Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Places in the World a Woman Could Walk (for Shannon Collins)

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.

13 comments:

  1. I'm so sorry. This is a sad thing. And I understand the connection you are making to the book title and the no-safe-places for women to walk in the world, which I have recently been pondering (re-pondering). There's a radical uncertainty and insecurity for any of us in the world--this kind of thing happens to men, too, and to any of us in minority or marginalized groups, as well as the population at large if a "crazy" is involved, or someone driven by motive--but I see the connection you are making to the continuing lack of safety for women. I lived in the city of Chicago for 20 years as a young woman (at the start), getting everywhere by walking or public transportation, and I grew to feel comfortable and fairly secure alongside my intellectual awareness of the huge and ongoing risk I was always taking. A real risk.

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  2. Kathleen,yes, life is in some sense always at risk and freak things happen. My friend's son in law was plowed into by some teenagers who had just stolen a car only a week or so ago. He survived it, but he might not have.

    I think the thing about this incident is that we tend to protect ourselves from violence agaist women by thinking, well, she was hanging out in the wrong crowd, or walking somewhere she shouldn't have, or any of a number of things that differentiate us from her. But this one is stripped of any fault on the woman's part, unless it is just the fault of a woman daring to walk anywhere alone at all.

    And of course, he might have stabbed a random man too--so perhaps I particularize too much.

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  3. No, I think you are in tune with something about women still being unsafe in the world. And alas for all the blaming of women...bad stuff happens to women because bad people do bad things. To oversimplify, of course. But I really wish we'd start blaming the perps.

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  4. I think that some of the tenor of that earlier time, which I didn't quite capture here was a kind of utopian spirit of simply imagining such spaces. Living in a sort of feminist utopia as I do, or at least it's been described as such at times, you feel the discrepancy between hope and reality especially keenly at such a time.

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  5. This is a little bit freaky, but my blogging pal PQ just posted a post about four unbelievable true stories that have just recently crossed his path in Austin, where he is a fairly recent transplant. The second story was about a stabbing attempt by a 'maniac' on two women who were bicycling. A jogger knocked one of the women off her bike and stabbed her multiple times.Fortunately, she survived. His post is here.

    I should probably amend this post to include places a woman could ride.

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  6. Hi Seana. Scary and awfully sad. I think the idea that the acting out on women, even if by a crazy, is very telling about our society in general. Still the ideas run amok that women should stay inside and keep quiet and not live with freedom and joy. And having to feel fearful, even if nothing ever happens to us keeps us in a prison without bars. Ever watchful and somewhat fearful means that we aren't free at all.

    Sorry to hear about all that. I'm sure it shook you up quite a bit.

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  7. Oh, dear, more of this trouble. I think Julie is right that this is sometimes "acting out on women," a societal ill. Alas.

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  8. I suppose the world is always going to be unsafe, no matter how we try to remain protected. Disturbing as that is, there is a liberating aspect to really believing that. Out life choices are often based on that fact that tomorrow will be the same as today. And sometimes those aren't the best life choices.

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  9. Awful, awful story. I'm sorry to hear that. It's always hard to deal with senseless violence like this.

    Brian O

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  10. "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?"

    That reminds me of the stories one will occasionally gear about people with Tourette's syndrome who will have these eruptions of profanity and racial epithets. They can't control what they say, but why do they say what they do when they lose control?=======================================
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com.

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  11. Thanks, everyone. I know that it gets tricky singling out one particular crime as somehow different than the way this bloody tooth and nail works at large, but I think these kinds of attacks represent something different than the random kind of bad luck that happens to everyone sooner or later. I think it has something to do with the intentionality behind them.

    Peter, yes, the question of why those words become the uncontrollable thing to say has bothered me at times. Although maybe in that case, it would be anything that society has a taboo about.

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  12. I just read an interesting editorial about the implications of this incident here. Don't worry, it doesn't particularly support my own point of view.

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  13. A very good post. I learned a lot of things in this blog. The art of saying no.I agree with what you say, If you don�t put your goals first, nobody else will because we are responsible of ourselves. Its nice, I love this post. Cristalius

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