Jarring question, isn't it? Filled with guilt, blame, self-doubt... The title of Leanor Vivanco’s article in the Tribune's Red Eye
, "Are You Mug Proof,"
is a little too close to home, and considering the content of the article, he might as well have been only talking about rape. (Only one paragraph of the entire article is geared towards Dudes, the rest is an exhausting list of things one should do to not look victim-ish.)
I know, I know, this was in the paper a couple of weeks ago, but it's taken me a little while to articulate why this article, and ones like it, make me so angry. When someone in my women's lit class brought it up I was nearly foaming with rage, and I decided to figure out exactly why these little lists of Dos and Don'ts of the Daily Commute (OR OMGZ U MIGHT GET RAPED OR SUMTHIN!!1) are so offensive.
The photo accompanying the article depicts a young girl wearing headphones, texting on her cell-phone, and carrying her backpack; she’s just like any other girl on her way home from school. But in the photograph there are targets pointed on her, displaying all of the things she is doing wrong. “Your behavior could be putting you at risk to be a criminal's next victim,” Vivanco says. He then rambles a list of things one should not do, or look like, when walking down a Chicago street. Don’t put your hands in your pockets. Don’t listen to headphones. Don’t talk on your phone. “Appearing distracted or drunk can increase a person's chances of becoming a crime target,” he writes. Great. Now, not only do I have to worry about actually being drunk in public: I get to worry about whether or not I look drunk in public (which, I am sure, is most of the time). Your behavior could be putting you at risk to be a criminal's next victim.
From line one, I already feel like I am being chastised by an overbearing uncle who wants to make sure that I’m not one of “those girls.” I am instantly reminded of a seminar that was held at my dorm when I was living on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus in west Philadelphia—a city known more for its high crime rate than its Brotherly Love. It was mandatory that all of the freshman females attend; the attendance of the boys was not required. A hardened Philly cop went up to the podium and assured us that we all—each and every one of us “young ladies”—was a potential rape victim any time we left our dorm. He then also had his own little pet list of behaviors that make one a potential victim, including wearing one’s hair in a ponytail. “This gives the perpetrator a perfect opportunity to grab your hair and render you immobile,” he said. There was also a time when flyers were passed around campus warning us not to wear white sneakers, because a local serial rapist was attacking women who wore them. If a ponytail and my gym shoes make me more tempting to a perpetrator, why should I even leave my house?
Instead of making me feel more prepared or assured that I am doing the right things to keep myself safe, this article only makes me worried for new victims. There is already so much victim-blaming, especially towards young women. I can just imagine what I would hear from that same uncle had I been mugged on any given evening. Peering over his glasses, I’m sure he would have a whole list of questions for me. “Well, why were you alone? What made you think you could take that route home? And you were wearing that outfit; what did you think would happen? Were your hands in your pockets? That makes you look vulnerable, you know.” It angers me that it seems women have to bear more responsibility for what happens to them than the actual criminals do for their own actions.
What irritates me the most—and perhaps, what is the most offensive aspect of this entire line of thinking—is that the article, just like the seminar, is almost singularly directed at women. Where were the young men, and what were they doing, while I had to sit and be lectured in a stuffy auditorium for two hours? Frolicking in a field of daisies? Why don’t we lasso up all of the freshmen gentlemen and hold a seminar about why they should not rape, mug, or harm other people, and give them a list of what makes them vulnerable to becoming a criminal? We don’t do that because it would simply be ridiculous and counter-productive to create a society where all young men consider themselves to be potential perpetrators, and I think it’s just as ridiculous to live in a world where every young woman is a potential victim. And how about the fact that, actually, the average life-span of a young black man born in Chicago is 25? Statistically speaking, more young men are dying in Chicago every day...many more than women. Chicago has an insanely high homicide and gang-crime rate, but instead of telling young men how to be safer in the city, the Red Eye
would prefer that Chicago's gentlemen would "Man Up" a little bit.
But, at the same time, I can’t blame Vivanco. I grew up in Rogers Park; there are worse neighborhoods in Chicago to be a teenage woman, but “The RP” was no picnic. My sister and I often joke that the one thing we learned the best in the Chicago Public Schools was to run home, very, very fast. I know that the reality is that street crime is a problem in Chicago, and most of those crimes happen to young women. I know we can’t all just hold hands, sing “Kumbaya,” and expect everything to be okay. Vivanco, I’m sure, just wants to make us girls aware of what is happening around us. Trust me. We are all too aware. If Vivanco knew all of the decisions I make in my day that are created out of fear of rape—-what I wear, where I go, how I get there, who I go with, even who I accept food from—-and if he could hear the catcalls, the taunts, and experience the fear that most city-women experience from age twelve and upward, maybe he would make a list of things men can do to make sure women feel more comfortable on their walk home from work. Shut your mouth, don’t walk so close behind me, and don’t call at me from your car are all a great start.