Monday, March 24, 2008

The safety of women

Meredith Emerson

Details are still emerging in the murder of Meredith Emerson, a 24-year-old who was abducted while hiking in northern Georgia with her dog, Ella.

We know that Gary Hilton, 61, is serving a life sentence for her murder. Now the media is reporting that Hilton held Emerson captive for 3 days before killing her.

In the most recent article I read, Hilton is quoted as saying he selected Emerson because she was a woman.

When I read that line, my mind immediately flashed on a conversation I had at a party a few months back. It was a group of guys and girls, all hanging out and having fun when the subject of safety came up. The women of the group were trying to explain to our male friends and boyfriends how differently we plan for 'safety' as women.

We are constantly aware of how we walk to our car
Who gets into an elevator with us?
Who's walking close behind us?
How quickly we can lock a door?
Have I left that drink vulnerable to someone dosing it?
Can I defend myself?
Am I in a position where I'm cut off from help?

Many of the men in this group were astounded, some even scoffed at our paranoia. And that truly broke my heart.

Women are targets. And we are brought up to think of ourselves as such. How many of us have received those crazy e-mail forwards about how rapists target women with long hair who wear overalls? Women typically fear the stranger danger situations-- like what happened to Meredith Emerson. Sadly, it's far more likely that one of the men I sit and joke with on a Friday night will be someone who attacks me.

Either way, the inevitable question of rape does come up. We are not certain if Meredith Emerson was sexually assaulted before her death, but we do know that in this culture the murders of women are often highly sexualized. How many horror films feature women murdered during or immediately following a sexual encounter? Women are depicted running from death, barely covered, chest heaving and gasping provocatively. Its no conspiracy theory I'm peddling here, violence against women almost always comes with a side of sexual dysfunction and aggression.

But all the statistics and urban legend debunking aside, the fact remains that I am still pissed. I am pissed that the men in that group weren't more incensed on our behalf. Or they didn't take us seriously.

When I was in college I watched movies with my friend Greg. He lived in a dorm and I had to park far away in an big lot that was nearly empty after 5 and not always well lit.

I left one night after dark and begged him to walk me to my car. I assured him that I'd drive him back to his dorm to drop him off. But he refused and said he was just "too tired." When I pleaded, he just rolled his eyes and said, "What's going to happen to you here?!"

The next day, a girl from our campus was abducted from our local shopping mall. She was found dead several months later.

I don't know what to be more pissed about-- that all women live with a subconscious stream of thought that's making 'escape plans,' or running through self defense moves we learned years ago in that one semester college course? Or should I be pissed that DESPITE all of this, some of the men in our lives refuse to take our fears seriously or show legitimate concern that women are likely to be preyed upon.

Even women like Meredith Emerson who knew self-defense are at serious risk.

Using her wits and training as a martial artist, Meredith Emerson struggled to survive in the north Georgia mountains after she was abducted.... she immediately went on the defensive, grabbing the blade and the baton Hilton countered with.

When I think of Meredith Emerson, I become very uncomfortable. Her experience is the classic scenario that all women are taught to fear growing up...the creepy old man who's out to hurt you. I feel a painful connection to this woman as I imagine the horror she went through. It's something a lot of women can speculate about all-to-easily because its the subject of our worst nightmares.

In looking for information on this case, I found this photo of Meredith

Her shirt reads: "Women who behave rarely make history"

It was the oddest feeling looking at that picture. Prior to the death that made her famous, she was your average, fun-loving girl. She seems like someone I'd like to hang out with and get to know. And when I realize that, there's another layer of heartbreak to her story.

Hilton admits he chose Emerson because she was a woman. But I don't believe it was just the assumed weaker physicality. I don't believe he thought Emerson would be easy to overpower. She was fit and healthy, she knew self defense and had a large dog, these are all things that should have deterred a sick man who was looking for his next victim. But it didn't...

Because she was a woman.


ouyangdan said...

outstanding post on a tragic story...

i can tell you, the part that pisses me off the most is that as women we have to have escape plans, that we live in a world where we are told to carry out keys b/t our fingers in parking lots for self defense, that we get emails about how to escape from trunks if kidnapped, that even the men in our lives think we are just being silly. i am pissed that we are so programmed that we think it is normal for women to wonder if their route home is well lit or that we check under our cars b/f approaching it.

anyone who thinks that women are already equal hasn't been paying attention. when we can stop making women take steps to assure their safety, when men stop thinking we are just paranoid, when women like this stop turning up dead i will agree that we are equal.

Sarah said...

I feel very blessed, I must have some pretty amazing guys in my life because I can't remember the last time I had to walk to my car by myself any long distance.

Anonymous said...

this makes my heart so heavy. amen to what you said ouyangdan. i couldn't have said it better myself.

we constantly teach women how to not be raped yet call them paranoid when we take these precautions!