Here we go again. Every time a woman is a victim of male violence, there is a major public discussion on how they can “protect” themselves.
Last week, a British police commissioner said that Sarah Everard, an English woman killed in March by a police officer, “never should have submitted” to the false arrest that led to her rape and murder. “Women, first of all, need to be streetwise about when they can be arrested and when they can’t be arrested,” the commissioner said. Everard’s killer, Wayne Couzens, had falsely arrested her for supposedly violating London’s Covid regulations.
This week, Florida police found the body of a missing woman, Miya Marcano. Marcano was being harassed by Armando Manuel Caballero, a maintenance worker in her building whose advances she had turned down several times before she went missing. Police are pretty sure that Caballero, who killed himself before he could be arrested, was responsible for Marcano’s death.
As news of Marcano’s disappearance and death spread, my social media timelines were flooded with posts about how other women can prevent a similar fate from befalling them. While I can understand women’s instinct to figure out how to protect ourselves in a society that clearly won’t, this endless focus on women’s actions is tantamount to victim-blaming, and perpetuates the bizarre idea that women can somehow have agency over the actions of violent men.
It’s also a completely useless way of trying to address gender-based violence. Statistics show that one out of every six American women has been a victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime, and poor, trans and racialized women are disproportionately affected by this. Almost 85% of American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced some form of sexual violence, stalking or aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime. In 2015, Black women were two and a half times more likely to be murdered by men than white women.
Society infantilizes men, treating them from an early age like mere victims of their uncontrollable urges while constantly telling women to smarten up so we don’t fall victim to said urges
No amount of senseless finger-wagging is going to stop harmful men from taking advantage of their positions, feeling entitled to women’s bodies, and enacting the kind of violence that they know society will ultimately blame women for. This finger-wagging also does little to address the root cause of this issue – male violence.
It’s a frustrating but predictable cycle – frustrating, because any woman will tell you there are very few ways to stop a man from attacking you (without consequence) if he really sets his mind to it, and predictable, because we live in a world that will do anything to absolve men of responsibility. Society infantilizes men, treating them from an early age like mere victims of their uncontrollable urges while constantly telling women to smarten up so we don’t fall victim to said urges.
In reality, focusing on preventative interventions for men and boys is the only way to stop male violence. The criminal justice system fails women so often that the justice system is simply not a good deterrent, and many women are understandably hesitant to report the fact that they have been victimized by men. Frankly, by the time the police show up to arrest a bad man, the damage has usually already been done.
Another infuriating element to this are the ways that the media and society tend to frame stories like Marcano’s. Numerous publications referred to Caballero as “spurned” and called his harassment of Miya “romantic overtures”. There is nothing romantic about being stalked by someone who has a key to your apartment and no regard for your boundaries. Women have said this over and over again, but somehow society is more comfortable empathizing with a man trying to “get the girl” than naming something for what it is – stalking and harassment.
I don’t want to learn a new trick for how to protect my drink in a club, or how to use a pocket knife hidden in my lipstick, or have to buy some strange contraption to make sure my hotel room door stays locked. I want to live in a world where women don’t have to live in constant fear for their own safety, and where I can turn down a man and not be killed for it.