By Melinda Carstensen
As a teen living in the suburbs of Orlando, I learned to master the art of traveling alone safely. While walking to my car in a dark parking lot, I’d grip my key between my index and middle finger, stay alert and walk with authority.
Like holy Bible verses, those were ideals my mother drilled into me at an early age.
Parents around the country have this exact conversation with their daughters, even today. Which begs the question, has this fear of violence among women become the norm? And should we, as a society, take issue with it?
Washington Post columnist Emily Badger wrote about the perplexing “culture” of violence against women in an article published earlier this week.
“Women are more than five times more likely than men to be killed by an intimate partner,” she writes. “Nearly one in five American women say they have been raped or experienced an attempted rape in their lifetime. One in six have been stalked. About half say they've experienced physical violence at some point.”
Over time, women have consistently reported being afraid to walk home alone, according to a report by the General Social Survey. A group of men and women were asked over 39-year period: “Is there any area right around here — that is, within a mile — where you would be afraid to walk alone at night?”
In 2012, the last time participants were surveyed, twice as many women as men said, “yes.”
The good news is crime rates in the United States have fallen since the ‘90s, and that over time women have reported feeling less fearful of walking home alone in their neighborhoods. (Rates among men had stayed the same.)
Rates of fear among females, on the other hand, are similar across the board: Women in their 60s didn’t report feeling less scared than those between ages 18 and 39.
The conversation of violence against women has been made even more pressing today in light of the recent shootings in Milford, Conn., and Santa Barbara, Calif.
In Milford, a male teen stabbed and killed a 16-year-old girl because she reportedly declined his invite to prom. In Santa Barbara, after a 22-year-old man went on a shooting spree targeting the young women he says rejected him for dates and sex, a conversation erupted on Twitter with #YesAllWomen. The hashtag launched last Friday, and people across the globe — celebrities, journalists, everyday men and women — are still sounding off on issues surrounding sexual harassment, dating norms, and feelings of male entitlement, while calling out common experiences among women.
Current events have sparked conversation, but Badger, the Post columnist, says that addressing these issues is challenging considering our culture is steeped in them.“How do we design correctives to the underlying ideas that women are somehow second class, that they alone don't control their bodies, that harming them is a lesser crime?”