We Will Not Surrender Our Freedom to Travel: Gender-based Terror and Tempting Fate

Last Friday, a male acquaintance of mine made the following comments on a Facebook thread in response to this article about Brandon Lavergne’s signed statement detailing the murder of Mickey Shunick:

 Just don’t go places alone in the middle of the night!…

If my wife or one of my female friends told me they were planning to bike home alone at 2:30 AM, I would insist on giving her a ride. I would never blame a victim. My only aim is to prevent similar tragedies. It’s a sad fact, but the world is full of monsters. It’s not unfeminist to acknowledge reality. You can call my attitude paternalistic. I’d rather be perceived as paternalistic, though, than be a widower…

Wishing the world weren’t the way it is won’t make it so. Of course we should teach boys and men not to prey on women. But, sad to say, there never will be a time when men don’t prey on women. That might be cynical. I think, based on history, that it’s realistic. Taking an indignant stand against that fact isn’t heroic, it’s folly…

Being alone and exposed (I mean that as in on a bike, not as a reference to dress) in the middle of the night, no matter what neighborhood you’re in, makes you vulnerable and attracts predators.

Clearly, he means well, despite responding to the violent and disturbing details of an abduction and murder with the warning to other, still living women that it’s really simple to not get abducted and murdered – just don’t ride your bike late at night! Oh, okay. Thanks, well-intentioned male acquaintance.

Despite his good intentions, his arguments are highly problematic. Many men (and women) have made and will continue to make similar arguments. They will defend those arguments by saying they are interested in preventing these kinds of crimes. They will argue this is the only feasibly effective type of prevention, especially in discussing particular cases such as Mickey Shunick’s murder. In their opinion, the only way to prevent this type of crime is for us women to make “smarter” choices, seek protection from the plenitude of “good guys” in our lives, be “more careful,” and make ourselves “less vulnerable” and therefore less likely to “attract predators.” Others will label this as victim blaming, and they will resist that label. Focusing the conversation on what was wrong with the victim’s actions, to them, does not constitute victim blaming.

You’re expressing a firm national commitment that’s so important, that we will not surrender our freedom to travel, that we will not surrender our freedoms in America, that while you may think you have struck our soul, you haven’t touched it, that we are too strong a nation to be carried down by terrorist activity.

-President George W. Bush, speaking at O’Hare International Airport on September 27, 2001

When it comes to political terrorism in America, we are told to assert our freedoms and not let the terrorists win. By contrast, when it comes to gender-based terrorism in America, women are told just the opposite – to relinquish our freedoms and let the homegrown terrorists win. With this essay, I object to the problematic positions that support this unfair expectation – and hope to win some hearts and minds in the process.

“Tempting fate” is a necessary way of life for women and other vulnerable groups, and we are already more afraid and less free than you likely realize.

We women tempt fate every day of our lives, not through foolish and lackadaisical refusal to take simple precautions, but because by the very nature of our existence we tempt fate. We tempt fate by having, on average and due to our biology, physically weaker arm muscles than men. We tempt fate by having vaginas. We tempt fate by going to bed at night in our homes and by living as single women. We tempt fate by engaging in relationships. We tempt fate by becoming pregnant and having children. We tempt fate by leaving abusive relationships. We tempt fate by going out with friends. We tempt fate by engaging in healthy and unhealthy behaviors. We tempt fate by following and ignoring rules. We tempt fate by entering public spaces and living in private spaces. We tempt fate by running errands in broad daylight, as this recent abduction and rape in Baton Rouge reminded us.

But to call it tempting fate is to say that we’re asking for something bad to happen to us. Really, what we are doing is taking calculated risks in order to live our lives – always aware, on some level, that taking these risks may result in our death. We live with terrifyingly violent scenarios ingrained in our consciousness. We live with acute awareness of our vulnerability. We take precautions when doing things men don’t think twice about doing.

We are statistically more likely to be assaulted, raped, or murdered by someone we know or have an intimate relationship with than by someone we don’t know. Despite this, we are generally not taught how to recognize and address unhealthy or abusive behavior in intimate relationships, or how to assertively demand respect in relationships, but we are absolutely taught how to police our own behavior and to stifle our freedom and independence in order to protect ourselves from the stranger in the bushes, whom we are taught all our lives to fear.

The mythic image of the rapist as a masked man who hides in the bushes and waits to leap out and attack women continues to resonate powerfully, because while this image strikes fear in the hearts of millions of women and girls every day, it is also oddly reassuring—for both women and men. For women, it means that if they are smart and take the necessary precautions, they will drastically reduce their chances of being assaulted. For men, the image of the crazed rapist diverts the critical spotlight away from them…But the reality of sexual violence is much more complex than the mythology. Stranger rapes occur with alarming frequency, and can terrorize an entire populace—especially women. But they constitute only about 20 percent of cases. Most sexual violence happens between people who know each other…The perpetrators can be family members or friends of their victims. They are often ‘nice guys’ whom no one would suspect.

-Jackson Katz, The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help

While women live with constant awareness of vulnerability day in and day out, we also understand that it’s not statistically likely that any of us on any given day or night will be abducted/raped/murdered by one of these strangers in the bushes (a.k.a. monsters, a.k.a. sociopaths), even when we do decide to exercise some sort of liberty that men mostly take for granted (a.k.a. engaging in risky behavior that will later become the subject of critical conversation when this most awful of situations does come to fruition). We take risks sometimes. We go out alone. We come home late at night. On top of the precautions we must take against every other threat the world throws at us, we look over our shoulders, clutching mace, keys, and courage, as we travel from place to place with the stranger in the bushes on our mind.

For most of us, the stranger in the bushes never materializes. Years of taking risks to live a full life and not getting abducted or murdered conditions us to continue taking risks. We come to understand that the world is not “full of monsters,” though we are acutely aware it contains too many of them. We let go of exhausting, crippling fear out of rebellion or rationalization or necessity long enough to ride our bike home late at night with a still present but more manageable fear and awareness. Occasionally, the violent stranger finds us and does something awful to us, and maybe to make themselves feel better about the situation and to distinguish the victims from their more perfect loved ones, they say we should have known better. What did we think was going to happen?

Victim blaming is victim blaming.

Victim blaming is more than commenting on what a victim was wearing or saying she was “asking for it.” It includes focusing public attention and discourse on the actions of the victim rather than on those of the perpetrator. Any variation of “what did she expect to happen?” is absolutely an example of blaming the victim, no matter how pragmatic one’s motivation for asking the question.

Now, I have some better questions: why is it more worthwhile to ask why Mickey Shunick thought it acceptable to ride her bike at 2:30am than to ask why Brandon Scott Lavergne thought it was acceptable to smash his truck into Mickey’s bike, abduct, and murder her at 2:30am? Why is it considered more normal and worthy of less scrutiny that a man stalked, abducted, and murdered a woman at 2:30am than that a woman was riding her bike home at 2:30am? Where was his escort? Why wasn’t he taught from childhood to “tell a buddy” if having thoughts of abducting, sexually assaulting, and/or murdering women? Why didn’t his parents and society ingrain in him how to become “less vulnerable” to life imprisonment? Why does our culture, by the way we discuss and respond to these types of crimes, necessitate that women carry the primary burden of responsibility for preventing our own murders?

