If you have not yet read Echidne's post, The Right to Go Out, go there at once and read it. It's brief and I'll wait. Back now? Good.
The line from the post that sticks with me is this one (my emphasis): "My second reaction [to a statement quoted in the post] was the realization that people mostly don't see that female fear of the outside as a civil rights issue or a human rights issue. It's just How Things Are."
Without disagreeing with Echidne, I think the argument can be applied more broadly – the problem is that there are almost no physical spaces women may safely occupy and that the home may be even more dangerous than the street. Echidne’s observation that, “In most societies women who go out alone at night are at greater risk than men who go out alone, because women have to deal not only with the risk of getting mugged but also with the risk of getting raped. They are seen as prey,” can be applied to any location. A workplace, a parking lot, a path or sidewalk are places where women are stalked as prey, but so are homes, both in and out of buildings.
The percentage varies with the study being done, but it is the majority of violent assaults on women are by someone they know, a partner, a relative, a family friend. The most common place for this violence is the home. Where the hell do you go if nowhere is safe?
I have been raped more than once, always in my own home, always by someone I knew. I am lucky that the only man who threatened to kill me decided to batter holes in the wall beside my head while screaming how he would kill me instead of doing the deed. I am also lucky that I was able to leave that situation behind.
What of women who cannot? What if you lack the money and the support to get a room of one’s own?
The current financial meltdown will produce an upsurge in violence against women because the opportunity to engage in this violence without repercussions to the abuser will also increase.
If you have no health insurance except what your spouse or domestic partner gets through work, you have to calculate the costs of losing that coverage. If you kick out an abusive partner, will you be able to pay your mortgage or sell the house at any price? Shelters are closing for lack of funds – would there be a place to go to? If you have children who need to be protected, how might homelessness affect them (PDF)? Will rents be affordable even if you have your own income? Will employers hire you if they know you have a restraining order against a violent partner? Will you be targeted to be let go if your home life threatens to spill over into the workplace?
What about community programs that try to combat violence? The Family Justice Center of San Diego provides a one-stop-shop to help victims of domestic violence to work their way through the legal and social service tangle and get help. It both is and is not a part of the city and relies on volunteers, grants and donations to keep running. How will it be affected when corporate donor budgets are cut to the bone, charitable groups have less to give, and volunteers may need that time to work for wages? City of San Diego Police Department has one of the best domestic violence response units in the country, and works closely with the Family Justice Center (FJC). The City is also looking at a 10% cut across the board budget cut. What will happen to this unit? To similar units in other cities? What about emergency medical services? What about undocumented aliens? Will they protest if it might mean a visit from the INS? FJC won’t ask about your residency or citizenship, but will legal and social service agencies that use public funds be required to report suspected illegals?
Given a political and cultural environment awash in misogynistic imagery and sentiments, where the leader of the majority party is openly courting cultural conservatives and saying privately to the money men that social programs and services will be cut, we can expect to see policy and funding choices biased towards “family values” and increasing privatization of the risks of ordinary life. If misogyny and violence against women are not seen as civil rights or human rights violations, then the home becomes that much more dangerous a place because it is just a private matter, just that bitch getting in his face, you know, so you can understand why he had to give her a smack to make her calm down. Or maybe more than that. Whatever it takes to reassure the abuser that order has been restored.
In the current political environment, how difficult will it be to secure a room of one’s own?
Update - I have received some incredible comments from a number of people, some who said they've never posted a comment before to a blog. They are almost all stories about a woman's encounter with violence in her home. After consideration, I will not post these, even if the writer did not specifically say "don't publish", though most of you did say that. Thank you for trusting me enough to tell me these things.