October 20, 2013

Common ground

Reports continue to come in of a man indecently exposing himself on Tooting Common, where we walk Scout and from where many of the nature observations in this blog were drawn. Although hard facts are in short supply, concern is growing on Twitter, with advice and suggestions ranging from cutting back the brambles and ground cover to advising women not to walk on the Common by themselves. Both of these responses, though well-meaning, depress me a great deal.

Women are constantly being told that the world is a scary place and that our activities must be curtailed: don't go out by yourself; don't go out late; dress "appropriately" (whatever that means); don't get drunk; don't walk here, or there; above all, stay indoors, where it is "safe". This ignores, of course, the fact that the vast majority of violence against women happens behind closed doors and is inflicted by people we know.

And the answer to women feeling – or being – vulnerable in public is not to decrease our visibility, but to increase it: more women, in more places, more of the time. We must not let one individual prevent women jogging, going for a walk or taking their dogs out; while I understand the reflex, that is no kind of answer to the wider problem. We should not be this easily cowed.

Neither must the Common's precious wildlife habitats be compromised as a response to these incidents. I understand the worry that the behaviour may escalate from flashing to assaults, and I acknowledge the general feeling that Something Must Be Done. But what that Something is involves the individual being apprehended, and that is the job of the police. As I understand it, they are on the case.

For too long women have been told that we cannot have the same freedoms as men lest we put ourselves at risk; that the solution to the behaviour of a few is the confinement of the many. I call bullshit on this. The responsibility for these incidents on the Common lies with the man, or men, who are exposing themselves; and with them lies the responsibility for it stopping. It is not the job of the bramble thickets to stop sheltering him, and it is not the job of women to stop it happening by curtailing our lives. He is the one whose behaviour must change; not us.

As a nation we are keen to resist changes to our way of life due to the threat of terrorism because if our behaviour is curtailed, "the terrorists have won". This is the same. It is not for us women to stop ourselves being attacked. It is for men to stop attacking us.