Safety is a Strong Word // Caylee Hunter

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Although the recent movements of feminism and strides toward equality have garnered women more power, there are still so many ways in which women must monitor themselves. Women are often told that many domains are not safe to go—running alone along a desolate path or walking to their car in a dark parking garage. There are many subtle ways in which women are told to remain in a place of fear and that they must do everything they can to avoid the dangers that may be lurking around the corner.

In the United States, an estimated one in five women have been raped during their lifetime, equating to roughly 20 million women (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014). The attitudes about violence are reflective of gender norms regarding male domination over women as well as a power imbalance between genders.

There are many instances within the news where a woman was vulnerable to being attacked or “shouldn’t have been alone.” It is important to note the consideration and preparation women must put into their daily lives in order to remain safe. Women are often socialized to be responsible for the actions of others and that one choice can result in destruction or tragedy. We place such immense responsibility on women, to not only protect themselves but also to not provoke others in any way. The strength, time, and effort it takes to take up this responsibility is often overwhelming.

It’s worth thinking about how much you modify your life — whether it’s by taking a different route home, going home early, changing the way you dress or walk or wear your hair — in order to feel safe. At the root of all this is the cultural messages that are sent every day in often very subtle ways. The ways in which women are represented in the media, the way in which schools handle dress codes, and the emphasis on teaching women how to keep themselves safe perpetuates a culture in which women bear the accountability for the decisions of others. This can have harmful implications when a woman is consistently deemed powerless over her own body.

While there are no easy answers to a complex issue, I would argue that there are things that can be done to combat this issue. It is important to include men in the conversation about what can be done to prevent the occurrence of violence toward women and how we can change the cultural discourse around promoting safety rather than instilling fear. We can raise our children in ways that promote consent and a respect for one another’s choices. Safety may have a different meaning for different people, but we can all agree that women have a right to feel secure in their own community.

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