Thoughts on “Ladies be careful!”

Robyn Ross, friend of Conspire Theatre, freelance writer and general awesome lady, wrote a Facebook post commenting on the fact that if so many people were telling women to be careful, use the buddy system, etc. in the wake of the recent murders in Austin, couldn’t men check in with each other to make sure that they weren’t going to commit violent acts? She started some heated debates and followed up with these thoughts:

Wow, clearly this struck a nerve. I have seen cautionary fliers all over Central Austin, and I’m immensely grateful to those who are putting them out and reminding people to take basic personal safety precautions. What bothers me, and perhaps what bothers you, is how the vast majority of messages about preventing violence against women are addressed to women. I’ve never seen a flier on a lamppost cautioning men to control themselves. The very idea is funny, in a darkly humorous way. But why?

Someone commented that most dudes would neither feel comfortable policing their fellow dudes, nor appreciate being policed themselves. I agree, that’s realistic. And unfortunate. It highlights the irony of women escorting one another to our cars, reminding each other to take self defense, and forwarding emails with 35 safety tips “from an ex-Marine!!!” to one another, when the  men – the ones who are in a much better position, physically and socially, to take action – feel awkward having a simple conversation. If you can’t discuss this with each other, who will? A couple of folks have mentioned the Men Can Stop Rape campaign as having good ideas for the “dude, you ok interacting with women?” post-fraternity party conversation. That’s a great example – thanks.

Another idea has been mentioned, though, that the “dude, remember not to be a brute” strategy – even if it caught on – doesn’t apply to predators motivated purely by criminal intent. I get it – some people you just can’t reach. And that’s the horror of it, the thought that we can’t curb the violent inclinations of certain men, so the best we can do is warn ladies not to walk alone.

It’s a start, and I’m not opposed to it. I’m just furious that the constant variable is the sorry behavior of men, around which women are advised to adjust and constrain their lives. I want to cut this problem off at the source – instead of evacuating cities in the floodplain, let’s plug the stupid leak in the dike already.

Someone commented that not all men are brutes – absolutely, which is why the good guys should be even more outraged. There are so many excellent, compassionate, kind, feminist men, many of whom have read the original post, and I am grateful for all the times you’ve respected my boundaries, walked me to my car at night, or told a random jerk to quit yelling vulgar things at a woman on the street. We need more of that. The men I’m angry at are the ones attacking women, exposing themselves, getting drunk at football games and making veiled sexual threats at girls nearby in the stands. The trouble is, we women can’t distinguish between the two types of men if we don’t know you. If we’re being alert (“ladies be careful!!”), we will err on the side of caution. How many kindhearted, nonviolent men have I passed on a sidewalk at night – instinctively developing an escape plan in the split second it takes to notice them – because I simply didn’t know which side they were on? How many times has a woman refused to get on an elevator with you, which you knew was a safety precaution, but which you experienced as a slight insult? You good guys are on our team, we just can’t identify you. And that should make you the maddest – that the behavior of the violent men necessitates that we treat you all the same until we learn otherwise. Yes, out of concern remind us to be careful, but then do something to help stop this!

There is nothing wrong with being careful, but how careful must we be? At different times in my adult life I’ve been advised not to walk three blocks to the store at dusk; not to jog anywhere on the hike-and-bike trail east of I-35; not to wear my hair in a ponytail in the mall parking lot because it’s too easy to grab; and not to go out with a guy unless I could somehow finagle a look at his driver’s license to determine he really was who he said he was. Is this the best we can expect for women, in a relatively progressive, developed nation? The most accurate information I can find is that two of the three recent attacks in Austin were break-ins. Avoiding ponytails and solo walks is still good but seems rather beside the point. “Ladies get a home security system”? “Ladies get a Rottweiler”? “Ladies be sure to keep a shotgun next to your bed”? I’m not opposed to these, but I’m tired of structuring my life defensively to avoid the bad behavior of a subset of men. And I want the other ladies – and gents – out there to start saying so too.

-Robyn Ross

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