Over winter break, I went to a bar with some friends because I can do that now. The bar sits on the border of Grosse Pointe and Detroit. It’s a cute, hole-in-the-wall type of place called “My Dad’s Bar,” equipped with a dart board, Guinness on tap and a mini Christmas tree with twitchy string lights. I went with a few friends from high school, and just like in high school, my dad drove us.
It was pretty weird having my dad drive us to the bar (albeit fitting — my dad drove us to “My Dad’s Bar!” Ha!). It was even weirder at 2 a.m., when the bar was closing and my dad wandered into the place — clearly the oldest, tallest and baldest person there — and towered over our table to tell me, “Hey sweetie, just letting you know I’m here. The car’s just around the corner!”
OK. I didn’t ask for this. I have a driver’s license. I wasn’t planning on drinking. I was more than capable of being the designated driver for the night. But alas, my father insisted, in his typical nice-yet-controlling manner.
He had good intentions, but these intentions were grounded in fear. He had assumed I was driving by myself and meeting my friends at the bar. This, of course, would have meant that I would have had to walk the whole 15 feet from the parking lot to the bar, in the dark, in Detroit, alone.
Which is silly, and not because I was planning on picking up my friends on the way anyway, but because I’ve walked alone in the dark on multiple occasions in my life, including in Detroit, as well as in Ann Arbor (what am I supposed to do — take a cab back home from classes that get out after 5 p.m. in the winter?).
His fear has some legitimacy to it. I realize this. Women are robbed, assaulted and abducted every day. My mom loves to watch shows about it (I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard the bum-bum of the Law & Order: SVU intro play from our living room TV). My mom also loves to worry about all the horrible things on the show happening to me. It’s a tired trope — a young woman in the big city, Little Red Riding Hood lost in the woods or the damsel in distress tied to the train tracks — females as victims. It’s entertainment when it’s on a screen, but it’s also a horrifying, nightmarish reality that every parent hopes they can protect their daughters from their whole lives.
I get that it’s natural for parents to want to protect their children, but at what age do we become “strong, independent women” who can go out at night without someone — preferably a male — on our arms?
While more importantly, one dad trying to protect his one daughter is noble, it’s not actually solving anything. It temporarily assuages the fear, but it doesn’t fight the source of the fear.
It’s a dangerous world for a woman to be in, but fighting these dangers doesn’t mean keeping us from leaving the house alone. I’m not entirely sure what the solution is, but it’s not drawing the blinds and locking the doors after dark. Quite the contrary, events like Take Back the Night and SlutWalk call for loud resistance — a spread of awareness and a reclaiming of our communities. This is a call to get out there — people of any gender — and show that we do not live in fear.
You don’t have to participate in an organized walk to send a message against the violence and harassment of women. It can be speaking out if you see someone being harassed on the street — letting the harasser know that this is not OK (because a lot of the time, catcallers don’t realize how harmful they are being). It can even be as simple as not talking to a stranger on the bus or the subway, because even if you’re just trying to make small talk, it can come off as threatening. (Seriously, you never know when “Hey, how’s it going?” can turn into “Fine, don’t talk to me. Fucking bitch.”) It’s really just a matter of being mindful and aware.
We should be constantly challenging the entire culture against women that threatens our dignity and safety in public — not simply trying to shield one daughter at a time.
Katie Steen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.