Because in the real world, where “monsters” exist, women exist, too. In this real world, women travel and work and have fun with friends and engage in relationships and run errands and enter public spaces and live in private spaces. It is unrealistic to expect us to always take “simple precautions” that are often quite inconvenient or even impossible. It is insulting when your only proposed solution is to tell us to be more afraid and less free than we already are in response to a reality manifested by violent men. It perpetuates gender inequality to expect women to rely on protection from “good guys” to survive attacks from “bad guys,” as if the difference between the two is that simple and easily recognizable. It perpetuates rape culture to deflect responsibility for male violence onto women. It perpetuates gender violence to assume that the public health impacts of so many men’s lack of empathy toward women cannot be better addressed. It perpetuates sexist stereotypes of men to assume that men cannot assertively hold other men accountable for the way they treat women, or that male violence is more a product of biology than a product of our culture.

Like someone once said, taking an indignant stand against these facts isn’t heroic, it’s folly.

Change is both possible and necessary.

Throughout much of our national history, many of the freedoms we currently possess as American women appeared to be completely out of reach. Yet we possess these freedoms now because visionaries believed they were possible and worked to create a new reality. This is why it is dangerous for anyone to make the pragmatic “world as it is” argument without envisioning and working for the world as it could be.

What we need is for women and their allies to envision a world where this kind of stalking, abuse, assault, and murder is an unacceptable, horrific aberration, and where women can truly be free or at least not be judged for exercising freedom. If on the one hand you say, “This is how your world is,” and on the other hand you say, “This is how your world will always be,” then even if you are not a perpetrator, you are identifying yourself as a perpetuator.

The last thing we need is for anyone to comment on the behaviors of victims of violence. You’re not saying anything helpful or new when you do that – we’ve heard it a million times before, as have the men who rape and/or murder us. Rather than perpetuating this reality, we respectfully request that you recognize and publicly acknowledge that change is both possible and necessary. Then join us in fighting for it. Because we’re here, we live in fear, and we’re not going to get used to it.

We will not surrender our freedom to travel.

49 responses to “We Will Not Surrender Our Freedom to Travel: Gender-based Terror and Tempting Fate”

  1. Colleen H Fava says :

    This is amazingly well said, Rebecca. We are lucky to have your voice advocating for the world as it should be.

  2. Chere says :

    Awesome, thank you so expressing such an important issue. It’s time to harness the monsters, not keep women from living their lives.

  3. Maggie says :

    This is beautiful and perfect, and I am now crying. As a person who at times is paralyzed by fear of the stranger in the bushes, this essay is everything that I can never articulate when I engage in a victim blaming debate. If victim blaming pisses you off, read this. If you don’t what victim blaming means, read this.

    A Facebook friend (read: old high school acquaintance) recently posted that “had Mickey had a gun, things might have turned out differently.” My blood immediately boiled, as it always does when I catch wind of victim blaming. And so, against my usually tendency to avoid incendiary FB debate, I responded with this:
    “Honestly, I find this is horrible of you to say. Everyone needs to stop the victim blame. What’s the point in discussing what she could have done differently, when based on the report, it sounds like she did everything she possibly could. It’s tragic, period. The blame should remain on this convicted rapist who had a violent past and, for some reason, a handgun.”

    And if you hear someone blaming a victim, explain to that person how this world needs less of that. You know how sometimes another person’s ignorance on a subject is so shocking that you just nod your head or say nothing; victim blaming can’t be one of those subjects.

  4. Jane Hyde says :

    Thank you for affirming the rights women!

  5. sarah gilbert (@sarahgilbert) says :

    I’m absolutely shivering with the rightness of this and I am ready to take up the flag with you. I AM taking the flag up with you. (and especially as a military wife who lives in a world in which she must often be the only protector of herself and her boys and the victim of a previous abusive relationship)

    I believe in our freedom to travel!

  6. Asa Landry says :

    (What we need is for women and their allies to envision a world where this kind of stalking, abuse, assault, and murder is an unacceptable, horrific aberration, and where women can truly be free or at least not be judged for exercising freedom. If on the one hand you say, “This is how your world is,” and on the other hand you say, “This is how your world will always be,” then even if you are not a perpetrator, you are identifying yourself as a perpetuator.)

    To the average MALE drunk driver: What we need is for MEN and their allies to envision a “imaginary world” where this kind of stalking, abuse, assault, and sobriety testing is an unacceptable, horrific aberration, and where humans can truly be free or at least not be judged for exercising freedom. If on the one hand you say, “This is how your world is,” and on the other hand you say, “This is how your world will always be,” then even if you are not a drunk driver, you are identifying yourself as a drunk driver. If you drive you are in danger of getting a ticket/charge, regardless of what you are doing. but if you are DRUNK or STUPID ENOUGH to ride at 2:30AMs. Then the chances of a BAD OUTCOME are prevalent. Cops are preditors in a sense… when your driving sober/riding in daylight. No problem…if you are driving drunk BIG PROBLEM…If your a female riding a bike broad daylight. Chances are you WONT get abducted. Post 2AM that is Arrrogant – (Having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities.)

    • Rebecca says :

      Hi Asa, I’m not exactly sure what point you’re trying to make. You seem to have unwittingly committed a red herring fallacy, but since your comments appear to be what is commonly referred to as “a hot mess,” I cannot confirm that and am also unable to respond to whatever substance you felt you were communicating. Please cogently restate and clarify your argument. Thanks and have a great day!

  7. earl says :

    I’m going to not only do some victim blaming, but I am going to do some blogger blaming. You are now responsible for encouraging stupid people to ride their bikes late at night and place themselves at risk. As an able bodied male USMC vet who Carries a concealed pistol, there are certain limits on even my travels. To think this is somehow gender based terrorism is to ignore the reality that men constitute a larger share of victims of violent crimes than women.

    • Rebecca says :

      Hi Earl, thanks for your comment. However, your argument is a straw man fallacy and does not appear to address my argument in any way. I do not argue that people should not take precautions. I am arguing against the cultural phenomenon of victim blaming in incidences of violence against women. Part of your confusion may have arisen by not understanding that I am speaking to gender-based violence in particular, not violent crime in general. It is much rarer for men to become victims of acts of violence similar to that which Brandon Scott Lavergne committed against Mickey Shunick. And when men do become victims, the public does not tend to blame the victim in those cases and demand that all men should then take the same level of precautions that women are expected to take to avoid potential violence being committed against them. Yes, there are limits to everyone’s travels, but there are vastly unequal cultural expectations for men and women in terms of travel. If you clarify which specific points in my argument you take exception with and why so (and if you make certain that you understand the argument that I am actually making), you will then have presented some substantive and relevant content to which I may respond more in depth. Thanks again and I hope you have a great day!

