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The Long Walk Home

April 2, 2011

Every damsel finds herself in distress now and then. And what’s better after a long, hard night than the company of a long, hard knight? (ba-DUM!)

It’s finally Spring here in the Big Smoke, and that means one thing: PATIOS! But it also means that the weather is pleasant enough to enjoy a nice walk home after one of the many parties you’ll no doubt soon be attending once everyone comes out of hibernation.

So let’s imagine: it’s after last call, the party’s winding down, the subway isn’t running and you’re too broke for a cab. But that’s okay, because you only live a few blocks away, and you were smart enough to wear the flats tonight. It’s a route you’ve walked so often, that you could navigate with your eyes closed. But then there’s that voice, that little voice you hear, warning you about the big bad dangers lurking in the night. It turns out it’s coming from the guy standing next to you. He’s offering to walk you home. After all, there are dangerous people out there.

Let me make something clear: most men are perfectly nice guys just trying to do the right thing (and most people would rather do the right thing for someone they’d like to get to know better, if you know what I mean.) Most people in modern society truly believe that it isn’t safe for a woman “out there”, and they can hardly be blamed for that. On the whole, there’s nothing wrong with any of this.

But let me change tracks for a moment, if I may.

Another day. You’re standing on the subway platform. It’s quiet- there’s only one other person waiting. You have a bit of time to be alone with your thoughts. You’re thinking about work. You’re thinking about your friends. You’re thinking about art. You’re thinking about your finances. You’re thinking about your favourite sports team, the novel you’re writing, a documentary you watched the night before, or whether Japan will ever recover. You’re just being a person, doing your thing, minding your business, in your world.

Suddenly an announcement breaks over the loudspeakers, interrupting your train of thought. It advertises the “Request Stop Program”, which allows women traveling alone at night on a bus or streetcar to ask the driver to let them out between stops. There are women’s groups who lobbied long and hard for this (because if it ain’t long and hard, it ain’t worth doing. Zing! I’m on fire tonight!). And it’s important for women to have this option. Because, well… you know… I’m not going to say it, but we’re all thinking it.

Well, okay. I am going to say it.

RAPE.

The TTC has helpfully reminded you that on your way home tonight, there’s a good chance that you will be violated in the most indescribably horrific way possible, and your remains, should you be lucky enough not to survive the process, shall be buried in a pig farm. Thank god they broadcast that publicly at all hours, so that children may know what’s in store for them!

You don’t mean to, but you cast a glance down to that other individual down the platform. You’ve just been offered a service that he doesn’t get, because he’s male. So why don’t men get the same treatment? Because they’re not victims- they’re the RAPISTS! Now, the relationship between the two of you has been established whether you like it or not- you are a (potential) victim. And that guy minding his business, listening to his iPod, completely oblivious to your presence, well… HE’S GOING TO RAPE YOU.

I’m not even going to get into the injustice this does to men (1. The implicit accusation that they’re all rapists. 2. A service provided only to women? Isn’t that discrimination? What if he’s being chased by a mugger? Or the mob? Or gay rapists?). I’ll leave that to others. My problem with this program is larger. It is sociological. Anthropological, even. It’s a big deal, is what I’m saying. And it can be summed up like this: the automatic and perpetual victimization of women in society.

In almost any movie that focuses on some kind of love story, the girl (be she the protagonist or simply the hero’s love interest) must choose between two men: the one she’s attracted to (who is attractive), and the one who’s attracted to her (who isn’t). Inevitably, the guy she wants (high school quarterback, dude in a Ferrari, whatever) ends up being a douchebag. If the movie really plays its cards right, he’ll even, at some point, try to rape her. This is when the little nerdy down-on-his-luck underdog steps in and saves the day (or, if he’s George McFly, hires him as the butler). The female thus realizes her moral obligation to return his affections and they live happily ever after.

This teaches us so many lessons, nearly all of which are problematic, but today, I am going to focus on one:

There are two types of men in this world. Protectors or perpetrators. Knights in shining armour… or RAPISTS!

