Friday, 4 July 2014

8 Days to SWTO: What has safety advice got to do with it?

As stated before, I am continuing the countdown to SlutWalk Toronto 2014. Just 8 more days before we hit the pavement.

One issue that comes up over and over (and over and over again) is safety advice for women. I do not have enough fingers and toes to count the number of times I've heard some who is very earnest (or maybe only a little earnest) asking why we've taken such offense to the police officer's very well-intentioned and not-at-all-malicious advice of "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized."

The issue is not so much "they're telling us what to do." There are many occasions where safety advice is not only absolutely welcome, but extremely useful. Advice such as "Look both ways before you cross the street", "Don't eat stuff you pull out of the couch," and "Don't run with scissors" are not only very specific and tangible, the cause and effects are immediately apparent. I will look both ways before I cross the street because a vehicle travelling at 50+km/hr may not have enough time to stop before I'm just another greasy spot on the road. I won't eat the stuff I pull out of the couch because I would rather not shit out my own intestines. And I will not run with scissors because I would rather my obituary not read "Impaled herself after tripping on a cat while rushing to open up some freezies in the back yard."

When advice such as "don't dress slutty" is trotted out, it is neither specific nor does it have immediately apparent cause and effect. What constitutes as slutty? Who, specifically, do I need to be concerned about when I dress "slutty"? How can I recognize them? If I can recognize them, then why can't I dress "slutty" and just keep an extra eye on them?

What is the proper length for, say, debunking rape myths?

These vague, nebulous statements about safety are especially frustrating when they're met with statements such as "You can't assume all men are rapists. That makes you man-hating!" Often these statements even come from the same person who, only moments before, were expressing how one has to dress respectfully because "the world is a dangerous place, and you have to look out for yourself."

There is no winning. That may be the point. If we can't pin down exactly what it is we're supposed to be wearing or not wearing, and we can't be on high alert around all men and yet "bad things happen so you can't be stupid and trusting", then we can't point out just what caused the attack and what went wrong.

Well, fortunately there are some things that we can do.The major themes here are that we need to hold people accountable for their actions. If someone is acting creepy, it is their responsibility to uncreepify themselves. If they don't, we don't allow them a social license to operate in our social groups, or we intervene as bystanders. If someone is making rape jokes, we tell them they're making the tone hostile and ruining an otherwise good time. If someone is making rape apologist statements, we say "Why do you hate men so much that you assume they can't help but rape?" We can change the discourse so that the onus is on people not to be creepy, rapey, abusive shitlords.

We can also support people in asserting their personal boundaries a lot better than what we do. If someone isn't comfortable around a person, let them keep a distance. If they don't want to be greeted with a hug, respect that. If they tell you that they don't want to be in the same location as someone else, then don't try to trick them into it just to make yourself feel better. Listen to and respect people's boundaries, and if someone else is trying to step over them use some of that bystander intervention and intervene.

If you have some sexual violence prevention advice you'd like to share that isn't included in that 2012 article, please share it. I'm sure there are more ways to make ourselves and our communities safe. And, believe it or not, we are very much invested in safety.

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