  8. Matt says :

    This article is ridiculous. You actual are upset he said don’t ride a bike alone at night? Go ahead! Do it. It is obviously your right, but know that being alone (male or female) does in fact make you more vulnerable. You think you are a champion of women’s rights because you go against the warnings of common sense? If a person walks down a dark road after 2 a.m. with money stapled on their cloths and gets mugged, will you say it was smart of them to do so?

    “What we need is for women and their allies to envision a world where this kind of stalking, abuse, assault, and murder is an unacceptable, horrific aberration, and where women can truly be free or at least not be judged for exercising freedom.”
    This world already exists to the extent that reality allows. Are do you think mental illness and evil can be wiped out entirely? Your view is not only impossible without some Utopian State; it is dangerous.

    Yes some people -women included- are less likely than others to be attacked. I’d mostly base this off of appearances of weakness and the easiness of the circumstances to attack them. I have known girls and guys that have been jumped on the way home from a bar or diner after hours. To sum it up: This situation is not about males being overprotective. Walk with at least one friend home if you have to walk at all. Don’t be a total moron like this writer suggests and engage in obviously more dangerous behavior out of some misguided push for civil rights that already exist.

    Duh

    • Rebecca says :

      Hi Matt, thanks for your comment. However, I feel obligated to point out that you are committing four fallacies: straw man, ad hominem (or feminem), false analogy, and false dilemma.

      To address the straw man fallacies: I never argued against the reality that women are vulnerable when traveling alone; I argued against the culture of victim blaming perpetuated on a daily basis in response to instances of violence against women. You later claim that I am pushing for civil rights that already exist. I am not arguing about civil rights. I am arguing against cultural norms that perpetuate a culture of violence against women specifically. You claim that I am suggesting that women “engage in obviously more dangerous behavior” than they currently do. I never suggested that.

      You then make a personal attack on me. Okay. Fallacy.

      As far as your analogy, it is false because my essay specifically addresses gender-based violence such as the abduction, rape, and murder of women by (overwhelmingly) men. I am not intending to address violent crime in general, including muggings, the motivations of which differ greatly from what motivates gender-based violence. Despite the false analogy, I would still argue against victim blaming in that scenario as well. Perhaps you do not, but I believe we would do much better to hold an expectation of personal responsibility for the perpetrators of violent crime. We begin to do that by understanding that those who commit violent acts make a conscious choice to do so, and that just because another individual is in a vulnerable situation does not mean that individual deserves to become the victim of crime.

      To continue dissecting your false analogy: most people do not walk around anywhere with money stapled on their clothes, but it usually can be assumed that people are carrying a wallet or money in their pocket (or carrying a purse, which may be similar to having money stapled on your clothes). Is this enough for behavior of victims of crime to be characterized as “dangerous?” (Telling word choice there. Perfect illustration of why I felt compelled to write this essay.) Sometimes, though, people do walk around with money stapled to their clothes for their birthday (at least that’s how we do it in Louisiana), in which case I would be outraged that a perpetrator would mug another person on his or her birthday! And I would still oppose victim blaming in that scenario. I don’t know about you, but I believe in the personal responsibility of those committing violent acts to control their behavior.

      You then make the following statement: “This world already exists to the extent that reality allows. Are do you think mental illness and evil can be wiped out entirely?” This is awesome – it is two fallacies in one! First, the ever-popular straw man: I did not argue that these things could be wiped out entirely so I am not sure why you take issue with something I did not write. Maybe you were misled by my use of the word “envision.” Visioning is commonly used by individuals and organizations to illustrate what their utopian ideal is, even if they will never get there. I do not think mental illness or gender-based violence will ever be eradicated, but I absolutely believe things can and must change for the better, which leads to the next fallacy: that of false dilemma, a.k.a. false dichotomy. There is actually great room for improvement (i.e. many options) between the current prevalence of gender-based violence in American culture and the utopian ideal.

      Finally, to address one of your overall points: acknowledging someone’s vulnerability is not the same as engaging in victim blaming by focusing judgment and critical attention on the actions of the victimized individual rather than the perpetrator. You say to walk with someone else if you have to walk late at night. One night, a few years ago, five friends and I were held up at gunpoint late at night while walking, so, you see, even in groups we are vulnerable.

      At this point, I recommend you re-read the essay to get a better sense of my actual argument. Please let me know if you have any other questions or comments you would like me to address. If I don’t approve your comment or respond right away, it will be because I am dealing with Hurricane Isaac. I hope one day you use this passion to argue against unhealthy cultural norms that perpetuate and allow for epidemic levels of violence against vulnerable groups and individuals. It is not your fault if you currently hold a victim blaming mindset – it is how most of us have been socialized. However, it is your fault if you hold on to it in the face of compelling argument. The choice is yours. This is an issue that affects both you and me, and we should all be addressing it together. Thanks again, and all the best to you!

  9. GWEN says :

    I think that riding a bike alone late at night is dangerous….for anyone regardless of gender. And to think otherwise is naive. It is sad that there is evil in the world. But it is a reality. That doesn’t mean that your life has to be fear based….we all make choices which impact our lives. Just take the necessary precautions whenever possible. This isn’t about feminism…..

    • Rebecca says :

      Hi Gwen, thanks for your comment. You’re correct, participating in such activities may be considered dangerous for men or women. However, it is much rarer for men to become victims of acts of violence similar to that which Brandon Scott Lavergne committed against Mickey Shunick. And when men do become victims, the public does not tend to blame the victim in those cases and demand that all men should then take the same level of precautions that women are expected to take to prevent violence from being committed against them. I agree that we all make choices that impact our lives, which was one of the prominent arguments I posit in this piece. As far as whether this has to do with feminism or not, I think that depends on whether one views gender inequality issues as feminist issues. Many do, you may not. Violence against women (vaw), or the more inclusive conception of gender-based violence (gbv), is a real issue. For more information, see the following links:

      http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/sexualviolence/index.html

      http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/intimatepartnerviolence/index.html

      http://www.ovw.usdoj.gov/

  10. George J. Forest, Jr. says :

    I too, felt uncomfortable with some who brought up Mickey Schunick’s riding her bike at 2:30 am as somehow being a contributing factor in her disappearance (and now death). I grew up in the Saint Streets neighborhood where she was abducted. I remember it fondly as being a safe, fun, friendly and people friendly place filled with lower middle class families and tree lined streets. As children, boys and girls, were allowed to go off trick or treating, without adults with us. Oh, some parents were on the streets as well, but our parents would let us go, without concern.

    When the abduction occurred, it did not strike me as strange that Mickey would be riding her bike early in the morning. She was on well peopled streets, with bright lights (except for the short strip where he took her) and she was a smart lady. Very smart. We learned she was about to graduate UL and/or working on an advanced degree. She did not appear impaired. She carried mace. She had a cell phone. I didn’t blame her and still don’t. In her case, and you can see from the video, the white truck contained a predator who stalked and then acquired his prey. No amount of preparation is going to protect you from that. I actually feared he grabbed her by other means (I will not mention so as not to put the idea in the heads of other sick bastards out there),

    I did read many posts and posted myself about the case. One thing I repeatedly raised was: what are we doing as a society to breed the monsters lurking in our mists? How can a Brandon Lavergne become what he became? How do we stop the process of creating predators before it is complete? Can we? Though I would still like to see answers, if in fact eighty (80%) per cent of assaults come, not from strangers, but from people we know, then the issue is even more difficult to handle. Not impossible, but bigger and more complex.

