"Text me when you get home xx" is just the beginning...
I live in a world where one of my AirPods always has a lower battery than the other, a side effect of rarely feeling safe enough in public spaces to have them both in at the same time. Where my favorite keychain not only reminds me of a trip to Japan, but also has sharp enough edges to be useful if I’m attacked. Where I only unlock my car when I’m right next to the driver’s door, and I always check the backseat before I get in. Where, within moments of entering a new pub, I can tell you where I won’t sit (in seats where my back’s to the door) and who I won’t go near (groups of men, of any age). Where I’ve hated myself for laughing uncomfortably when sexual comments are made about my body because it wasn’t safe for me to speak my mind in response, as I can’t trust men to step in when their mates are being misogynistic and violent.
I live in a world where nearly every one of my female friends, queer friends has experienced opportunistic gendered violence: sexual assault, catcalling, sexual harassment, stalking. Where we share both the route and means we plan to take to get home, where we know about how much time should elapse before each of us returns to their house, where we religiously text each other once we’re inside our homes safely, doors locked behind us. Where we can’t all go to the bathroom if anyone has a drink because someone has to stay behind to make sure it isn’t drugged. Where we’re mocked for all going to the bathroom together because we know that if one is left behind to watch the drinks, she’s highly likely to be harassed while sitting alone. Where at least one woman remains sober to make sure the rest can remain safe and feel some semblance of freedom on a night out. Where preparation for a first date includes sending the name, number, and photos of your date to a trusted friend, just in case.
(Photo: Patsy Stevenson pinned to the ground at vigil held by #ReclaimTheStreets for Sarah Everard)
We live in a world where a woman experiencing full autonomy feels a hell of a lot like a pipe dream. Women musicians have the freedom to sit in a pub and join a session any night of the week; still, they know their mere presence will elicit catcalling, nonconsensual touching, sexually suggestive comments interrupting their performances. Women educators have the freedom to go to their institution and teach classes; still, they know that end of term feedback will always bring up their outfits, their appearance, their attitude more so than their skill. I have the freedom to leave my home in any outfit I choose; still, I know that no matter how much or how little of my skin is showing, men will take my existence in a public space as an opportunity to jeer and lay claim to what they assume is readily available to them.
We’re told this violence, this daily preparation and anticipation of violence, is normal, is to be expected, is merely a part of life as a woman. We’re told by our elders to suck it up and get over it and, sometimes, the thinly veiled threat of it could always be worse. Films use it as a plot point, television shows treat it like a character trait, song lyrics allude to it, politicians shrug when it comes up in public conversations. When someone with a far-reaching platform speaks out about it, she’s hysterical, she’s dramatic, she’s exaggerating, she’s lying. When a woman’s attacked badly enough for it to make the news, she should have protected herself, she should have drank less, she shouldn’t have been wearing that, she shouldn’t have been alone.
In my world, our world, men are constantly reminded to consider, ‘What if she was your mother? Daughter? Sister? Wife?’ as if simply being another human being isn’t enough of a reason for them to treat us as equals. As if my relational proximity to the misogynist in question is supposed to be the determining factor for whether or not he harasses me, gropes me, follows me, attacks me. Where one of the last dying breaths of the patriarchy is #NotAllMen. Because, evidently, creating a fictional hierarchy from ‘worst’ men to ‘good’ men is more important than believing women when we discuss our lived experiences.
In this world, I sat in a lecture hall at Queen’s and heard an expert on post-conflict ex-combatant behaviors speak of constant vigilance, entrapment, fieldcraft knowledge, spatial consciousness, routinization, camaraderie, and narrow trust being used by ex-combatants in everyday, Northern Irish public spaces as if this was a novel concept. As if every woman in the class didn’t also have similar experiences, as if we don’t also employ identical behaviors, just like formally militarized people, in order to survive our daily trips into public spaces.
I didn’t come into this world wanting to be involved in politics; this world told me: to exist as a woman is to be politicized. From the limited control I have over my reproductive choices to the rarity that is walking to the grocery store without being sexually harassed – daily life for women includes opportunistic gendered violence. Yet, just like in that classroom, it’s as if every effort we put in to protect ourselves, to experience a taste of autonomy in public spaces, is either irrelevant or dramatic, unnecessary or over the top, unimportant or severely lacking.
So I decided to do something about it. To contribute something to the realms of conflict studies, military studies, feminist studies, that is filled with the voices of women who are speaking openly about how we seek peace by preparing for wars, how we utilize militarized behaviors out of concern for opportunistic gendered violence in public spaces.
In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, I surveyed 1171 women who have resided in more than 80 countries. Of them, 99.4% reported having employed at least one of the militarized behaviors described in the survey, and 72.1% reported having employed at least half of the behaviors. In the narrative portions of the survey, women described numerous militarized behaviors that they also utilize, some of which I hadn’t even considered yet. Which makes sense, as Respondent 808 described, because “so many of these habits and behaviors are instilled in us that we don’t always stop to acknowledge them – it’s just what you do.”
The resulting project is work I am immensely proud of, and work that is incredibly incomplete. This is one of – if not the – first forays into academically connecting militarized behaviors with everyday women’s existence in public spaces. Due to the constraints of my master’s program, I was limited in terms of how many militarized behaviors I could focus on, which respondent demographic details I could discuss, the full impacts of these behaviors, from mental health to economics. If nothing else, I hope this project serves as a jumping off point for future researchers who are also interested in capturing the realities and complexities of women’s experiences. If nothing else, I hope this serves as a stepping stone towards a world far, far different from this one.
- Madison Clark
MA in Conflict Transformation and Social Justice
School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy, and Politics @ Queen's University Belfast.
To view Madison's MA Dissertation, please click on the button below.