And since the divide is so definitive, it would be impossible for one to be the other, right?

Remember the opening scene in Great Expectations? Pip is on the marshes, when he is approached by a convict who demands he steal food for him. Does the convict convince Pip to obey him by threatening to kill him? Well, yeah, sort of, but remember what really scares Pip: the thought of That Young Man. The convict tells Pip that he has a partner, a young man whose heart is black as an abyss of evil who’d slice the poor boy open in a heartbeat. Hell, the convict is even his savior- if it hadn’t been for his intervention, the Young Man would’ve killed Pip already. So really, the Convict is just protecting him. Right?

Well, no. There is no question that the convict gets his way with Pip by use of the threat of a sinister presence lurking in the shadows. Would you argue that the convict isn’t technically threatening Pip, since the act of violence he suggests would technically come from another? I wouldn’t. Of course he’s threatening Pip. Can you honestly point out the effective difference between “do what I say or I’ll kill you”, and “do what I say or someone else will kill you”? If Pip were a girl, you certainly could.

If a man were to say to a woman, “let me walk you home or I’ll harm you”, there would be no question as to which category (protector or perpetrator) he falls into. But if he says, “let me walk you home or someone else will harm you,” suddenly he’s a gentleman. And they say chivalry is dead.

Before I go further, let me make something absolutely clear: I AM NOT SAYING THAT MEN WHO OFFER TO WALK A WOMAN HOME ARE RAPISTS. Again, they’re probably perfectly nice guys who are just doing what they’ve been taught is the right thing to do. They probably want to spend some time with you, finish up that interesting conversation you were having, or, worst-case scenario, are angling for an invitation upstairs. They are going out of their way to make you feel safe, and even though they may or may not have self-serving ends, any way you cut it, in the end they are being kind. I have no problem with this.

Where it gets bothersome is when you dig into why they believe that this is necessary in the first place. The streets are apparently crawling with rapists after dark, and only they can fend off these dragons with their imaginary swords. You are clearly a damsel in distress, a rape victim waiting to happen. He sees you the same way he’d see you if you were standing on a subway platform during a Request Stop announcement. “Poor girl. She’s already a victim. She just doesn’t know it yet.” Whether he’s interested in you sexually or just being a nice guy, the image of you he has in his head is of a shivering, frightened little girl who just found out her body doesn’t belong to her anymore. The thing is, if you walk around all day thinking of yourself as a victim, you will be one, whether anything ever happens to you or not. You certainly don’t need the company of someone else who thinks that of you, too.

Parents get their children to brush their teeth and eat their vegetables by telling them that, if they don’t, the Boogeyman will get them. In just one of the many ways in which women are condescended to and infantilized by our society, we are told that if we dare to walk the streets alone at night, the Boogeyman will get us, too. Apparently, all rapists are homeless insomniacs with nothing better to do than lurk in alleyways hoping a solo female will stumble into their clever trap. I honestly, truly, wish that were so.

Women are raped by their boyfriends. Their husbands. Their fathers. Their teachers. Their co-workers. Their friends. And sometimes, by the guy who walks them home at night.

I won’t say that it isn’t true that women get raped on the street, but it doesn’t happen nearly as frequently as sexual assault by an acquaintance. Take into account also that, for various reasons, domestic sexual abuse is rarely reported, while the random attacks are sensationalized, and sometimes, aren’t what they seem.

A brief example. During the summer, I was walking down a busy street in the middle of the day when a dude marched right up to me and punched me in the shoulder. Now dislocated, my right arm was useless to me in blocking the following blows (good thing I’m a black belt, because my left arm handled the job quite nicely). His attack was purely violent- he did not attempt to rob me, and he certainly did not engage in anything remotely sexual. Even though he was a total stranger, he had seemed to pick me specifically out of the crowd. Afterward, I racked my brain to figure out what it was that set me apart. This happened in Chinatown- was it because I was white? I’m pretty sure there were other Caucasians around, and besides, if that was his standard reaction to white people, then this guy probably would’ve been put behind bars long ago. It could have been my University of Toronto T-shirt. Maybe he was a York professor. Or perhaps he’s simply a gingerphobe. (Yeah, I’m thinking gingerphobe). Or, maybe, it was because I’m a woman. But there were many other women on the street that day, and he left them all alone, so I’m pretty sure it wasn’t that. And yet, from the cops to the hospital staff to my own friends who heard the story, what do you suppose they all assumed?

