When I was in my post-college years, somewhere in my twenties, there was a kind of tide of books with a feminist slant, but that weren't political so much as just about women having the freedom to just live and be in the world, and what the obstacles were. I don't remember what all these titles were, but it was probably in one of them that I heard of a collection of short stories by Janet Kauffman called Places in the World A Woman Could Walk. I have to admit that I didn't get around to reading it, but perhaps its resonance for me was what I needed to take away from it anyway. Rightly or wrongly, I assumed it really meant "there are no such places".
I learned rather belatedly last night that one of the shopkeepers on the downtown street I work on was stabbed to death in broad daylight on Monday as she walked back from a hairdressing appointment. The street she was on was one I have walked down many times and would never have considered one to avoid previously. The man who is alleged to have murdered her did not know her and is said to have been a transient from San Francisco with a history of violence. Whether there was a "reason" he chose her or no reason is irrelevant.
If there is anyone who could be considered a walker in this city, it is me, and I have certainly walked in a lot more questionable places than Broadway in the middle of the day at times. This was a freaky, aberrational event, and the guy was arrested shortly after. It's not going to change my habits much, or anyone else's, I'd guess. But it does give me pause to think that, in what is arguably one of the most liberal and free places for a woman to live in the world, this kind of thing can still happen so easily. Sure, he was a crazy guy, a "transient", but where do the crazy ideas of crazy transients really come from? Aren't they just diving a little deeper into the collective murk?
Kauffman's book originally came out in 1983. In 2012, there are still no places in the world a woman can walk with impunity. A beautiful May day in Santa Cruz, not long before noon, just proved that.