    I read this well put together article and kept waiting for a solution. I didn’t see it. I have no clue personally, as to a solution. Whatever is being tried at the moment, is not working. As soon as one Lavergne is found and jailed, two more pop up. And those are just the strangers, the predators.

    I have always been a risk taker physically. I have been in dozens of motorcycle wrecks over the years. I have been hospitalized each time I visit my brother overseas. I travel to places few if any tourist has ever seen. I have been lost in some very scary places late at night where not a soul spoke English and I could barely utter a word of their language. I am by no means fearless. i get scared to death. But, it is in my nature to take certain risks many of my friends label as childish. I think Mickey was very aware of the risks she took and had every right to take them. Driving on Hyw 90 from Lafayette to New Iberia is a risk and not a small one.

    So, with that said, I will agree with you Rebecca, don’t let fear determine your path. Be smart, we all have to be just to make it in this life. I would say, don’t live in fear! Change things. Find ways to change things. Feel empowered because you are acting on the problem.

    Here is to a better world!

  11. liz shawanesse says :

    So right, Rebecca! Very well written!

  12. Sarah says :

    Well said and I agree with everything… Although I believe (sorry for the cynicism) that there will always be a sociopath out there for me to be afraid of despite the risks I take

  13. Zoe Sullivan says :

    Thank you for this brilliant and articulate piece. You are exactly right: if we don’t imagine and push for a different, better world, it will never materialize.

  14. Danielle says :

    Absolutely amazing article. Your truth is our reality. Thank you for being brave and posting on such a controversial topic and such sad tragedy.

  15. shekee says :

    Reblogged this on Shekee Says Stuff and commented:
    This is an amazing article. Props to whomever wrote it

  16. JAcob says :

    The author raises many strong points, even if she quotes George Bush while making what is intended to be a feminist argument.

    But I do not buy the false choice between rejecting violence and believing that people should exercise caution. The two can and should go together.

    What if gender were not at issue here? What if a male friend of the author had been minding his own business at a bar, a Hells Angel starting messing with him, and instead of backing down, the male friend stood his ground and got beat to death? I won’t put standing up to a bully on the same level of liberty as riding your bike home late at night (the latter is much more socially valuable … please feel free to plug in a better analogy here), but they are both things people “should” be able to do without getting killed.

    Would the author be “blaming the victim” if she lamented that she wished her male friend had just walked away from the bully? Would it be condescending for her to wish that she had been there to break up the fight, as the male she addresses here wishes he had been able to prevent the victim from riding her bike home late at night? Wouldn’t this really just be the natural reaction of any friend, female or male?

    Going back to George Bush, this essay reads a lot like his “you’re either with us or against us” speech about the so-called war on terrorism. “If on the one hand you say, ‘This is how your world is,’ and on the other hand you say, ‘This is how your world will always be,’ then even if you are not a perpetrator, you are identifying yourself as a perpetrator.” Wow. Really? So if I think it’s unlikely that it will ever be safe for a woman to be by herself late at night, that kind of puts me on the same level as a rapist? Not a very persuasive position of you want to have real dialogue with men, or anyone else.

    And as to focusing more on the victim than the offender, that’s not always the result of sexism. In the case of friends and family of the victim (or someone you fear may become a victim), it’s a matter of practicality-you have more ability to communicate directly with the victim/potential victim. It’s not that we’re OK with rapists and murderers! We’re just rarely in a position to stop them before the fact.

    If you want to live in a world where women never need the protection of men, fine. That’s a good ideal. I am man who hides behind the protection of men (cops, etc.), and I’d rather not have to do that. But in between now and when we get to your ideal place, I’ll keep receiving protection and, when possible, offering it. If you get pissed off at me for offering to walk you to your car, I can live with that.

    • Rebecca says :

      Hi Jacob, thanks for your comments. I am the author of the piece. To respond to some of the issues you have with it, first I want to point out that the George W. Bush quote was intended as an illustration of how different the public response is to political terrorism as compared to the common response to violence against women, where the victim’s actions are often called into question, displacing blame and attention from the perpetrator of a crime to the victim. In response to political terrorism, we make structural adjustments to protect travelers rather than telling travelers not to fly on planes lest they “ask” to become victims of terrorism. We do not similarly respond to gender violence. Rather, we ask that women relinquish their freedoms and then when they do not in a particular case and a perpetrator harms them, we blame them for being victimized.

      Additionally, I do not suggest that women should not take precautions, or that taking precautions and refusing to engage in victim blaming are mutually exclusive. I could write a lengthy essay on the number of precautions I took in the last week that society does not expect you to take. I could write an even lengthier essay on the number of situations in which I was vulnerable to attack from someone in the last week.

      The point is that despite the precautions women take, we are still at risk to become the victims of gender violence. The other point is that exercising the freedom to travel is a simple and necessary expression of humanity. Women often decide to take risks because they would rather express their humanity and live their lives while alive than feel imprisoned by the unrealistic expectations society holds for their behavior. Beyond wanting to be fully human, we also have responsibilities that we must fulfill, and this puts us at risk on a daily basis as well.

      I am arguing that if a woman is going about her business – even if she is engaging in an activity that many think is unsafe – and a perpetrator commits an act of violence against her, it is problematic and damaging to criticize the behavior of the victim because it helps perpetuate a culture where women are blamed for the violence that others commit against them. This is a problem because women are not responsible for the violence that others commit against them. I’ll say that again: women are not responsible for the violence that others commit against them. As simple as that may sound, it is actually a radical statement.

      I take exception with the attempted analogy about the man voluntarily engaging in a fight at a bar. Victim blame occurs when people criticize (mainly) women for going about their day or night. That is different from deciding to engage in violent conflict and becoming injured.

      I do stand by the argument that men and women who engage even in subtle victim blaming help perpetuate a culture of acceptance of gender-based violence and terror. I do not equate perpetrators and perpetuators, which is why I draw the distinction between them in the piece. I object to your reading that this puts them “on the same level as a rapist.” That was not the argument or the intention. The intention, rather, is to push men and women whose first response is to question or criticize victims’ behaviors to re-think that response that we have all been socialized to engage in, and to re-focus attention on perpetrators of violence.

      To your argument about men being protected by law enforcement: we all are protected by law enforcement. Rarely when a man is a victim of violence do we question his activities. It is assumed he should have the freedom to travel. Women are not granted that assumption. Women are expected to take a multitude of extra precautions to protect themselves from violence, however we as members of society and communities need to be doing much, much more at a structural level to address the causes of violence and we need to be much, much more critical of unhealthy cultural norms and of how unrealistic and unjust our expectations are for women’s behavior.

