that. You choose your seat in a train or bus not only based on where there are empty seats, but which seats has the least threatening neighbours. You choose your bar not only by how much you like it, but how safely you can get there and back. Sometimes you chose your footwear not only by how much you like it, but how fast you could *run*.
Now. I am not saying that all women live in a constant state of terror. I know I don’t. When I walk down a dark alley at night, I am more afraid of being mugged and/or murdered than of being raped, because most rapes happen at home, by partners, friends or “friends”, and not out there by the bogeyman. But that is the rational part of me. What I truly believe most women have, is this rubber ball of underlying *awareness* bouncing around in their stomach. It never rests, it never does not roll around in some back part of your conscience. As a woman, you are always on your toes when dealing with strangers or casual friends.
We teach women and girls, that it is *their* responsibility to avoid rape or harrassment. If they get raped or harrassed, it must be, obviously, because they haven’t been vigilant enough. You are being raised differently when you are a girl. You are bombarded endlessly with “be careful”s. Be careful where you are going, who you hang out with, what you are wearing, what you are saying, what you are drinking. Because *if you do not, terrible things are going to happen to you*. How many boys grow up with “hey, you know what, girls are human too, so make an effort not to grope, harrass or rape them, ‘mkay?”. As commenter pecan wrote in a thread about rape and rape prevention “I think one of the reasons that this topic makes women so angry when it’s suggested that they dress or behave in a certain way to avoid being raped is because many already do.”
Last month there was a long thread on Shapely Prose about harrassment. Please read it, at least parts of it. Mabye not to remember each individual example. But to become slackjawed at how “normal”, how ever present these harrassments are in the average woman’s life.