Nine women, several of them runners, have been attacked in the Austin area this year. And every time it happens, the news reports focus on reminding women to run with partners, skip the headphones, and generally be vigilant while out running. I wrote about this back in January, but it’s back in the news today because this week yet another woman was assaulted in a public place.
While I appreciate the concern, and while I think this kind of advice is a reasonable short-term response in the face of what appears to be a serial attacker, I think we have a much larger issue to deal with here. There are people who think it’s okay to assault women. Women minding their own business–running, walking, whatever–and there are people who dismiss (or worse, justify) these attacks, that these women somehow deserved it because of what they were wearing or because they chose to run alone or with headphones.
And it’s not just limited to women in real-life situations, although it’s true that when I’m running I’ve been catcalled more times than I can count. This week I read (and shared, and discussed) a Facebook post from a woman named Kasey Rose-Hodge, who called out those who think these ridiculous bathroom laws are somehow protecting women from male predators in public restrooms. The reality is that, as she says, these men don’t need to dress up as women in order to attack women in restrooms. They can–and do–attack women anywhere.
Well guess what happened next? People who didn’t like her message reported her to Facebook for nudity/explicit content, and evidently FB automatically removes those reported posts rather than having human eyes review them first. Rose-Hodge lost her posting and private message privileges for 24 hours as a result. Not only did people disagree with her–I have no issue with that–but those who disagreed with her exploited the “report explicit content” function as a tactic to censor her. For using a public platform to express an opinion on a current event, she was attacked and harassed, her voice silenced.
I don’t want to live in a society that treats women as second-class citizens, whose opinions are worth less than men’s and need to be suppressed.
I don’t want to be protected from violence.
I don’t want to worry whether my ponytail will be used against me on my run today.
I don’t want to carry a fucking canister of pepper spray or look over my shoulder when I stop for water.
I don’t want to think about whether I should cross the street when I see another runner coming toward me, and I don’t want my default reaction to be “Is this guy a rapist?”
My comment (before the FB post disappeared) sums up my feelings on the subject:
I just had [my 13-year old son] read it and I think he was surprised to realize that this kind of thing is normal for women. I mean, just last night when we were running, not once but TWICE people yelled out their car windows at us. [My running partner] wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt that it was someone we knew; I wanted to flip them off. We did neither, mostly because we’ve been taught that responding could put us in danger. But because we were simply out in public, we were fair game for verbal assault. I don’t want to be protected from these assholes. We need to teach people not to be assholes. I’m starting with my kid.
Or, as Rose-Hodge says, we instead “focus more on teaching our sons not to rape vs teaching our daughters how to avoid being raped.”
Quite frankly, as a society we must address this not because women and girls are our daughters/girlfriends/wives. We must do it because we are human beings.
I’m starting with my kid. Will you?