There is no ‘safe’ place to be female

Editor and co-presenter of the 96FM Opinion Line, DEIRDRE O’SHAUGHNESSY reflects on a brutal attack on a Cork woman and the debate on the radio show and online that followed
There is no ‘safe’ place to be female
A young woman walking in the evening. Picture: Stock

WHAT was she thinking? What was she thinking, walking home alone? What was she thinking, wearing that? What was she thinking, getting that drunk? What was she thinking, getting a taxi by herself?

Recently in Cork a woman was brutally attacked while walking home from a house party in the early hours of the morning, in Togher. I don’t know how the woman is doing. I hope she is managing, and that she has support. Gardai appealed for witnesses, but so far there have been no arrests.

Internet commenters, callers to our show, men I know, said predictable things. Everyone was immensely sorry such a thing had happened, of course. But.

“But what was she thinking, walking home alone, in that part of the city, at that time of night?”

“I wouldn’t let my daughter / sister / wife / girlfriend walk home alone, at that time of night, in that part of town.”

“It’s just common sense.”

It’s just common sense, isn’t it? It’s common sense for women to know they cannot go anywhere alone… in that part of the city… at that time of night.

But where are we safe, alone? In what part of the city? At what time, specifically, should we be “let” go out alone?

Are we safe in broad daylight? In the early mornings, perhaps, on our way to work, or the gloaming of the early evenings as we make our way home? Are we allowed to go out and earn a living without chaperones? Are we to be permitted to go out in the evenings to a gig or a play or for a run or a cycle or a swim or a pint, without a Garda escort?

Are we safe in Montenotte, or Shandon, or Turners Cross, or Popes Quay? In Macroom or Mallow or Skibbereen?

Where and at what time, specifically, should women be “let” go out alone by our male protectors, who are only being sensible, after all…?

One in five Irish women have experienced rape or unwanted sexual contact as adults, according to the SAVI report (2002, and badly due to be updated). One in five experienced rape or unwanted sexual contact as children.

Almost one in four sexual assaults or rapes experienced by women were carried out by intimate partners, or ex-partners.

Women are not raped by their partners by the side of the road while walking home from nightclubs. They are not assaulted by their husband while out for a run in the early morning.

Women are raped in their own beds. They are assaulted in their own bedrooms. They are punched and assaulted in their sitting room or their kitchen or their car. Places that are ‘safe’, by the only standard we have.

The majority of attacks are by someone we know. Someone we have previously judged, and our friends and family believe to be safe. Because all we have to tell us that a man is ‘safe’ is the evidence of our eyes and our gut.

There is no sign on a man’s forehead that says he is a rapist. Fathers, brothers, husbands and boyfriends rape women.

There is no ‘safe’ place to be female. You may as well tell the rain to go away as tell a woman to live in a way that is sure to prevent her from being sexually assaulted or raped. The act of being female in the world is, in itself, risky.

Men are insulted by this. They are insulted by the insinuation that all men are potential rapists.

But, when you wear no label, and we know the experiences of our sisters and the statistics are what they are, how are we to know?

We know, of course we know that most men are wonderful, kind, gentle and loving. Thankfully, most of us experience men like you every day.

Men who are insulted by the notion that a woman could be afraid of you purely because some men are rapists, what are you doing about it?

What are you doing about the men who shame your gender, who frighten women and who lead us to ‘stay safe’ and to curtail every aspect of our lives in a way that you do not have to do?

What are you doing about the men — your friends and brothers and fathers and sons, and ours — who cannot accept that no means no? What are you doing about the men with a sense of entitlement so great that their actions ruin the lives of women they attack, and women who are frightened by their very existence into living half-lives?

If what you are doing about it is being insulted, you are not helping.

If what you are doing about it is asking ‘what was she thinking?’, you are not helping.

If what you are doing about it is asking why feminists are protesting against rape culture and ruining the rugby match you are attending… you are not helping. You are not the victim here.

While this discussion went on during our show, a lady emailed in.

She, too, walked home from a party, over 30 years ago. She had left the party alone to walk home. As she left she encountered a guy she knew, who offered to walk her home. Relieved at having some company and not having to walk alone, she said yes. He sexually assaulted her on the way home.

We have no way of knowing if you are the one who will help us or the one who will attack us.

Telling us to look after ourselves is not the solution.

Tell each other not to attack us. Tell each other you are not entitled to a woman’s body, ever.

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