fear and safety

April 29, 2012 at 4:43 pm (gender, out and about, travel)

today i had another conversation about fear and safety. there have been quite a few recently, though mostly me just explaining my ideas without getting too much back in return. i began thinking about it when i started attending the usyd feminist discussion group, but it hasn’t come up as a topic yet. hopefully one day it will and i can hear others’ considered thoughts on the matter, too.

usually i only engage with feminism as an intersectionality. women and gender in queer. women and queer in atheism. but gendered narratives of fear and safety is a topic that is troubling me for myself. i started noticing it whenever i went hitchhiking. hitching is not a common practice these days and the default reply from anyone i tell is ‘oh you’re brave, i could never do that’. it comes from almost everyone, but especially women.

that’s case one: people accepting that there are limits to what they can do, and that these are forever fixed. more important, however, is case two: very few women ever stopped to pick me up. several have, but over the twenty thousand kms i’ve hitched, it’s a shockingly small number. of those who did, several expressed uncertainty over the decision, and some mentioned that they only stopped because i looked harmless and female – and even then they were conflicted and didn’t stop immediately, but stopped half way up the road or doubled back. rides with families were even rarer.

in the hitchhiking community itself, a gender divide is not so noticeable. i met more male than female hitchhikers, but not by much. only male hitchhikers have traveled a leg with me and only male travellers have agreed to try hitching with me, despite how interested everyone in a youth hostel tends to be. however hitchhikers are few and far between on the road and i can’t say i’ve met enough to be able to make judgements. maybe i’ll start talking to the people on hitching websites one day to get some answers. yet it stands to reason that the pattern would differ from the mainstream: hitchhikers are seen by many as extraordinary and outside the norm, and in some ways they are. surely a hitchhiker can’t possibly subscribe to the same normative concept as someone who feels the need of the trappings of modern security culture – walls and locks and laws.

when i was an undergraduate at my suburban university, living on campus was wonderful. i lived with five others in a little terrace, and while we locked our bedroom doors when we went out, we tended to leave the outside doors wide open. i could wander in and out, my friends could wander in and out, my housemate’s friends could wander in and out. it was idyllic.

however once we got intruders – two young guys with a big carving knife that may or may not have come from our own drying rack. 12.30am on a hot summer night, they broke into my room and demanded money.

we had been trying to build the place into independent cooperative student housing, since the uni wanted to be rid of its obligations, and i still believe that the outcome would’ve been better if we had.


1 Comment

  1. hanaleah said,

    wow, so much attention for this post – and it isn’t even finished! i posted what i had because i thought i’d lost the draft; hopefully i’ll get back to explain why i brought up the break in, soon.

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