A few weeks ago, my dad and I were discussing some politics over a breakfast at Bob Evans, as you do. I don’t recall the exact topic we were discussing, only that it had to do with women, and that I was trying to express some of the dangers women face when it comes to something as simple as going out to drink with friends. I remember that he expressed concern, not necessarily at the truth of my statements, but more that I should allow my “fears” to keep me from living life.
It was all hypothetical, of course. As a personal choice, I just don’t drink. Yet it’s not just about going out for drinks. If you’ve never heard of the term “rape schedule,” Study Breaks wrote a good post describing it, and I would recommend reading the post. For me, whether I drink or not doesn’t really have anything to do with the rape schedule, but other activities do. At work, we have a policy that no employees leave work on their own after close. If not everyone is leaving together, we’ll at least send them out in pairs. Most of the employees are women, although we hold to the same precautions for the men. Outside of work, I avoid making eye contact with men passing by. When I was in college–which, I’ll remind you, was less than a year ago for me–and taking night classes, I would be doubly aware of my surroundings once it was dark out.
It is not a pleasant thing, but it’s a common one. It’s become almost cultural. As the Study Breaks post noted, it inhibits women’s way of life where they have to put their safety before their own enjoyment. If men do this, it is nowhere near the extent to which women do. That’s no mere opinion. It’s a statement of fact. It’s the world we live in.
I did not describe this nearly as eloquently to my father as I hope I did here. Spoken words and written have always been two completely different beasts for me. But I did describe it as best as I could, and when I did, he suggested, if I was so worried about it, I should learn martial arts. If I was more worried about other women’s safety than my own, he suggested I work towards martial arts mastery so that I could, in turn, teach other women.
It was at this part of the conversation that I just sort of…let it go. It’s impossible to describe why such a suggestion stirred up the bleakness that it did. How could I explain that I didn’t want to have to resort to violence to simply live my life? We don’t live in a perfect world. Violence exists, and to a certain extent, the only logical solution is to be able to defend ourselves. Yet it doesn’t fix the problem. Learning self-defense only becomes part of the rape schedule, the same as fitting keys between our knuckles, carrying pepper spray in our purses, not looking at people in the eye, especially not after dark. I don’t want to have to take part in it.
The problem stands between hope and reality. One could hope that someday sexual assault could completely disappear. The reality is, it’s existed as long as civilizations have been around. No doubt before then, too. If we could make rape as socially unaccepted and despised as cannibalism, there’s hope for us women yet. But again, if. Hope. People say we don’t live in a perfect world, as if that’s an excuse to leave things as they are. A lot of the times, it is an excuse, because change–especially something so ingrained into our way of life–isn’t easy.
Of course, some women do learn martial arts, or carry a knife or a gun if they’re able. We have a right to feel safe, and I certainly don’t want to imply that they are wrong to do so. It’s a personal choice. But, regardless of the feasibility, we must push back against the presumption that women’s only choice is to arm and defend ourselves. We must insist that it is possible to rid the world of sexual assault, or else it will never end, and that is something we should not accept.