In Australia, violence against women and girls is considered an inevitability about which authorities can apparently do nothing.
The rape and murder of young comedian Eurydice Dixon in a Melbourne park last week provoked fury on social media towards police and commentators who gave advice such as this to women:
“My message is that people need to be aware of their own personal security and just be mindful of their surroundings,” said Detective Inspector Andrew Stamper. “If people should have any concerns at any time about their personal security, call triple-0."
" … just make sure you have situational awareness, that you’re aware of your surroundings,” said Local Superintendent David Clayton. “If you’ve got a mobile phone carry it and if you’ve got any concerns, call police,” he said.
The most powerful and disturbing message conveyed by these comments is that police and those who endorse their advice apparently believe that all women are victims or victims-in-waiting and that there is nothing authorities can do to change this situation.
' ... If you are female, well, the risk comes with the genitals and you’re on your own.'
This is the world you live in if you are female – authorities are telling us – and it’s down to you to protect yourself. Because you are female you are inevitably at risk, for no reason other than that you are female. You might be a female baby, or a female grandparent, or at any stage of your female life in between — you are unprotectable because you are female.
If you’re a young male felled by a coward’s punch, politicians and police will, in a matter of days, take steps to do everything possible to avert the risks you take when you go out for a drink. But if you are female, well, the risk comes with the genitals and you’re on your own.
The other message conveyed by police advice is that authorities don’t know, or don’t care to know, how to protect us against attacks they obviously consider inevitable. And, of course, when a situation is normalised as inevitable, nobody is going to waste time and money trying to prevent it — and nobody does.
Indeed, the Turnbull Government allocated just $18.2 million in the 2018 Budget to frontline domestic violence services, after proposing to defund these services altogether, which would make it even more difficult for women and children to escape male violence. When your government throws you to the wolves, it’s a signal to all potential abusers that you’re free game.
Women are and always have been “situationally aware”. We are situationally aware for ourselves and for any children we have with us. Who among us temporarily loses sight of a child in a shopping centre or a park without experiencing a moment’s heart-stopping fear? Who among us doesn’t experience a frisson of anxiety when a man appears from the dunes when we’re walking, as is our right, alone on a winter beach?
Women's lives are conducted in a chronic state of low to high-level anxiety because we can’t tell which man might be a threat to us or the children for whom we are responsible. Being situationally aware means living always in varying levels of fear. This is the life authorities would have us consider as “normal” for a woman in Australia in 2018. It is “normal” for women to fear male violence, in both public and private spaces, and women must adjust ourselves to this “normality”, or pay the price. This is the message police, governments and media continue to convey to us. Men abusing, assaulting, raping and murdering us is “normal”.
As things stand, there is absolutely nothing a woman can do to avoid male violence and continue to live a semblance of a life. Nothing. Every one of us is at risk at some time.
The one thing authorities and their supporters steadfastly refuse to address is the one thing that will make our lives safer, placing the responsibility for our fear where it belongs — on men. Instead of instructing us to take care of ourselves, authorities need to be instructing boys and men on how to behave towards us, and how to manage their aggressive desires. Nothing else is going to halt violence against women. Absolutely nothing.
Boys and men must change and men must take responsibility for the task of changing them. Violence against women is not inevitable, but it will remain normalised as such until men take responsibility for policing male behaviour, rather than the behaviour of women just trying to live our lives.
Instead, we see the hashtag #NotAllMen, as men and women clamour to point out that not all men are violent towards women. Nobody is suggesting that is the case. However, men need to take a good close look at the ways in which they might be encouraging or not discouraging male violence towards women. The standard you walk past, the misogynist writing you publish, the jokes you laugh at, the privileging that is so familiar to you it’s not even in your “situational awareness.”
Instead, authorities and commentators who support them are apparently content to accept that the world is a place in which women and girls will always be attacked; that there is no way out of this; that we must always be afraid and we must always be hyper-vigilant. Women are advised to live our entire lives as victims and potential victims. This is where victimhood truly originates. Not in the protesting voices of #MeToo, but in the culture that condemns us to what it considers inevitable and, therefore, sanctioned violence, solely because of our genitals.
The only alternative is to place the focus firmly on male behaviour and how it can and must be changed. The lack of cultural, governmental and societal interest in such change causes me to wonder — does the governing patriarchy like it better when women live in fear, as victims? Is this where they like to keep us? Is this where they’ve always liked to keep us, fearful of attack and simultaneously entirely responsible for what men do to us because we weren’t ”situationally aware” enough?
Imagine what might be unleashed on the world if all the energy women are required to channel towards situational awareness and anxiety and fear for our safety was freed up, available to us for other purposes. What might we achieve? We have the right to such a life. We have the right.
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