***Trigger Warning: Discussions of sexual assault and gendered violence***

As I waited in line at the grocery store I couldn’t help but peruse the headlines popping out at me from the magazine display. Lose pounds with the Taco Bell Diet! A slew of articles about Sandra Bullock’s shitty ex-partner and of course the pro-women pro-sex headlines on Cosmo*. Lady Gaga on the cover and the “Sex Article We Can’t Describe Here!” somewhat piqued my interest** but what really caught my eye was the MUST READ: The Rape Danger Zone Most Women Don’t Know About.

Now, I’ve been planning on writing a post about Fear Culture for a long time and this article was a clear sign I needed to stop procrastinating. Also, during the week I was writing this post, I got this email from my Aunt warning me to be careful (the city they used was Philly instead of IL).  How serendipitous.  Fear culture and its connection to gender and race has been glaringly obvious to me for awhile, but lately I’ve been thinking more about how fear culture intersects with class (as well as ableism, sizism, and ageism.).  I hope to explore these topics in “What Are You Afraid Of?”

Back to The Rape Danger Zone… I was slightly hopeful, hoping Cosmo might actually get something right and say the zone around men you are acquainted with or something. But no…

Keep your hackles up, ladies. Thousands of women are attacked each year in or near their cars. Yes, that’s right.  If you are a lady*** then I would advise that you stop driving alone or walking to your car at any time of the day.  Hell, you should probably never drive and stay in your home indefinitely. Because no matter where you are, you are in danger!  Julia Corker, the daughter of a Tennesee senator  was attacked “in a “safe” area where she lived with her father just blocks, in fact from the DC police headquarters as well as the US Capitol building.” (quotes around safe are authors -although I would have included them -no doubt for different reasons).  You could also be attacked because  “it’s easy to feel far safer than you actually are” which can lead to “potentially tragic consequences.”

So here are a few tips from the lovely ladies at Cosmo, in case you are stupid enough to leave the house:

1) “always fill your tank during daylight hours so you don’t have to stop at night”

2)if you are irresponsible and need to fill after dark “stay in your car with the doors locked” (at a full service station)

3) Don’t walk to your car alone. If you need to walk from your car in somewhere either drive with someone or have someone walk out to your car and escort you (BUT MAKE SURE IT IS A MAN because a woman will get attacked or sexually assaulted on her way to get you) because “another aspect of driving alone that invites danger is the time you spend walking to and from your car”

4) If you run into any sort of trouble “don’t respond to a stranger’s signals or accept help if it is offered…In case your car is damaged and you can’t drive it, call 911 and or an emergency service like OnStar or AAA (anyone who drives should have a membership)”  If you can’t afford one, then you are basically just fucked.

5) “Finally, although you should have your keys in hand in case you need your panic button, don’t unlock your door until you’re right at your car and you’ve checked to make sure there’s no one on the passenger side waiting to jump in.”

So ladies, the moral of the story is, you aren’t safe walking to your cars, driving your cars, or being near your cars.  And if you get attacked it is YOUR fault for being so stooopid and not being more careful about the places you go and how you spend your time.

To gain a little perspective I decided to do some research. The Cosmo article said ‘thousands” of women are attacked in or near their cars.  There are so many things wrong with that statement.  Motor vehicle accidents are the leader in accidental deaths with 26,689 deaths in 2008.****  I am making a statistical leap here since the Cosmo gives no real statistics and has no reference listed BUT you are probably more likely to die in a car crash than get attacked (let alone killed) by a strange man in your car.  I find that a more compelling reason to not drive than my gender.

Going in a different direction, women are much more likely to be hurt by people they know or are in their family. In 49% of female homicides the current or former partner is the killer.  Forty-three percent of rapes are committed by a current or former intimate partner, less than 20% are by strangers and 85% occur in private settings.^  The abduction of women from shopping malls or parking lots has only occurred a handful of times.^^

All these articles and spam emails do are cause unnecessary fear in women.  Women are taught to be afraid of walking alone in parking lots, of someone getting in their car at gas stations, or being raped as they walk down the street.  Its just one more way that women are oppressed.

An article in the Summer 07 issue of  Bitch Magazine^^^ was what first opened my eyes to this fear culture. The author, Niki Papadopoulos states that “engendering a culture of fear for women – especially fear of sexual violence from strangers- acts as a social control mechanism, which ends up preventing women from exercising basic rights like utilizing public spaces or walking alone.” The author also quotes Esther Madriz’s book Nothing Bad Happens to Good Girls which said “from birth invisible walls are built around women, limiting their lives and activities… The fear that ‘something bad can happen to them’ teaches women at a very early age what ‘their place is’; who is expected to be strong and who is weak; who should be protected and who should protect; what type of clothes women should wear and what type of activities they should or should not engage in.”  Every time I get a gendered scare email I respond with something similar to what I wrote in this post. Next time you get one I suggest you do the same. Or just forward them this post!  I’ve gotten mixed messages. Some family members have thanked me for enlightening them while others thought I was taking the situation far too seriously. It’s just an email after all right? Just an innocent article in a magazine that sells millions of magazines every month right?

* I waited forever to post this. The edition of the Cosmo I am discussing is April 2010

**By the way, the topic is oral sex. SO RISQUE!

***Yes, LADY.  Because Cosmo makes it clear that trans/genderqueer/female presenting folks do NOT count. Only attractive young ladies.

****statistic from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (this includes drivers and passengers in cars. It does not count pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists)

^I swear I got these stats from a legit source (I think a textbook) at some point but I am too lazy to try to find the reference info

^^Bitch Magazine says only once in 1989 but it happened to a MN woman once when I was 16

^^^Esther Madriz. 1997. Nothing Bad Happens to Good Girls: Fear of Crime in Women’s Lives. University of California Press.

Note to readers: I realize that sexual assault and being attacked is NOT a joke.  I am not trying to minimize the experiences of those that have been attacked in or near their car. I am just trying to critique the general narrative that the media gives (i.e. that women are at fault for getting attacked and that women should not be able to enjoy public space or even the private space of their cars).