The tragedy that unfolded in California has ignited a conversation about gender-based violence in the US, something that we often believe is an issue reserved for other parts of the world. For all the women I know who have been scared of their partners, and for all the women who are currently scared of their partners, I hope we can keep this conversation going. Avoiding violence, protecting yourself from sexual assault, and the inevitable fear that accompanies both of these things, are a reality for women in this country. How are we so spectacularly failing our little boys that our little girls grow up to be scared of them?
‘”Why do men feel threatened by women?” I asked a male friend of mine. So this male friend of mine, who does by the way exist, conveniently entered into the following dialogue. “I mean,” I said, “men are bigger, most of the time, they can run faster, strangle better, and they have on the average a lot more money and power.” “They’re afraid women will laugh at them,” he said. “Undercut their world view.” Then I asked some women students in a quickie poetry seminar I was giving, “Why do women feel threatened by men?” “They’re afraid of being killed,” they said.’
Margaret Atwood, Writing the Male Character (1982)
Women don’t like to walk alone at night. Women don’t like to walk by large groups of men, at any hour. The comments, the stares, the catcalls, the anger when you don’t respond. Women have their friends trail them to a bar when they’re meeting a date, so someone is watching if things get out of control. Women have other friends on speed dial, in case things go wrong when they’re trying to break up with their partner. Women are ridiculed because they do many activities in groups, but women know there is safety in numbers. And numbers don’t lie. One out of every five American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.
The point is, gender-based violence is happening here, in our communities. And this is a point men understand. Once you find yourself in a relationship with a caring, kind, respectful man, you will also find that he is constantly aware of and concerned for your safety. It’s nice, of course, until you realize that a healthy part of his concern stems from his knowledge. That he knows even more than you do about what some men are capable of. A chilling realization, indeed.
- In Australia, Canada, Israel, South Africa and the United States, intimate partner violence accounts for between 40 and 70 per cent of female murder victims
- In the United States, 83 per cent of girls aged 12 to 16 have experienced some form of sexual harassment in public schools
- Annual costs of intimate partner violence have been calculated at USD 5.8 billion in the United States in 2003