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Book review Pertinent points on the realities of sexual violence against women

The Right Amount Of Panic: How Women Trade Freedom for Safety
by Fiona Vera-Gray
(Policy Press, £11.99)

A GIRL sat on a bus reading a book, when a man in front turned round and said: “I just thought we could get to know each other.”

She demurred, but he persisted and followed her off the bus. She went the long way home on the main road, but he kept alongside her until they came to a hospital, where she threatened to scream, causing him to scurry away.

Such incidents — being followed, whistled at or touched — are common, but in The Right Amount Of Panic Fiona Vera-Gray shows how they are very often blocked in the memory or otherwise managed by women whose freedom to be themselves has been violated. The complacent verdict might be that nothing really happened. Be a bit careful about clothes worn and places to walk. Take out your phone if you think you’re being stared at.

Most women don’t want to think of themselves as being constantly on guard. A 21st century woman should be able to go anywhere, wear anything, be anyone, without fear of violence. But they don’t, says Gray, in this deft analysis. “Sometimes, screw it, we chose to act differently. Take the short cut. Stay and loiter. All of us just trying to find the right amount of panic,” she writes.

In Britain alone, 85,000 women are raped and 400,000 sexually assaulted every year. On average, two women each week are killed by a current or former male partner and Gray comments that the general message girls receive about sexual violence is that it’s “either we’ve got it wrong or we’ve brought it on ourselves.”

She makes a forthright challenge to this attitude and strongly supports women’s self-defence campaigns and classes, with a view to making connections among women that could transform the world.

She is absolutely right to denounce the abuses of women by men and the myth of women’s responsibility for them, yet she might have spared some thoughts for how it all began. Frederick Engels’s charted human evolution from primitive communism, with absolute social equality of men and women, to the growth of private property and with it monogamous marriage within which a woman and her children became dependent upon an individual man.

His line of thought, leading to the abolition of private ownership and monogamous marriage far in the future, is an interesting companion piece to Vera-Gray’s pertinent study.

 

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