Women, and The Culture of Fear
by Tobey Irish
Walking out of the library, arms filled to my chin with books, I spotted an older man standing next to my car, watching me. He didn’t leave as I approached, in fact he started pulling on my car doors.
“This is your car, right?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied. What on earth are you doing? I added silently.
“It’s locked,” he said, pulling on the door handle again.
“Yes,” I answered. Oh my gosh he’s crazy.
“Do you have the keys?” He held out his hand to me.
“Yes.” I raised my arm a bit to show him the keys in my hand, but when he leaned forward I leaned back, grasping them tightly. He gave me a puzzled look and walked away.
Good gravy, I thought, you can’t even go the library without be accosted by insane people.
It was a full five minutes later, driving home, when I realized what he had wanted.
He wanted to open the door for me. Because I had so many books. He was being kind and I was hostile for no reason, because I had assumed he was a nutcase that I should get away from as quickly as possible. Which got me thinking:
Why did I assume that? Why, when confronted with an unexpected situation, was my first, instinctive reaction fear?
To illustrate further, a friend my mine was walking in a car garage when a men tapped her on the shoulder. She screamed and nearly took off running. He turned out be completely harmless, just wanted directions, but she told me, “I was so angry at him for touching me. He scared me to death.” But didn’t touching someone on the arm use to be a gentle way to get their attention? A way of saying “excuse me”? Not in an underground garage, apparently. I think it can be hard for men to understand just how deeply freaked out a lot of women are, a lot of the time. When walking through a dimly lit neighborhood after dark I am automatically nervous, even if the neighborhood is not known to be what you would call deadly. So who taught me to be like that? Not personal experience; I’ve never been attacked by anyone. Parents? They would tell me (and still tell me) to be cautious, but not continuously spooked. The news? Well, I’m sure the headlines about stabbings and beatings and senseless mayham don’t help. But I truly believe that most of my fear comes, actually, from the never-ending images of violence against women in entertainment. Remember that scene in that big movie when the heroine is just coming home from work, and she’s all alone, in a dark dingy area, and she gets attacked by a vicious thug? That scene from “Spiderman”? Oh wait, that scene is in “Batman Begins” too. Actually, a scene of terrorizing from a thug or villain is in nearly every action/superhero film with a female in it. It’s so reoccurring as to be ubiquitous. And that’s not counting horror movies, which I do not watch.
I’m jumpy enough without seeing girls my age being brutally hacked to pieces.
A dangerous world it is, and the imagination makes it even more dangerous. I hate this. I hate being afraid, and there is little I can do to control it, at least on a personal level. I didn't go to see the new Batman film; I just don't need to see the Joker with his half-melted face holding a knife to some girl's throat behind every bush. I'm done supporting alarmist, vicious trash. Even if the film or piece of music or artwork is otherwise a masterpeice, images of the pain and torture of women inflicted by larger, stronger men qualifies said work as a form of trash. And we are all paying for it, judging by an increasingly fearful and distrusting world. So my message to men in general is as follows:
The next time you try to be kind to a unknown female and she reacts as if you were an escapee from Arkham, don’t take it personally. If you were us, you’d be frightened too. Just back away from the car, and refrain from touching us on the shoulder.
And girls: They may continue to create fantasy worlds that feature our helplessness, but they don't have to do it with our dollars.
Tobey Irish was born in St. Etienne, France in 1542. She attributes her youthful looks to "exercise, organic food, and some freaky punch I drank at Napoleon Bonaparte's going-away party." She primarily writes science fiction, which she insists on calling nonfiction ("You'll see."). She has been deported from Ireland in every century since her birth, including this one.