I’ve noticed that in news reports about random violent incidents, the gender of the victim affects how they get presented. A guy gets attacked, and, if it gets reported at all, it’s a violent incident, and maybe drugs or gang warfare are involved. If a woman gets attacked, it’s an attempted rape, and all women should be on alert.

A little while ago an apartment near my campus was broken into at night. As the residents were female, an alert was sent out warning all women to stay indoors. There was no evidence presented that the break-in had anything to do with rape. Maybe they just had a nice tv? Maybe the perp was female? Everyone assumed that it was rape-related because ‘female’ equals ‘sex object’, and when you add violence, you get ‘rape victim’.

You see it in chain emails as well, those fake stories that “totes for real happened to a friend of mine”, urban legends about gas stations and babies crying on doorsteps, warning women to stay indoors where it’s safe, and not go out to claim their part of the big bad world. For their own safety, of course.

This has to stop.

This isn’t about holding doors open or laying down your coat in the rain. This isn’t my way of saying that empowered females can take care of ourselves, thank you very much. When a man offers to walk a woman home at night to protect her from all the rapists out there, then HE is the one victimizing her, by identifying her in that role, defining her as helpless. HE is the one threatening her by bringing up this fictional boogeyman. He is not protector, but perpetrator. In short, whether he knows it or not, he’s being kind of rapey.

When I tell a guy that his assistance isn’t necessary, it isn’t because I’m trying to show how empowered I am. The fact is, I have been through things in my life that would probably make him shit his pants. I’ve been attacked. I’ve been shot at. I’ve been strangled. I’ve been robbed, manipulated, and tortured both physically and mentally. And as for the big R… yes, I’ve been there too. And if you think I’m weak, then think about the guts it takes to admit that on the internet. Inside of me now is a force stronger than any bogeyman- the will and determination to never be a victim again. Not in his eyes, not in yours, not in society’s, and not in my own. I know my streets like the back of my hand, and am the worst insomniac I know. I can hold my liquor and see in the dark, and nothing stops my party. The streets at night belong to me. And they belong to you. They belong to anyone with the guts and gumption to claim them, and you can never have that as long as you identify as a poor little victim. Men come to me to ask if I can walk THEM home, the smart ones anyway, because they know that whoever fucks with me will feel the sum totality of all the rage and power I have stored up inside for just such an occasion. I will tear apart every last shred of that which opposes me before I even feel the impact, and you will know pain. I will destroy you before you touch me. I will fuck you up.

Own the night. Own the streets. Know your way home and be able to get there in the dark. Never rely on others for your own security. Be secure. Be a survivor. Be your own goddamn knight.

Rape is never the victim’s fault for falling into the Boogeyman’s trap. It can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere. There are dangerous people everywhere, and you can’t hide from all of them. But you can know them when you see them, and have the capacity to deal with them.

There are dangerous people out there.

Be the worst one.

Note: If you’re in Toronto, join me and countless others in the Slut Walk, a march to take back the streets and wear whatever we want without being accused of inciting sexual assault by “dressing like sluts”. Meet tomorrow (April 3rd), at 1:30pm on the south side of Queen’s Park.

Also, read my other blog, where I talk more in-depth on this crucially important subject.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Rena permalink
    April 3, 2011 1:31 am

    This is so beautifully written. You’re the coolest chick I know! ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ Let's take back the night sometime!

  2. Mia Amateur permalink
    April 25, 2011 6:06 pm

    Behaviour is a mirror in which everyone displays his image.

  3. April 27, 2011 4:02 pm

    I think I love you. This one and your other one are some of the most powerful messages for SlutWalk that I have come across. Thank you for your strength.

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  1. Made For Walking « R.A.G.E.

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