A place for new ideas to settle.

15 October 2014

Diagnosis of an overwhelming fear, pt. 1

At the end(?) of a heated debate about whether taking up-skirt photos of women in public places counts as free speech (my short opinion: if wearing clothes over them doesn't count as a reasonable expectation of the privacy of your underwear, we're all fucked), a friend of Katrina's said this:
[Women] face threats and rude encounters on an almost daily basis. It gets exhausting. We can't go out by ourselves at night from fear of rape or kidnapping. No such thing as late night jogs/walks by yourself. We are careful walking to our cars, often with keys in hand in case something happens. We must always watch anything we drink in public, in case it is spiked. We must watch what we wear, lest we want people seeing it as invitation to touch us everywhere. We have to watch what we say every now and then because we don't want to offend someone who is a lot stronger than we are and could probably hurt us. Simultaneously, we have to meet societal standards of beauty, or else be outcast and made fun of. This entails wearing "sexy" or "form fitting" clothes, which tend to be an invitation once again for people to approach us with rudeness. It's a LOT we have to deal with on a daily basis, and it sucks. It's manageable, but exhausting, and if one thing could be taken off that list of exhausting things...it would just help so much.
This got me thinking. I totally accept that many women have a sense of fear or anxiety about the world, that lots of things are stacked against them, that they face threats to their safety and lives. Certainly this framing of the problem is not uncommon in social-justice-type circles. Being curious about this sort of thing, I wonder how much of that is based in evidence, and how much is a received narrative.

But I also wonder how in the hell one can explore that without staring down the barrel of a loaded superweapon.

This is important! A sense of overwhelming fear is a strong signal. It needs a diagnosis. Except that in this case, even a good-faith attempt at a diagnosis can be taken as erasure, agency denial, and all sorts of uncharitable motivations. So how should we proceed? How can we even proceed?

One interesting question would be, to any woman who agrees with the quoted statement: How did this fear come about? Was it always there but never identified until you learned more about the dangers? Were you naive until you learned that there were reasons to be fearful? Did you learn all of this from personal or close-relationship experience? Or something else?

I want to do a deeper analysis of this sort of thing, but on a much safer subject. That's why in the next post I'll be examining an overwhelming fear present in a certain set of white males...