      In certain other cultures and even in certain communities in America, it is more culturally acceptable for women to travel alone or travel at night. In certain other cultures, they do not have the same levels of violence against women that we have in the U.S. I hope you will re-read the piece at this point to get a better sense of what I’m saying and not saying, and please let me know if there are other issues you have with this piece that I may address. I do not envision a world without any violence, but I do envision a society with much less violence. I hope you do, too.

    • Shannon says :

      @ JAcob, you write, “It’s not that we’re OK with rapists and murderers! We’re just rarely in a position to stop them before the fact.” I disagree with this belief. Rapists & murderers are humans with friends, families, employers, co-workers, etc. They have interactions with many people prior to deciding to act upon their thoughts/feelings. There is an infinite opportunity to intervene with them. There are infinite chances for us to challenge their beliefs, to question their behaviors, and to teach them how to change for the better.

      I worked with convicted sex offenders for five years. I got to hear from each one of them what led up to their actions. Sexual violence occurs because of secrecy, so no one will come right out and tell someone that they are thinking about committing an act of sexual violence. They will, however, often display behaviors and emotions that are maladaptive and which can be addressed. In the course of my work, I met many wives, girlfriends, and parents of those who had sexually offended. Most could identify that there were issues evident prior to the offense, but that they either chose not to address them or didn’t know how.

      This is in no way meant to place blame on those in the offender’s life, mind you. Ultimately, the decision to harm another and the blame for that decision rests solely with the offender. We all do have a role, though, in allowing victim-blaming messages (and other similarly offensive, harmful and/or counterproductive messages) to go unchecked. I believe that, as a community, we all have an opportunity to have a positive effect on those around us.

  17. Derisory Apodaca says :

    A very well thought out and expressed post. I salute you.
    I personally would not ride a bike at night out of fear of the lousy drivers in my community, and especially at 2:30 AM just after the bars close. But those who bike as their choice of transportation wouldn’t give this a thought. Mickey had every right to feel safe on the road and was not at fault for exercising her choice. Mickey is gone but not forgotten. Mickey no doubt saved the lives of many more women as her attempts to fight this monster off resulted in his being caught. We have yet to know the number of other women this monster murdered.

    GOD bless Mickey, and also bless you for taking such a strong stand for Mickey and all women.

  18. Bowman2062 (@Bowman2062) says :

    Welll. I think this hasen´t to with woman at all. It has to do with the fact of so called “no go areas”. I am male, white, german and once was .. not arrested .. but stopped by the police in Los Angeles. Why? Cause i decided to do something these strange people on germany sometimes tend to do. I walked. From the beach to the city center. Some 20 kilometers. So far so bad. Police car stopped and the realy upset officer forced me to step in. All i did was walking. Walking through a quarter mainly inhabited by (i think) people from south america. This officer (an afro-american), you realy could see the fear in his face. He honestly was concerned about me. Or at least he didnt want to be the guy who had to the paperwork about one dead stupid german tourist. Yes it´s right. Woman have the damned right tp walk every ugly street on this planet at day or night. And we should fight for it. Unfortunatly there sometimes is reality .. and she can kill you. (Sorry for my bad english)

  19. Augustine 25 (@Augustine25) says :

    Truthfully, there is no government program, level of taxation, or level of regulation that will protect stupid people from the consequences of their stupid behavior. In the real world, it makes more sense to hold people 100% accountable for what happens to them. This way, they will at least be rewarded for protecting themselves. For a great book on why the whole premise of this post is dangerous, see Charles Murray’s Losing Ground.

    • Rebecca says :

      Hello, thanks for your comment. However, your argument is a straw man fallacy and does not appear to address my argument in any way. My article speaks not to government intervention, rather I am making a case against problematic cultural norms and the public discourse and attitudes that perpetuate them. If you clarify which specific points in my argument you take exception with and why so (and if you make certain that you understand the argument that I am actually making), you will then have presented some substantive and relevant content to which I may respond in depth. Thanks again and I hope you have a great day!

  20. Ednalouise1! says :

    Rebecca’s getting sassy with her responses to these logical fallacy filled commenters. I like it!

    • Rebecca says :

      It’s not the first time someone has called me sassy, but I like it every time! Thanks for making me laugh out loud.

  21. Andrea Neighbours says :

    Rebecca,
    I feel passionate about what you’ve written. I bike alone, at night, often. I often do not have a car to use because my family shares our vehicles, so I am reliant on my bicycle to get around. Our bus system stinks. And I cannot lie–it is not a hardship but a joy to be on bike, exercising, not wasting gas or polluting, enjoying the freedom of the wind on my face. Last week I needed to get to my evening book group and had no car, so I biked to and from. We broke up around 11 pm. My group talked about what happened to Mickey; several of my mates offered to drive me home, but I felt comfortable bicycling. Am I stupid; reckless, careless? No–I am living according to my values, my needs and desires. I am careful; I bike on well-lit streets; pick my route carefully and let friends know when I arrive. If some monster attacks me, I will not have asked for it. i will have been exercising my rights and freedoms as cautiously as my circumstances allow, and our society will have failed me. I am baffled by those ignoring your argument about gender based violence–that somehow women are at fault when we make decisions either by choice or necessity to travel alone at night. If a man had no car and had to get home at night from playing cards with his buddies, no one would blame him and assign him fault if he was victimized. Thanks for your piece and your thoughtful responses.
    –Andrea

  22. Jessica says :

    Matt are you saying that having a vagina is like having “money stapled to your clothes”?

    • Shannon says :

      One of my thoughts, too, Jessica. That and how someone could draw the comparison between a woman wearing clothes that show her (fill in the body part) and having money stapled to your clothes. I guess if you let someone see “your goods,” it’s your fault it they try to take them from you.

  23. Kate says :

    You are far too polite to the males who commented in this thread who obviously don’t get it. They are, unfortunately, typical of many men – completely without empathy. They cannot ever imagine what it is like to be a female. Thank goodness my husband, son, and many of my men friends are feminists. They truly do get it.

  24. Beth Younger says :

    Rebecca, your post is fabulously powerful and smart. Thank you. And I’m truly impressed with how you respond to the negative and often misguided comments on your post. You’re much more thoughtful (and way nicer) than I would be. Rock on!

  25. JAcob says :

    Hi Rebecca,
    Thank you for your thorough and thoughtful response. Here is my reply:
    “[F]irst I want to point out that the George W. Bush quote was intended as an illustration of how different the public response is to political terrorism as compared to the common response to violence against women, where the victim’s actions are often called into question, displacing blame and attention from the perpetrator of a crime to the victim.”

    Yes, I got that, although I can see from my post how this may not have been apparent.

    “[W]e ask that women relinquish their freedoms and then when they do not in a particular case and a perpetrator harms them, we blame them for being victimized.”

