Last night I went to see Top Girls, Caryl Churchill’s 1982 play about the differences between liberal and socialist feminism, about having children or feeling nothing for the ones you had, about careers and Thatcher. My partner joked that the take-home message of the play was, ‘It sucks to be a woman.’
Then this morning, we woke to the news that overnight a man was charged with the rape and murder of Jill Meagher. It’s a horrible story. And even though I know people go missing every single day, this was a story I followed closely all week. How was it possible – in Brunswick – that a woman couldn’t walk less than a kilometre to her home, even when it was dark, even when she was alone?
Sydney Road is an area I know well. I was at the Cornish Arms on Saturday night. When I lived in Lygon Street, there were countless times I too walked those streets alone and at night.
It is depressing that only a couple of weeks after SlutWalk (but years after the Reclaim the Night marches and many waves of feminism), we still have to reiterate that women should be able to walk the streets at night. Women, in fact, should be able to walk and dress and drink and think as they please, just as men can, without being targeted as victims or provocateurs.
These sexist partitions that try to curb the behaviours of women, to make them less of a red flag, are not only depressing; they are enraging.
But the circumstances surrounding Jill Meagher’s death are rare. In cases of sexual violence in Australia, women know the perpetrator more than 80 per cent of the time. And for women from their teens to their mid-40s in Victoria, partner violence is the most common cause of preventable death. And these are just the numbers we know of. Only a small percentage of women even report rape in Victoria, perhaps because fewer than one in six end with prosecution.
So we should be wary of accepting the illusion that we’d be safer with more police walking the streets, or more police scrutinising the lives and pastimes of women. More police on the streets, which is historically what the Reclaim the Night marches called for, won’t change the above statistics. It won’t change attitudes to women either: a heavily policed community doesn’t eradicate sexism and misogyny. Besides, it was a police officer’s shaming of women that triggered SlutWalk in the first place.
More police on the street is not going to make women safer. In actual fact, history shows that more police on the streets makes the vulnerable in our communities a lot less safe.
Oh, and it doesn’t suck to be a woman; it just sucks to be in a world where you have to constantly fight to be seen as fully human, with all the rights that entails.