Politics

If You “Can’t Understand” Why Telling Women To Take Care Is Victim Blaming, It’s Time To Listen

Eurydice Dixon deserved better.

This morning, while discussing the murder of Eurydice Dixon in Melbourne last week, Sunrise and the Daily Telegraph joined forces to trot out a very tired argument. Of all the things they could possibly have used their platforms to say about this tragedy, they chose to tell us they “cannot understand” the argument that telling women to take care in the wake of violence is victim blaming.

Their comments come in the wake of public outrage last week, when Melbourne police said their message following Eurydice’s murder was “that people need to be aware of their own personal security and just be mindful of their surroundings”. Writing for the Daily Telegraph yesterday, Miranda Devine (who else?) wrote that this kind of advice is “commonsense”, and asked whether “maybe, if someone had warned Eurydice not to go into that park that dark night she would still be alive.”

On Sunrise, Samantha Armytage went a step further, and tried to paint outrage about the police’s comments as somehow further harming Eurydice Dixon’s grieving family.

“This poor family, this Dixon family, have been through so much,” she said. “All this ridiculous talk about victim-shaming when the police quite rightly told women and everybody to be careful walking after dark. It is not a perfect world.”

After another commentator suggested people take the police’s advice and “be more aware of your personal security”, Armytage doubled down. “Exactly,” she said. “I cannot understand the argument that feminists perpetrated last week.”

But maybe if you don’t understand an argument, it’s time to take a step back and actually try to, instead of jumping on breakfast TV to talk about it anyway. After all, this is an issue where we should all be on the same side. We all, presumably, want a world where we can be sure we’ll make it home alive.

No One Is Saying That Taking Care Isn’t Common Sense

Let’s start with a point we agree on: it absolutely is common sense to take care while walking home at night.

So common, in fact, that every woman I know has a whole suite of defences prepared just in case — threading keys between fingers (not a great idea, fyi), pausing music to listen for strangers, getting expensive Ubers and cabs home instead of walking, and even then still sitting in the back seat in case the driver tries something.

We know that Eurydice, too, was thinking about these things. We know that the final text she sent, just minutes before her death, was a message to a friend letting them know she’d almost made it home safe, and checking whether they had too. This is the kind of message you send when “taking care” is already at the absolute forefront of your mind.

The point here is that women aren’t stupid: no one needs to be reminded to be careful, that dangers are everywhere, because we can rarely go a day without hearing about a sexual assault or murder or another reason to be afraid at night. No one is entering dark parks flippantly, without having already weighed the risks and considered their options.

The point is that we have all dutifully been taking care, using our common sense, doing exactly what the police advised, and it isn’t enough.

When We’re Only Telling The Victims How They Could Do Better, Who Are We Really Blaming?

When the police say their advice after a woman is murdered is to “take care” or “be mindful of your surroundings”, they’re implying that the person who died could have saved themselves if they’d tried a little harder. When you’re already trying your hardest — when you’re already taking every precaution, afraid to leave the house — this implication hurts.

After all, when we’re only telling the victims how they could do better, who are we really blaming?

This is what people mean when they describe the police’s comments as victim blaming, or victim shaming. Telling people to take care is good advice, but it puts the entire onus to avoid harm on the person being attacked. It does nothing to stop men from doing the attacking. It does nothing to make the world safer to be in. It doesn’t remove dark parks, and it doesn’t remove the forces that make people do terrible things in them.

When the police tell people to take care, they’re saying that it’s 2018 and we don’t have any other solutions to this problem except what we’re already doing, even though we can all see that’s not working.

Repeating The Same Advice Won’t Create A World Where This Doesn’t Happen

We know a better world is possible, because men already live in it — especially when they’re white, and straight. Straight white men are very rarely murdered or assaulted; many haven’t ever thought about whether their keys should be between their fingers as they walk home.

There’s no straightforward way to make it so that everyone can live in this better world, but we have a right to demand it. If we thank the police for telling us what we already know and leave it at that, we’re saying that a world where at least half the population is constantly going out of their way to make sure they survive the night is good enough for us.

Pointing out victim blaming is useful, because it reminds us that we’re focusing all our efforts on the wrong part of the problem. And getting angry about victim blaming is not a “ridiculous argument”, but an absolutely fair response to a world telling us the best we can hope for is a reasonable chance of survival if we avoid dark parks, stay vigilant, travel in packs, arm ourselves, always be ready to run.

I want better than that. Samantha Armytage and Miranda Devine should too.