    You and I agree that this is a real and sad phenomenon. Where we may disagree is that you seem to conflate asking a woman to relinquish freedom with blaming her for being victimized. The latter is always wrong, the former is sometimes wrong, and they are not the same thing. In fairness, my original response also sort of conflated the two. I really meant to defend this guy for being protective of women (“If my wife or one of my female friends told me they were planning to bike home alone at 2:30 AM, I would insist on giving her a ride”), but not so much for his sweeping warning to women (“Just don’t go places alone in the middle of the night!”). Sometimes it is safe for a woman to go places alone at 2:30 a.m., and no woman should spend her whole life without experiencing this. It was lame of me not to write this earlier.
    “I do not suggest that women should not take precautions”

    And I did not suggest that you had suggested this, although you do seem to have a problem with the particular precaution of “seek[ing] protection from the plenitude of ‘good guys.'” We agree that this cannot and should not be the sole precaution, but it is one that can come in handy, and it probably would have helped Mickey Shunick. I don’t think I’m “blaming” her by pointing that out.
    “I do not suggest … that taking precautions and refusing to engage in victim blaming are mutually exclusive.”

    I’m not clear if you are referring only to women taking precautions against violence against women or also to men taking precautions against violence against women. If you are referring to the latter, then I respectfully disagree as to the substance of your writing. Suggesting a precaution is a form of precaution (although, granted, not often a very effective one). You write: “why is it more worthwhile to ask why Mickey Shunick thought it acceptable to ride her bike at 2:30 a.m. than to ask why Brandon Scott Lavergne thought it was acceptable to smash his truck into Mickey’s bike, abduct, and murder her at 2:30am?” But of course, the man to whom you responded here never asked why Shunick thought it was acceptable to ride her bike at 2:30 a.m. (he just lamented that she did so and stated that this was a dangerous move), and he certainly never stated that asking this was somehow more worthwhile than asking why Lavergne thought it was acceptable to kill Shunik. I note that you like to use the phrase “straw man.” Do you see the straw man you rely on here? (And shouldn’t we say “straw person”?)
    “The point is that despite the precautions women take, we are still at risk to become the victims of gender violence.”

    That is not “the point”; it is one of many points. I agree with this point and I also agree with several points raised by the man to whom you responded here.

    “The other point is that exercising the freedom to travel is a simple and necessary expression of humanity. Women often decide to take risks because they would rather express their humanity and live their lives while alive than feel imprisoned by the unrealistic expectations society holds for their behavior.”

    YES, YOU ARE RIGHT. AND I THINK THIS IS REALLY THE BOTTOM LINE HERE. I HAVE TAKEN MANY RISKS SIMILAR TO THOSE SHUNICK TOOK, AND TO SECOND-GUESS HER MORE THAN I HAVE SECOND-GUESSED MYSELF WAS SEXIST. LAME.

    “[I]f a woman is going about her business – even if she is engaging in an activity that many think is unsafe – and a perpetrator commits an act of violence against her, it is problematic and damaging to criticize the behavior of the victim because it helps perpetuate a culture where women are blamed for the violence that others commit against them.”

    I agree. Normally, I would not interject with a guy-related question, but since you appear to have written this essay at least in part as a message to “well-meaning” guys about what some other “well-meaning” guy wrote on this subject (“I object to the problematic positions that support this unfair expectation – and hope to win some hearts and minds in the process”), I have to ask: assuming that there is a world where men do not have to choose between condemning Lavergne and being protective of women (‘y’know, since we on average and due to our biology, have physically stronger arm muscles than women), how do you suggest we act with regard to taking precautions against the specific manifestations of the ugliness of the Lavergnes of the world? Please keep in mind that while this question is related to how men should act with regard to the general roots of this type of ugliness, for practical reasons, it must sometimes be contemplated as a separate question. Again, the man to whom you respond wrote: “If my wife or one of my female friends told me they were planning to bike home alone at 2:30 AM, I would insist on giving her a ride.” Assuming this guy would relent after being declined numerous times by a female friend in this situation, which is probably a fair assumption, do you really have a problem with what he wrote here? Because if you do, especially in light of your acknowledgment that women are more vulnerable than men, this would pose a real dilemma for most men.

    “[W]omen are not responsible for the violence that others commit against them.”

    Right. I don’t think I said they were.
    “I take exception with the attempted analogy about the man voluntarily engaging in a fight at a bar. Victim blame occurs when people criticize (mainly) women for going about their day or night. That is different from deciding to engage in violent conflict and becoming injured.”

    This is because you don’t know what it’s like to be a guy. You are asking men to use their imaginations to appreciate the female perspective. Now can you please take a moment to imagine yourself in the situation I describe, not as a woman, not as your idealized notion of what a man should be, but as many men actually are? (By the way, this is a handy exercise for many other contexts.) I’m not talking about two guys bumping into each other and then fighting. I’m talking about one guy minding his own business getting fucked with by a bigger, stronger guy, not backing down, and then getting severely beaten or killed (I didn’t mention getting stabbed or shot earlier, but these are related and not uncommon risks). Again, standing up to a bully is indeed analogous to being a woman riding her bike home alone at 2:30 p.m. because they are both things people “should” be able to do without getting killed. You are right in that this is not a perfect analogy, and I admitted as much in my first post. The fact that there is no perfect analogy is evidence of the inequalities vis-à-vis personal safety between women and men.
    “I do stand by the argument that men and women who engage even in subtle victim blaming help perpetuate a culture of acceptance of gender-based violence and terror.”

    I agree, but I do not have as broad a definition of “victim blaming” as you do.

    “I do not equate perpetrators and [those who say ‘[t]his is how your world is’ and on the other hand you say ‘[t]his is how your world will always be’], which is why I draw the distinction between them in the piece. I object to your reading that this puts them ‘on the same level as a rapist.’ That was not the argument or the intention.”
    Object away, but you are kind of back-tracking here, which fine, as long as you acknowledge it. You are clearly a very literate person. You must realize that is not much of a “distinction” to write “even if you are not a perpetrator, you are identifying yourself as a perpetuator.” That’s kind of an equation, Rebecca. I really hope you come to see how your otherwise strong argument is undercut by such hyperbole.

    “The intention, rather, is to push men and women whose first response is to question or criticize victims’ behaviors to re-think that response that we have all been socialized to engage in, and to re-focus attention on perpetrators of violence.”

    That’s a legit intention, and I think you do a very good job. I’m just not sure if this particular guy’s writing was the right fit for your message. Note that he does not just discuss Shunik’s decisions, but also those of the people she may have left behind while riding solo at 2:30 a.m.! (“If my wife or one of my female friends told me they were planning to bike home alone at 2:30 AM, I would insist on giving her a ride”). The article this guy wrote about does not mention such details, but I did a quick web search and found that Shunick was last seen “leaving a friend’s home.” Not a library. Not a workplace where she was the last employee to leave. A friend’s home. Yes, victim-blaming is common when women are attacked. Yes, it is right to condemn victim-blaming. But no, it is not right to limit the description of this guy’s writing to victim-blaming. If you were Shunick’s mom or dad, would you really have to choose between blaming Lavergne and being disappointed in the friend that let her ride her bike home alone at 2:30 p.m.?
    “To your argument about men being protected by law enforcement: we all are protected by law enforcement. Rarely when a man is a victim of violence do we question his activities. It is assumed he should have the freedom to travel. Women are not granted that assumption.”
    True, and good point. I would suggest that the appropriate way to deal with this is to question the decisions made by male victims, not to stop questioning decisions made by female victims. We can do this and also place blame on the offenders.
    “In certain other cultures and even in certain communities in America, it is more culturally acceptable for women to travel alone or travel at night. In certain other cultures, they do not have the same levels of violence against women that we have in the U.S.”
    Right. And it was a lazy, sexist cop-out for me not to acknowledge this.
    “I hope you will re-read the piece at this point to get a better sense of what I’m saying and not saying.”

