I’ve never thought that much about the amount of time and energy I’ve spent trying to keep myself safe, and that lies at the heart of this book. As women, we grow up internalising the messages we are given about how to be a ‘good girl’, what it means to be a girl and what our place is in the world. Along the way, we make adjustments to how we look, behave and take up space.
We make sure our friends text us when they get home so we know they’re safe. We don’t walk alone on certain streets at night. We are hyperaware of who might be following us. We get our keys out early and hold them as though they are weapons. We do these and so many other things that this book calls ‘safety work’ to try to prevent sexual violence and we’ve done it for so long that we don’t even really think about it anymore.
Safety work refers to the range of modifications, adaptations, decisions that women take often habitually in order to maintain a sense of safety in public spaces.
We know we’re in a Catch-22: if we are successful in our safety work and nothing happens then we’re seen to be overreacting and paranoid but if we are victimised then we’re blamed for not doing enough to protect ourselves. It seems there’s no right amount of panic, hence the title of this book.
We are scared because we’ve been made responsible for preventing rape at the same time as being told it’s inevitable.
The author examines the choices and changes we make to “maintain a sense of safety in public space”, categorised as actions relating to moving, clothing and being. As well as drawing on previous research, they conducted their own study.
Fifty women in the United Kingdom of different ages and backgrounds participated, speaking to the author about their experiences of men in public. They then recorded what they experienced from unknown men over a two week to two month period before meeting with the author again to reflect on the “work of being a woman in public”. Much of the book consists of quotes from these interviews.
I found this book interesting, albeit quite repetitive. Some potential solutions are offered.
Although the author addresses stereotypes related to gender, race, class, age and disability, I noted that the majority of the women included in her study were white (43), heterosexual (37) women.
Content warnings include domestic violence, sexual assault and sexual harassment.
Thank you so much to NetGalley and Policy Press for the opportunity to read this book.
Once Upon a Blurb
Have you ever thought about how much energy goes into avoiding sexual violence? The work that goes into feeling safe goes largely unnoticed by the women doing it and by the wider world, and yet women and girls are the first to be blamed the inevitable times when it fails. We need to change the story on rape prevention and ‘well-meaning’ safety advice, because this makes it harder for women and girls to speak out, and hides the amount of work they are already doing trying to decipher ‘the right amount of panic’. With real-life accounts of women’s experiences, and based on the author’s original research on the impact of sexual harassment in public, this book challenges victim-blaming and highlights the need to show women as capable, powerful and skilful in their everyday resistance to harassment and sexual violence.