I have been writing on women’s rights for a long time, and lately the flood of increasing incidents of physical and sexual threat to women are so overwhelming, that is seems naive to even write about stereotypes or attitudes, though of course, they are at the foundation.
I often wonder what the way out is, how we can move toward a more dignified existence for women, and keep thinking in circles. Everything is interdependent, interrelated, and prevents other aspects from transforming safely. For example, women asserting themselves more or fighting back puts them in the way of a social and possibly sexual and physical backlash, expecting society to support their freedom depends on the risk to them, the risk to them depends on policing, politicng depends on resources, resource allocation depends on government priorities… it goes on and on and on into paralysis.
As violence against women continues unabated, it is quite clear that the safety measures are failing. It is quite clear that the half-hearted government efforts are going nowhere or even being sustained. It is quite clear that writing articles, debates on television after major incidents are going nowhere. For all the media attention, media still doesn’t even have a proper beat to keep the spotlight on. Regular crime reporters make brief forays into crimes against women if something is scandalous enough. There is no page that focuses relentless on one of the most crucial aspects of the country. There is no deeper analysis or strategy or think tank interested in this unprofitable but massive zone.
Short version. It is not working. It is time to take apart and rebuild what is not working.
I have come to the conclusion that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is insanity. Time to do something different. In my view, it is discarding this defunct concept of safety. To experiment with greater or lesser risk. Lesser risk, I don’t speak, because it is possible only for those with greater safety available, or in cultures like Saudi Arabia. Of course, that doesn’t mean completely safe either.
Increasingly, it is apparent that there is no such thing as safety. Women are not even safe inside their own homes. An astonishing incident posted on Maidumji’s blog begins with this woman traveling in the Delhi metro who tries to get space from a person leaning in invasively close on her, and gets victimized by the entire compartment at the end of it. It is fairly clear that even in full public sight, simply asking a sexual aggressor to back off can’t be expected to work either. Let us just say… safety is lip service. There is no safety.
It is time to create something else in its place, and my inclination is to create freedom. To deliberately break all those safety barriers, because they are one way. You are not supposed to exit the barrier, because it is not safe, but staying within it isn’t safe either. It is time to call the bluff and forget about safety altogether and make decisions based on other things. Things that really matter to us for their own sake, rather than some vague bribe to survival.
Want to eat ice cream at 2am, go out and do it. Want to wear skimpy clothers everywhere? Do it. Want to challenge people getting aggressive with you? Do it. Will you be safe? Maybe. Maybe not. The same as if you didn’t do it.
If we do this, are we likely to get hurt more often? Yes. How much more often? I don’t know.
Will this mean increased crimes against women? possibly. In my view, it is a price we are paying whether we want or not. If we pay more of it, but get something precious in return, it is worth it.
But I bet we are likely to become more confident people too. As long as we are apologetically taking space demarcated for us “for our own good”, no matter what the words say, we are second class citizens with no particular purpose being served for the reduced rights.
It is time to see the world like an exotic wildlife tour, which is an exciting adventure and sure, there is the risk of an animal mauling you to death, but that isn’t the key point of the tour.
It is time to live our dreams regardless of dangers. To embrace that dangers are a fact of life. To pick ourselves up after accidents, dust ourselves off and keep walking. And to be extinguished maybe or reach a better world.
Won’t that mean more women may also die? Sure, yes. But it isn’t like women aren’t dying at the moment. There is no particular advantage to be stuck at this level of risk. Higher levels of risk bring more freedoms, lower levels of risk bring more security in a cage. It is time to explore the options and pick ones that bring us results we want, rather than ones assigned to us based on someone else’s estimation that is rooted in their guilt over harm to us, rather than their willingness to set us free.
In doing this, I think we will also break several delusions. The first delusion is that “women need to live”. Unless a society wants itself reduced largely to men, they have to confront the fact that men need women to live too! Another delusion to break is that we are a relatively safe society for women – astonishingly there are many who still parrot this. We are a safe society for women while we hide the women – then too, not always. With women in the open, are we really a safe society? Let us find out. A third delusion to break is also that women cannot survive without the protection of men. Let us find that out too.
What will happen? I don’t know, but my guess is if enough women do this and keep doing this, in my view, they will transform into a mirror for the world.
Do you not care that you are recommending danger? Yes, I do. Danger scares me too. But more than danger, I am scared of spending my life waiting for safe opportunities. One moment may be safe, another may not be. Safety can be reduced, increased, built. A moment spent is gone. Forever. A part of my life lived in fear. I suspect that if you take a long lived woman’s life and calculate the time she lived following her own desires, it may not be all that different from that of the reckless thirty year old who died too early for it. I choose the freedom, because it is a gamble, and if I survive it, I will LIVE more in a year than I would in a decade.
The next time you avoid going late because no one can escort you, the next time you cringe from a lewd comment on the street, the next time you are not taken seriously because of your gender, the next time you are the unwilling recipient of sexual greed… think about what you would do if you didn’t fear consequences. Then do it.
A moment of glorious time is worth an eternity without name.