After a few years of existence, Twitter has already acquired a certain mythology that gives it the ability to start revolutions among other arguable characteristics. Without caricaturing what Twitter can do or cannot do, we can however acknowledge how it is currently used as a platform of questions around the various ostracist mechanisms of our societies (racism, misogyny, homophobia etc.). In this matter, I particularly recommend the read of the text “In Defense of Twitter Feminism” written by tireless Suey Park and David J. Leonard who develop the urban metaphor of the internet as a city, where Twitter and its accessibility constitute a non-gentrified district where thinkers who embody a dominant position in the relations of power has to renounce to the “privilege of comfort.”
A good example of Twitter becoming a platform to ask important questions can be seen through the recent development of a conversation around the hashtag #SAFEDANSLARUE (safe in the street) that describes the gendered violence that female bodies have to face in the public space, in particular when walking alone at night. First of all, it is important to consider that whether an aggression occurs or not, fear is fully integrated to this violence. This fear is not the fear that is daily cultivated by various stories recounted by the (bad) media and that eventually gives votes to the populist securitarian political parties. The question of the fear felt by a female body when walking alone at night does not call for more police presence — one element of the phallocratic society involves the police not taking seriously victims of gendered aggressions — but is rather the production of a deeply anchored misogyny in the social interactions of the bodies.
This online conversation started by a tweet asking male bodies not to walk behind a female body at night, but rather to cross the street and walk ahead of her as a sign of appeasement. The response of a several men, outraged to be assimilated to potential sexual assaulters is highly illustrative of how far some men are from fathoming the extent of the problem. However, direct antagonism rarely tells us about how deep a problem might be rooted than responses that appear supportive, but that in fact contributes to the status quo. The hashtag @SAFEDANSLARUE involves an inventory of tactics of female bodies to cope with fear in this situation as we will see below; however these survival tactics have became the object of focus of a few media — including ELLE Magazine that never misses an opportunity to show the cracks in their self-proclaimed feminism — which talked about tricks that women should use, rather than discussing the core of the problem: the gendered violence unfolded in public space. It is legitimate that such tactics are being shared — evidently none of them seems to be a solution to the problem — however, to comment them from the outside by men or taxi-users goes back to the traditional morally accepted attenuating circumstances to sexual aggressions like “she should have not wore that” or “her attitude was frankly calling for it”… Sexual assault can never have attenuating circumstances as it absolutely always enacts a despotic power of one body over another.
Let us examine a few of the thousands tweets as testimonies and syndromes of the way gendered violence exercises itself in public space:
Pour être #Safedanslarue, aussi, je tiens toujours mes clés en mode “coup de poing pour viser l’oeil”…
— GabrielleTrompeLaMor (@Cecile_Duquenne) February 4, 2014
(To be #Safeinthestreet, I always hold my keys to make brass knuckles ready to target the eye)
Pour être #safedanslarue j’adopte une démarche de camionneuse la nuit pour essayer d’être la plus repoussante possible !
— Laetitia Reversat (@why_guilli) February 9, 2014
(To be #safeinthestreet in the night, I take a truck driver attitude so to be the most repelling as possible!)
— Schannece (@schannece) February 6, 2014
(To feel #safeinthestreet, I never wear a skirt… #sadreality)
Pour me sentir #safedanslarue j’évite de sortir seule à la nuit tombé. Pas très efficace.
— Lilly Seekwet (@lillyseekwet) February 6, 2014
(To feel #safeinthestreet I avoid to be alone once the sun has set. Not very efficient)
The need to constitute oneself a weapon in case of an aggression is clearly a sign of the violence of the situation. I remember one of the questions I was asked at a small presentation of my work in London last year: someone genuinely asked me why I was claiming that Western societies was in a state of war when nothing seemed to be backing up this claim. The way bodies experience public space in a radical different way depending on their situation vis-a-vis the norm was thus appearing in all its expressiveness. The other tweets self-restraining female bodies in their acts (avoiding to be alone at night), in their apparel or in their beauty — several tweets describe how to appear repelling to males encountered — make these bodies the victim of a double-punishment of this violence, one coming from the outside and another, that is self-inflicted as a small and somehow illusory reduction of risk.
The city being the social space par excellence, it provides a space in which the relations of power between bodies exercise themselves in all their violence. In order to understand and fight this violence, it is fundamental to understand that it does not manifest only by its “news-reportable” events, i.e. the most spectacular and tragic manifestations of this violence, but also in the continuous atmosphere of fear and ordinary racism (in that case, misogyny) that is created by all bodies through the development of a norm and the degree of closeness to this norm by each body.