This post about a young woman who was assaulted on a train from Long Beach is quite powerful. I couldn’t agree with her more that it sucks to be a woman. I do disagree though with the implication that this state of suckiness is entirely cultural, and therefore changeable. I believe it is only to an extent.
I think women often really underestimate how crazily powerful the sexual urge is in men. The truth is, being an attractive young woman is roughly like carrying about $10,000 on your person at all times. You didn’t ask for it, and there’s really no way you can get rid of it. You just have it.
Even worse, women have been endowed with few defenses against it being taken from you. (“taken”=”rape” or some other such assault.) In most cases, they are physically weaker than the men who desire to take it from them. The only thing protecting women is the culture.
One way culture can protect women is by making them the property of men. The more desirable women would become the property of the stronger or more powerful men.
But this is pretty much a shitty thing to be, someone’s property. If you believe that women are people, then we’re going to want to find a better solution than that. And anyway that system provides no protection from the protectors. Or, should I say, “protectors”.
Another way is to control the entire culture through elaborate rules of propriety. In Japan, women are generally quite safe wherever they go because of this. The downside of this is that Japanese people live a life of severely sublimated individuality. Americans would not tolerate living like this, and I can’t see any way of American culture evolving into this. (Though I can imagine Japanese culture evolving to be more individualistic and America-like.)
What we have in America now is an insistence that women be given every bit of freedom that men have. This is a good thing. But I think along with we have to realize that, no matter what we do to the culture, women are still saddled with that $10,000 in cash wherever they go. And they are waving it about in front of everyone’s face, whether they want to be or not.
Some men already have enough money, so they don’t care. Some men care about deeper matters than money, so they’re not going to bother women. Some men don’t have enough money, and really desire money, but they also possess empathy and/or a moral code, so they aren’t going to bother the woman either, or will feel bad if they do. And then there are the others, the dangerous ones, who really desire the money, don’t have much or any of their own, and also have little empathy or not much of a moral code.
No culture is ever going to get rid of those men. So a healthy and functioning culture is always going to have to acknowledge the unique difficulties of women in the world, and make special efforts to protect them.
If you were actually carrying $10,000 around, you would not go and wave it around in front of poor people in dark alleys, or any other such dangerous neighborhood. If someone gets mugged of their $10,000 after they walk into it waving around the money, we would have ambiguous feelings about how bad we felt for that person. We would certainly blame the muggers and think them bad, but we’d also tell the person who got mugged that they weren’t acting wisely.
And this is where the culture has failed the young woman who wrote that post. First, it has failed to make her public transportation a safe place for her to be. Second, it has apparently failed to tell her that that public transportation is not a safe place to be.
(Not all public transportation is unsafe for women. But I think this traih in Los Angeles is, for a number of reasons that could be the subject of another post.)
For example, the culture in America did a great job of telling white people not to go to places like, say, Compton. (But then, that’s one thing American culture is really good at, protecting the interests of white people, to an exaggerated extent even.)
That attractive young woman taking a 10:30pm train from Long Beach is like a white person going to Compton. Or a black person going into a white’s only lunch counter in Alabama in the 1950s. But the culture is not informing her or anyone of this.
We acknowledge that there is a sickness going on in the Compton and the lunch counter cases. (In both cases, the fault of white people, no doubt). We work to try to correct that sickness. But while we’re working to correct it, we don’t pretend like it doesn’t exist and just keep behaving as though were are completely free to do and go wherever we want.
So I agree with her basic thesis, in which she wants to demonstrate how much it sucks to be a woman. Truth. What I disagree with is that this is somehow going to be cured through cultural enlightenment. I don’t believe it will be. Women are always going to be saddled with that $10,000, and there are always going to be men who really want it and have nothing inside stopping them from thinking they are entitled to it.
So, I think it is likely that women will never truly be free in the same way men are. They’re always going to have to be aware of what their bodies mean in the minds of men, and that complaining about this state of things won’t make it go away. Part of being a woman will always and forever be strategizing about how to keep themselves safe while they are carrying around this $10,000.
In this particular case, I think it is the duty of the city of Los Angeles to keep women safe on public transportation. If that was the thesis of this blog post, I would be behind it 100%. One simple thing they could do is have women-only cars. Japan does this. And then have mechanisms of enforcement for this.
Until this happens, this woman should not be under impression that public transportation is a safe space for her. It’s not. It’s a poor black neighborhood and she is a privileged white guy walking around waving $10,000.
She is right to be enraged that public transportation is not a safe space for her. Her city has failed her. This is deeply unfair.
What I think she should stop being enraged about is that she has to carry around this $10,000, and that there are men out there who will do anything to get it, or who otherwise feel entitled to it. This is a fact of life. As the culture evolves I hope it figures out better ways of dealing with this than it is now. But denying that it is a permanent fact of the human race is not a good way of dealing with it.