    I did, and I respectfully ask that you do the same.

    • Rebecca says :

      Hi Jacob, thank you for your thorough, thoughtful, and clarifying reply as well.

      I quoted my male acquaintance extensively because I wanted to present his argument and perspective as fully as possible and in his own words. I wanted to make clear that he is well-intentioned. The points he makes are exceptionally common ones. His argument was the perfect one to lead into the piece because it was the exact argument that inspired the piece.

      To speak to what may be the crux of the discussion here: There is a difference between offering someone an escort and commenting on a victim’s behavior in the aftermath of violence. In addressing my acquaintance’s position, I not once argued against his practice of offering to be his wife’s or friends’ escort (giving him the benefit of the doubt about his use of the word “insist”). If you offer a friend or acquaintance protection via escort, and that friend for whatever reason declines the offer (she doesn’t feel comfortable with you, doesn’t want to “lead you on” or be a “tease,” or just doesn’t feel like having an escort), and someone else harms her during whatever time or travel you would have been there if she had accepted the offer, there is still nothing helpful about negatively commenting on that choice in the aftermath. If others ask, sure, let them know you offered. Give them the facts. If they say you should have insisted more or not taken no for an answer, tell them you offered and she made the decision to decline the offer and to stop engaging in victim blame. When I clarified that I was not arguing against anyone taking the precautions they want to and are able to take, that extends to friendly escorts.

      To go deeper: I make the point in the essay that distinguishing between “good” and “bad” guys is not all that simple. When women are commonly victims of violence from acquaintances, friends, family members, or intimate partners, it complicates what my acquaintance here presented as a simple precautionary option. We often feel damned if we do, damned if we don’t. When we do have guys in our life whom we trust fully and who don’t let us down, they are often not available when we need to get where we need to go. That’s why I sarcastically referred to the “plenitude” of good guys – this plenitude often doesn’t exist for us. It’s also just plain unacceptable that we accept it as normal that women cannot travel alone without “attracting predators” or “asking for it.” I make the point in the essay that women take risks every day, for many years, without encountering the stranger in the bushes. This conditions us to continue taking risks, yet we always understand we are taking risks. Even if Mickey had survived that night had she had an escort or chose another way home, what exactly is the point in commenting on that after the fact? Oh, right, to warn the rest of us who haven’t been murdered yet despite engaging in risky behavior. Hint: we know the risks, probably better than you do.
      I wrote in the response to your initial comment that: “if a woman is going about her business – even if she is engaging in an activity that many think is unsafe – and a perpetrator commits an act of violence against her, it is problematic and damaging to criticize the behavior of the victim because it helps perpetuate a culture where women are blamed for the violence that others commit against them.” You said in your response that you agree with this. By “commenting” on what the victim did wrong or should have done differently or how other women should behave differently, one is criticizing the victim’s actions.

      You wrote: “the man to whom you responded here never asked why Shunick thought it was acceptable to ride her bike at 2:30 a.m. (he just lamented that she did so and stated that this was a dangerous move), and he certainly never stated that asking this was somehow more worthwhile than asking why Lavergne thought it was acceptable to kill Shunik. I note that you like to use the phrase “straw man.” Do you see the straw man you rely on here? (And shouldn’t we say “straw person”?)”

      Let’s keep it as “straw man” for the sake of consistency and in case other readers want to google the definition – even if I did not commit a straw man fallacy in this case. “Just don’t go places alone in the middle of the night!” ABSOLUTELY implies judgment on Mickey’s decision to ride her bike that night. By contrasting this set of questions, I posited questions that people DO NOT ASK in the aftermath of incidences of violence against women. When people do ask these questions, they are disrupting cultural norms. By choosing to make that one statement (an imperative) that set off the subsequent responses that led to his other statements, my acquaintance chose to focus on the actions of the victim rather than on those of the perpetrator and/or on the socio-cultural context in which Lavergne committed this violent act. He clearly did not feel it was worthwhile to focus on Lavergne. He did not comment on Lavergne’s behavior until women on the thread brought it up, and then his response is to dismissively argue that there will never be a world without violence against women. (Fallacy of false dilemma.) He points to a world “full of monsters.” (Oversimplified, hyperbolic statement.)
      He throws us a bone and writes: “Of course we should teach boys and men not to prey on women.” He presents this as an obvious action to take but does not consider or comment on what that would actually look like, or acknowledge that this is not currently a cultural norm. We don’t teach (or expect) men not to prey on women near to the extent that we teach (and expect) girls and women not to engage in risky behavior (like living and traveling). By simply accepting Lavergne’s actions as normal ones that will not change and asserting that Mickey’s actions were abnormal ones that must change, he was not stating, but he was clearly implying that it was more worthwhile to focus on what she did wrong and how other women can learn from her mistake.

      I wasn’t back-tracking by clarifying that I am not equating perpetrators and perpetuators. I knew the statement would be read as provocative. It is provocative. That does not make it hyperbolic or untrue. We are all complicit in culture. Every day we encounter many scenarios in which we have the potential to either perpetuate or disrupt problematic cultural norms. We are all perpetuators until we become conscious of it and choose to change our behavior to disrupt that which is unhealthy and unacceptable about our culture. By re-focusing our attention on the perpetrator, we not only cease to perpetuate the harm that results from victim blame. We begin to do something positive: we focus attention on the invisible, privileged, dominant, violent male. We make him visible. We hold him accountable. We affirm the rights of women and condemn the actions of men that infringe upon those rights.

      Finally: I’m glad you brought up the bullying/violence against women analogy again and expanded upon it. You initially asked, “What if gender were not at issue here?” The male-male bullying scenario you described is an example of gender-based violence. In the scenario, a man seeks to dominate another man, making the latter (who is vulnerable because he deviates from cultural norms of unhealthy, violent masculinity) appear weaker, more submissive, and therefore more feminine. Fear of appearing weak/feminine in many cases compels men or boys to attempt to assert their masculinity by fighting their bully. This scenario has everything to do with gender. Interestingly, look at the scenario with Mickey – she was abducted yet “stood up to” Lavergne by physically attacking him and trying to get free. Self-defense, or the right to stand up to the bully, is not the issue here. The issue is still the freedom to travel and exist in the world, including in public spaces.

      Look. I want to THANK YOU for reaching out and seeking clarification on this. I don’t want to make well-meaning “good guys” think that they shouldn’t offer to accompany friends or a significant other in their travels. That wasn’t the practice I criticized in the essay. Since you are an ally and want to do what you can to help, consider the following as well. We need you to refrain from blaming the victim. We need you to call out other people when they engage in victim-blaming behavior. We need you to think about how we as a culture teach men to treat women and how our society can become safer for vulnerable women and vulnerable men. When and if you have sons, we need you to dedicate lots of energy to teaching them to be good men who are empathetic to women and recognize them as being fully human and deserving of equal rights. When culture makes this impossible, teach them to disrupt and alter culture.

