This eloquent post by Gen Stewart was shared on Facebook by the Young Vagabond team at 9pm on Thursday evening.
Young Vagabond is a digital magazine published by two Melbourne women that is firmly focused on encouraging young women to push boundaries, smash stereotypes, create adventures and forge their own paths. They also host workshops in schools spreading the same message.
Within a few minutes of sharing the post above, it was clear that the words resonated. Twelve hours after publishing it the post had been liked 10,000 times.
Outside of Facebook, and outside of this post, the notion that women ought to stop walking in parks to avoid being the victim of a violent crime, was being discussed and dissected.
There is consensus between many men and women that women walking in a park is not the problem here: a man stabbing a women is the problem.
Balancing that principle with practicality means some people do not agree that Detective Inspector Mick Hughs’ comments were misguided. Whilst the problem shouldn’t be a woman walking in a park, in this case it was so is there not some merit in advising women to avoid this risk?
I would argue there is not. Accepting that as a viable practicality reinforces the problem. Had the Detective Inspector been categorical in denouncing violence and stated unequivocally the need to invest in preventive measures and behavioural change programs, for example, his comment might have invoked a different response. But he didn’t. He advised what individual women can do to prevent being a victim to such a crime. That emphasis matters.
Consider for a moment, the spate of king-hits that occurred in Sydney’s King’s Cross in late 2013 and early 2014. The response to these abhorrent acts, two of which were fatal, was swift and comprehensive. There was a taskforce, the Premier was involved, the community demanded action and strict new laws were imposed, not without some resistance.
Front pages were dedicated to these crimes and there was plenty of discussion about how these acts of cowardice ought to be denounced. The focus was not on the fact that men in general should avoid pubs or drinking altogether. The emphasis was on deterring and punishing the individuals inclined towards such monstrous acts. The response appears to have been effective.
Now consider that 23 women have been killed in Australia already this year. 23. That is 23 families who have lost a daughter, a sister or an aunt to violence this year. It is a cause for desperate despair and yet a substantive response eludes us. It doesn’t elude us because it’s beyond the realm of possibilities. It eludes us because the intent to bring it within the realm of possibilities eludes us.
That is the context in which it is maddening to be told that if women simply avoided parks they would be safe. And that is why, I believe, 13,000 people flocked to the Young Vagabond post. Because a young woman, for whom this is not a hypothetical exercise, put it in her own terms. Why should the greater onus sit with victims rather than perpetrators? Why should we accept that as inevitable or palatable? Suggesting that women ought to stay together or avoid running in parks implicitly accepts that men will commit random acts of violence that women need to protect themselves from. Why is that accepted?
“The idea of all women needing to be cloistered away, or adopting a universal buddy system, in order to go about their daily lives, should be seen as just as ridiculous as suggesting all men should have their lives totally restricted to minimise harm against women,” Young Vagabond founder and editor Haylee Collins says. “The fact that in less than 24 hours over 12k people have ‘liked’ the post and over 1500 people shared shows that the sentiment conveyed in it is shared by many people, particularly women.”
And yet the post hasn’t merely been popular. It’s been the subject of abuse and aggression too.
“YV is a tightly knit community of mostly like-minded young women, so expressing support for one another in times like this is important to us. We do sometimes post on Facebook in the wake of tragedy, particularly in answer to violence committed against women. When we made this post with full permission from the original author it was speaking directly to our usual community – to see it blow up in front of our eyes was shocking,” Collins says. “What’s happened to Masa is a tragedy. As are all the other, numerous, violent acts men make against women each week. Our point was that women are already aware of the danger we are in by merely trying to exercise the same rights as men. To suggest women should restrict their behaviour further, when we already do so much to try and ensure our own safety, takes some of the onus off perpetrators of crimes against women -perpetrators who are largely men.”
Watching young women be targeted and abused – in their own community as has happened here – for sharing an honest observation is deeply disturbing. It illustrates the far bigger threat and it’s the raw hatred some people harbour towards women. If you’re unconvinced misogyny exists how can you explain 23 women being murdered by their partners or ex-partners this year? How can you explain the vile reactions this post invoked?
The Young Vagabond team are removing the abusive and aggressive comments from their page but it doesn’t mean those sentiments don’t exist. The cruel irony is that it is those sentiments, the seeds of anger and hate directed at women, that actually pose the real danger. And yet, as far as I can tell, no one is telling them to stop visiting parks.