The Right Amount of Panic: How Women Trade Freedom for Safety – F. Vera-Gray

I suppose it’s conflicting messages, isn’t it? It’s take care of yourself but then if you imagine that someone is maybe a danger you’re being a silly woman. You have to do just the right amount of panicking, don’t you?

I liked this book a lot, but it’s taken me forever to review it because it is difficult to do it justice without multiple quotes (I’ll keep them for a separate post). It does exactly what it says on the cover. It analyses how women trade freedom for safety. I’ll start with a blurb from the back cover as it nicely explains the main idea.

Have you ever considered how much energy goes into avoiding sexual violence? The work that goes into feeling safe is largely unnoticed by the women doing it and by the wider world, yet women and girls are the first to be blamed the inevitable times it fails.

That’s what the book is about. The author conducted a study on a relatively small group of 50 women. Asking them to share their prior experiences and coping strategies, and then to start noting down how often the public acts of harassment actually happened to them, they discussed those observations in the closing interview.

The book introduces the idea of ‘safety work’, including all the conscious and unconscious decisions women make daily in order to stay safe and minimize a risk of attack or unwanted attention. Just to name a few examples it could be: crossing the street to avoid passing a construction site, avoiding eye contact, changing the way you dress (be it less cleavage, darker colours, looser clothes), always letting someone know where you are, calling someone when you have to walk home alone. An important thing is that this safety work is not judged here, it is not deemed silly or paranoid or, on the other hand, it is not necessarily seen as women’s obligation, it is simply being analysed.

Talking to her research group Vera-Gray gets a lot of detail about what each of them does to protect herself, what triggered those behaviours, how do those women feel about it and how often they experience the unwanted attention. The main thesis is that we simply cannot get it right with the safety work: if it works and nothing happens women are seen as silly, paranoid and blowing their fear out of proportion if it doesn’t work it is women’s fault because they did not take the right precautions.

Vera-Gray takes a very deep look into how the society and our culture makes women normalize behaviours that should not be acceptable. We even get to a point of treating them as a compliment, this is how we’re raised. This trains women in safety work, but also staying silent about what is happening to them.

One thing I really loved about this book is that it is not looking to assign blame. It definitely is not focused on men, they are simply not the topic here, and rightly so, because if they were the book would turn into a badly balanced research. Vera-Gray also does not blame our parents specifically, for raising us the way they did. She just describes and takes an in-depth look at the situation, to help us understand the origins of some of the women’s behaviours.

The author also classifies the various kinds of safety work into categories like: moving, clothing, reducing and being. The key message being that it is not something we do, this is something we are expected to be. Because remember: nothing bad happens to good girls. Another important topic that this book touches on is how girls are not taught assertiveness, it is difficult then, later in life, to draw a line, it is easier to avoid.

Surprisingly the book also reads very well, it is not a hermetic academic study. With lots of quotations from the group participating in the research, it vibrates with life examples, that are bound to resonate with the readers and sound at least a little, or scarily familiar. I do think it is a book that should be an obligatory read for both women and men, it builds awareness and sensitivity that we all need so badly, without attacking anyone. Please do read it if you have a chance.

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska @vkphotospace.com 

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One thought on “The Right Amount of Panic: How Women Trade Freedom for Safety – F. Vera-Gray

  1. Pingback: I do not have a problem…I do not! Really! – bookskeptic.com

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