Power

I am afraid, every moment of every day.

Sounds extreme, right? Maybe I’m a little paranoid? You would be too if you were me.
I’m far from paranoid; as my mother regularly tells me, I’m not cautious enough.

Fear for me is nothing out of the ordinary, far from it, it’s a sign that the world continues to function as I know it. As a woman, fear is in my best interest. My fear keeps me safe, stops me risking my life by undertaking such high-risk activities as walking home late at night, or buying a drink at a bar, or god forbid, speaking to someone.
Last week when I was walking home after work, a car drove past me and then turned around and drove back again. In all likelihood, the driver had turned down the wrong street, or had just needed somewhere to turn around, but in the 5 seconds that it took, I saw my doom.

“They’re coming to get me”, I was dead certain. Like a dream I could see it happen – the car would pull over, they would grab me and shove me into the boot. Before I knew it I would be kidnapped, drugged, beaten, raped, dead.
Before my nightmare could finish playing out, the car was gone.

In any moment, I could become another statistic that gets read out to teenage girls, to try and scare them into staying safe. So I remain afraid, because I know that I am a second class citizen.
On the basis of my female identity, I am less than the human man who decides I am theirs to take, to hurt, to remove from the world.
Like a dog who cringes before he is kicked, I learn to expect the worst from the world, not to trust those with whom I come into contact.

And it’s a political act, the instilling of fear. Men who abuse women don’t just abuse women because they feel like it. They abuse them because they hate them. Claiming “I love my mother, I love my wife” is meaningless; on some unconscious level, men who perform these acts hate women. All women.

But why? For what they represent, for what they are, who could speculate? What is important here is to understand –it is asserting power over the female population of the world to be able to cause fear by your actions.
And it isn’t always so overt. Cat calling, that innocent past time of louts; is an assertion of power. Even every day comments spoken in the street, are a reminder to women – you are not in control.
And I’m no hero, I’ll readily admit that it makes me nervous to be spoken to like that. I’m not just angry or offended (though my pride wishes that was all I felt), but fear bubbles in my stomach because you just don’t know.

I don’t know that the man who yells at me from the window of his car won’t decide to come back and take me with him; I couldn’t stop the grocer who wink and whistles at me as I walk past from dragging me into an alley if the urge struck; even the schoolboys who call comments to me as I walk past are a potential threat. Fear becomes a protective blanket when you practice it long enough, it is second nature to the women I know.

I heard someone recently say that the way we teach women to protect themselves from harm (hold your keys between your fingers, stay focussed on your goal, don’t engage others in conversation, keep your head down and keep marching) is akin to the lessons drilled into the military for war conduct. The analogy struck me because, we are fighting a war. Women have nothing with which to fight back, so we defend, defend, defend until we’re cornered.
We’re losing our war, and we should all be afraid.

originally posted in Degenerate magazine issue 2: Fear 

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