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An unintended conversation began on my Facebook page earlier this week when in response to a post I put up, an older male follower of mine told me to be careful.
He stated it, first, in the context of my complaints that men were using my social media presence to sexually harass me, but soon, the conversation turned to my travels.
I wasn’t surprised, as this is something strangers say to me quite often. But as usual, it frustrated me. And this time, I decided not to let it go.
As I took exception to the comment online, others jumped in. At some point, basic decorum was thrown to the wind, and strangers began calling me some pretty nasty names. But in the beginning, it started with a lot of questions. What exactly, one man asked me, was so wrong with telling a woman to be careful? The other man had good intentions, he said. Perhaps he was just being kind. And after all, I’m traveling to dangerous parts of the world, alone — I *do* need to be careful.
Well, yes. Like any other traveler, I should be careful. Bad things can happen in these parts of the world, just as they can anywhere.
But the chorus of people, overwhelmingly men, who constantly instruct me (and other women) to “be careful,” is more concerning to me than any hazard I face abroad, for a couple reasons.
First, it assumes I need the advice; that the subject of my own safety isn’t already urgently on my mind. I assure you it is. Self-preservation is high on my list of goals.
But more disturbing is the insinuation that women, in particular, should be afraid.
I am a 32-year-old adult who has traveled across the world, often alone, and who has found my way through more than a few sticky situations. I strongly doubt a male in my shoes would hear the phrase “be careful” uttered in their direction as often as I.
I hear it in emails. In social media messages. In comments on my website. I hear it from family members (although I am blessed with a mother who tells me “I know you’re smart and capable” instead of “be careful”), or people I meet on my travels too, sometimes, but predominantly, those words come my way via strangers.
Often, they are housed in phrases that sound like this:
“The world is dangerous and a young woman needs to be careful”
It’s no wonder that I and other women find this double standard exhausting and harmful.
Of course, it’s nothing new. Women, for centuries, have been told to be careful. Careful not to want too much, to drive too fast, to wear too little, to tempt or anger or embarrass men.
Girls, from a young age, are still cultured to adhere to those words, as though they’re delicate porcelain dolls, apt to break by stepping, too boldly, into the world.
Most of us, myself included, have in various aspects of life taken this phrase to heart. We’ve been careful about where we go and when and with whom and wearing what.
You’re telling us to be careful? You’re telling me there are things to fear?
Believe me, we know a lot better than you.
Being a women means sometimes piling furniture in front of your door if you deem the lock inadequate. Being a woman means holding your breath and feeling your heart pound in your chest when a man walks past you on a dark street. Being a woman means carefully considering which ear-piercing alarms and roofie detectors to pack along with which canteen and waterproof shoes.
Assuming we’re careless and unaware of the dangers is completely ridiculous. That, as a woman, is impossible.
Unfortunately, careful or not, bad things can still happen, anywhere. Our safety isn’t entirely in our hands; insinuating it is has perpetuated the culture of shaming women who are raped and harassed and beaten. Even in the conversation that inspired this post, I was told to be careful in relation to *others* harassing *me.*
Frankly, I’m tired of it.
I’m prepared. I’m smart. I’m informed. I’m experienced. I’m ambitious.
There are more important things than being careful.
If women don’t do what is dangerous, our perspective on those subjects and places will never be heard. If women don’t persist despite fear, the spectrum of doubt will only grow. If women work too hard to “be careful,” perhaps we’ll lose room for so many other adjectives that would propel us through this complicated world and to self empowerment.
Because what’s truly dangerous in my opinion, is the idea that women should above all else be careful; that fear and wariness, that risk inherent in the world, should in some way hold us back.
How about “be brave?” “Be strong?” “Be inspiring?”
Or better yet, just commend us on already being so — because we don’t need the instruction to make it true.