Safe (public) spaces
A couple of weeks ago on the Nation blog, Feministing.com founder Jessica Valenti tackled the issue of women-only spaces (as she did previously for The Guardian), wondering about the effectiveness of the recently-instituted segregated public transit in Mexico City. Unfortunately, Valenti doesn't say anything particularly insightful or new as she directly quotes paragraphs from her Guardian article and states:
I'm pro-breathing space, but I have larger concerns as well. What happens when a woman is groped - or worse - in a train car that isn't women-only? Will she be blamed for not taking advantage of the "safe" space provided? (After all, women are all too used to being blamed when it comes to assault, questioned as to why they were out on their own/wearing a short skirt/drinking.)We applaud Valenti's attempt to shine light on this issue, but isn't this all a little redundant by now? We're pretty sure Nation readers know about the most obvious forms of victim-blaming, and this blog post does nothing to move debate forward. Even though women can sound like they're victim-blaming by advocating for self-defense tactics as a primary weapon against unwanted harassment (or worse) in public, we like this post by Taking Care of Ourselves, who advocates for learning to fight off attackers in addition to "good lighting, regular police patrols, and a societal decision to take such attacks more seriously." At least alternatives to rhetoric can provoke discussion.
However, towns in Massachusetts are considering their own type of segregation after a the rape of a six year old in a public library in New Bedford last month. Trying to find ways to enforce laws that keep everyone safe in public spaces, New Bedford mayor (and a former prosecutor) Scott Lang suggested that everyone present ID before entering the library. "If it means the inconvenience of swiping an ID or using a guest pass to let people in," he said, "it’s a small price to pay to let people know they’re completely safe."
We're not sure penalizing those without picture ID or library cards is a solution in the fight against sexual predators, so we like the counter argument made by the New England School of Law professor, David M. Siegel:
"Excluding people from so many places and certain places could violate their fundamental rights. The idea of identifying some public spaces as off-limits to people who are registered sex offenders because there are children in them, like libraries, is potentially unlimited."It's the same problem we face when trying to find solutions to street harassment. While we obviously realize the important and glaring differences between catcalls and the violent sexual assault of a minor, we do believe these incidents live on the same spectrum, that violence exists in relation to its own variants and that harassment is part of sometimes-violent oppression. But how far do we have to go legally to keep ourselves - all of us - safe? Enforced limits on shared space have never made a difference - "separate but equal" has never been equalizing - and yet we don't wish to live our lives in fear. Addressing the underlying social diseases that make these symptoms visible often seems like our only choice to effectively move forward.