“A woman alone? A recipe for RAPE, unfortunately”
Jenny Tough, adventurer and world traveller, responds to the author of this comment (and doesn’t even swear once)
I roll over, make several clumsy attempts to silence my alarm, go straight to my inbox, and there it is. A comment on a video I posted on YouTube two years ago: “A woman alone? A recipe for RAPE, unfortunately.” Jakob.
I start imagining my reply and it’s not anger I feel, more a deep concern for what attitudes like Jakob’s mean to female cyclists. And male cyclists. And non-cyclists. So, everyone. Jakob’s attitude towards women doing things by themselves runs deep.
Why does seeing a woman enjoying riding her bike around Europe only make you think about rape, Jakob? Who raised you, Jakob? Contrary to popular discussion on your favourite YouTube channels (I checked and there's a lot of gun stuff), the world is full of good people, loads of whom are not rapists, Jakob. Take off the tinfoil hat, Jakob. I’m a grown-ass independent woman and I can ride my bike wherever I damn well please without becoming a victim, Jakob!
Halfway through my coffee, the reality of Jakob’s comment sinks in. Jakob is not remotely unique in his mindset towards solo women travelling; cycling long distances; going outside or simply doing anything independently in general. Even in 2018 there is a faction of western society who see women as vulnerable, helpless, second-class citizens requiring protection and censorship.
These people not only see the world as a troublesome place filled with marauders and murderers, but they tend to be the same humans who would tell a female victim she was asking for it if she was wearing a skirt when she was attacked.
Even looking at the words he used: “a recipe for rape”, suggests that I am somehow at fault. How dare I even think to head off on a cycling adventure alone? If I had been raped (spoiler alert: the only threat to my safety was Russian traffic, which was pretty terrifying, but not related to my gender), in the eyes of Jakob and those who think like him, I would have been, at least in part, to blame.
Remember, little girl, the world is not for you to explore. That’s only for tough strong men. You just worry about keeping your eggs healthy and earning less than your husband, or whatever it is they think I’m meant to be doing with my time.
My problem is not that Jakob thinks what he thinks. I’m lucky enough to have lots of really cool friends with pretty reasonable thoughts on human rights, so whether Jakob likes what I do or not doesn’t really get me down. Plus, I’ll probably never meet him and I hope I never do (remember the gun thing). My problem is that when people spread fear like this – the fear that women will get raped if they ever venture outside of their comfort zones – this fear can take hold and spread roots in our communities.
I’m pretty experienced in international adventure travel, so warnings like this just don’t phase me. I’m reasonably confident I’ve seen more of this world than Jakob, and I can report back that it is mostly full of delightful or at the very least neutral people who manage to not rape women on bikes or otherwise.
But, what if Jakob-and-friends say these things to a young woman planning her very first adventure? What about the women in circles of folk like Jakob and friends who will be told their whole lives that they can’t ride their bikes anywhere because they will get raped?
The risk is that those women will spend their whole lives missing out on awesome adventures, never knowing that the world is a fantastic place to explore. The risk is that they will never strive towards their big goals. They will never meet their potential. And the world will never get the full benefit of their awesome minds because they were told to ‘stay safe’, stay inside the bounds, stay where we can see you.
To be fully fair, I’m not saying the world is risk-free for women. I’m completely aware that I am physically vulnerable to the (generally) larger and stronger other half of the population – and I can’t forget that.
I’ve been raised in a world where I have been told since a very young age not to go out for a run alone at night because I’m a girl. Our school gave us a full week of self-defence and date-rape training far before I was old enough to have even been on a date. (The boys in my class played basketball that week, for the record.) When I went to university I was overwhelmingly reminded on a constant basis about campus rape statistics. When I went on my first trip abroad, even the border security warned me about the dangers of entering their country alone. We drill this ideology into girls and women throughout our lives - and the message is clear: take care of your own safety. Rape culture is – bafflingly – a woman’s responsibility. It is so consistently drilled into us that we never stop being aware of our vulnerability. In fact, it’s so second-nature to us, we don’t even realise we’re doing it. We don’t walk down dark alleys on the way home from work. We lock our car doors when we’re lost. We tell someone where we’re going and when we get home. We dress ‘sensibly’. We don’t camp in places where our tents might be discovered.
This ingrained feature in my female brain does not switch off when I’m abroad. So, whether I’m out for a training ride in Fife or touring through Latvia, trust me, Jakob-and-friends, I’m always aware of my vulnerability, and I’m always doing my best to mitigate the risk. But, don’t tell me to stay at home and miss out on everything. I deserve to enjoy life, ride my bike, sleep in my tent and have adventures.
Violence against women is a horrible truth around the world, but consistently telling women they have responsibility for the matter is not going to lead to change. If anything, by perpetuating this mindset you’re making it worse.
Get a bike, Jakob.
Get more from Jenny here