      If you argue that men who deviate from cultural norms of masculinity should respond to potential violence by restricting their freedoms, I would say many already do that as women do, and while this is their choice to do so (as much choice as current reality allows), their actions should not be criticized when someone else commits violence against them. If you want to extend these expectations to victims of all violence, e.g. “Dudes! Don’t exercise during the day by yourself because someone might randomly run up to you and punch you in the face!” – yes, this happened to one of my male friends in the past week – on the one hand I would disagree with that approach and argue against it. On the other hand, that might lead more men to get on board the anti-victim-blaming train – in that case, by all means, blame the victim. j/k.

  26. JAcob says :

    Thank you for your correspondence here, Rebecca. You are very thoughtful and persuasive, and you have certainly shifted my position more in your direction. And I have two sons. Take care.

  27. erinrolfs says :

    I know I’m a week late giving Rebecca props on this article and as a result I can only repeat what many have already said, that she is right. She’s right not only on a rational level, with a sound and well-thought out argument, but on an emotional level as well. I think the fear we carry around– and this includes anyone who has been the victim of violence, male or female– is incredibly hard to talk about. Maybe it is difficult because it forces us to revisit very painful memories or because we feel weak admitting to them, maybe because the real solution to conquering that fear, a reformation of our culture, seems impossible.
    But it’s worth noting that when you read her article, and she gives words to the tension that runs up your neck when you take the trash out at night and to the race of your heartbeat when you walk to your car after staying late at work, there is an empowering release. You realize how often you are afraid. You see clearly the monumental failure of a society that, rather than combat the problem, tells you to embrace the anxiety and, moreover, to disregard it would be “stupid”.
    I also understand that admitting to the fear that comes with being a woman seems to be coupled with a burden of guilt for every man. And that puts people, usually men, on the defensive. But, just as Rebecca indicates, this about an abuse of power, physical power– that is unevenly distributed between men and women, among men, and between adults and children– and we should be better than the biology that is arbitrarily bestowed upon us, it should never dictate who is allowed freedoms and who isn’t. To say this stance is “unrealistic” is to undermine all the sacrifices generations have endured to defend the rights that come with being human, it is to give up on one of the few principles that make life tolerable, that by default everyone is equally free and deserves to be happy.
    With this in mind and based off of the comments I’ve seen we all agree that the reality before us is unacceptable. So then you have to ask, since when is it ok to respond to that reality by putting limitations on the innocent? Never.
    Like I said, Rebecca’s right.

  28. Stafford says :

    Brilliant. I have often said that 100% of women I know over the age of 18 have been victims of sexual violence… but only 20% realize it. It’s time to change the world.

  29. Paul says :

    I suppose you might call this a straw man fallacy, but if I drove home through a bad/rough/unfamiliar area, decided to stop at an open store and buy a coke, then was robbed (or worse) in the parking lot I would be guilty of making a poor decision. We can talk until we are blue in the face about crime, but as it applies to that specific incident I made a poor choice. It never once entered my head that Mickey Shunick was at fault for what happened to her. Nor do I try to excuse Brandon Lavergne’s actions. But given that we all live in the real world, where awful things happen even when we try to avoid them, the choice of riding alone late at night is a poor decision.

    • Rebecca says :

      Hi Paul. Blaming yourself in that instance for making a “poor decision” is an example of blaming the victim. I would frame the decision as risky, not as “poor.” What if you engaged in the same behavior and no one victimized you? Would you still characterize it as a poor decision?

      Even if you personally are an equal-opportunity victim-blamer (by judging the nonviolent actions of the victimized individual), that does not address the gendered nature of public responses to instances of violence against women and the reality that women are not only more vulnerable members of the public, but less privileged and subject to greater judgment in the aftermath of crimes committed against them than men are (except cases of violence against gender-nonconforming men). It does not address that male violence is a cultural norm, men exercising the freedom to travel is a cultural norm, and women exercising the freedom to travel and live is not. (This speaks to the difference between crime in general and gender-based violence.) To begin to address abusive behaviors committed by a dominant group, it’s important to make that group visible and hold them accountable for their actions. When we focus our attention on the behaviors of victims, we in part (and unintentionally) excuse the behavior of the perpetrator.

      It can be really difficult to examine the way we’ve all been socialized to think about crime, and to blame victims for the actions others commit against them. Even if you continue to disagree, I’m glad you’re thinking about it and commenting. Many thanks.

  30. Brittany Lockard says :

    Very well written Rebecca! You did an amazing job with this!

  31. Darwin says :

    “Hi Paul. Blaming yourself in that instance for making a “poor decision” is an example of blaming the victim.”

    No, it’s called taking responsibility for your choices and actions.

    I don’t care if you are man, woman, or animal, I don’t care what you do, where you go, or what your attitude may be. Let’s say you are completely right in your lengthy arguments- let’s say there is not a shadow of a doubt in the correctness of your views.. The bottom line is that when sh*t happens, your being correct won’t matter. How well you make better decisions will help increase your chances of survival, but there are no guarantees.

    It has always been, and will always be “survival of the fittest” since life began on Earth. Take responsibility for your actions and watch your ass if you want to minimize risk. Gender or species be damned.

  32. Neil says :

    I ride to and from work, late at night, in a city of 12 million. I have never once been threatened or abused. Once someone threw a can at me- do I now assume that all drivers are going to try to knock me off my bike with projectiles?

    You are citing rare, tragic, incidents to justify your paranoia. I am curious- where do you feel safe? From what I can deduce, any scenario where you are not in a crowd and there is a man there would be considered a dangerous situation. Is that really how you feel we should function as a society, assuming half of it consists of savage troglodytes that could at any moment attack any woman.

    In this article you outline these fears and then state that you are not going to be allowed to be a victim, somehow reclaiming some national right by confronting your own exaggerated fears and not backing down using one of bush’s few intelligible quotes.

    The rest of the world calls this ‘going for a bike ride’ and think nothing more of it.

    As a cyclist at night your #1 fear should be not being seen and being hit by a car- not rape.

    This article has nothing to do about cycling or road safety, but is rather an insight into the paranoia you (and many of your readers) share of the male race. This is a direct result of the kind of scaremongering that has ruined this country.

    I hope that if you ever get a puncture on one of these stoic rides and someone stops to help you that you thank them, rather than mace them.

    • Rebecca says :

      Hi Neil,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Your dismissal of our “paranoia” would be refreshing as an alternative to the victim-blaming mentality of so many other commenters who object to what I have written were it not an indication of your extreme ignorance of women’s collective lived experiences.

      Additionally, you employ a false analogy, multiple straw men, a naturalistic fallacy, and judgmental language.

      Please identify which statements from the essay you take exception with and logically state your counterargument so that I may then respond in more depth.

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