The history of feminism is, to some extent, a history of struggle against men who insist their control over women is actually for our own good. Denial of voting rights, education, physical autonomy and sexual/romantic freedom have all been rationalised on the basis that us poor, naive ladies simply don’t know what’s best for ourselves. In the case of white women, our supposed vulnerability has also been used to justify racist oppression and even murder. In the Jim Crow U.S. South, black men were lynched by white men in the name of ‘protecting’ white women. Frequently, white women they had entered into consensual relationships with.
Though significant progress has been made towards gender and racial equality since this period, the same patriarchal ‘protection’ narrative remains influential in 2015 - a fact neatly, depressingly demonstrated by the popularity of a recent viral ‘social experiment’ video.
The short clip, which has over 800,000 views on YouTube, begins with a shot of two balaclava and sunglasses-clad men driving in a van. One of the pair, Patty Mayo, explains what they are planning:
“We’re doing a social experiment to find out how easy it is to kidnap an 18 year old,” he reveals. “I found out from a friend of mine that her daughter was using the app Tinder. She denied the first four profiles I created but then she finally swiped right on one of them.”
So far, so creepy and troubling.
The rest of the video is exactly as you’d expect. The men jump out and ambush the young woman in broad daylight before violently wrestling her into their van. They then pass her a phone with her mum on the line and reveal that the kidnapping was simply an elaborate ‘lesson’. Seemingly, this last part is supposed to make the whole abduction thing A-ok.
The first question that springs to mind, at least for me, is what the hell these guys think they’re proving? They’ve managed to show that kidnap is physically possible and no public space is 100% free from the risk of violent crime, none of which is groundbreaking information for the vast majority of human adults.
Mayo could equally have jumped out with a knife, plunged it into his unsuspecting target’s stomach and claimed to be demonstrating how easy it is to stab someone. Sure, that would probably have landed him a prison sentence rather than a healthy stream of YouTube ad revenue, but I’m not convinced he doesn’t deserve that anyway. A crime is still a crime, regardless of what you think you’re proving by committing it. It seems pretty clear that “kidnap is physically possible” isn’t the only thing Mayo and his pal were intending to demonstrate, even if that’s all they actually achieve.
Truth is, the pair could have ambushed a man and the result would have been the same. Only someone unusually strong would have been able to fight off a sudden attack by two reasonably muscular blokes. Their victim thought she was waiting for a Tinder date, but she could just have easily been meeting friends to go shopping. Changing that detail would have made no practical difference either.
She wasn’t a man, though. And she wasn’t planning a shopping trip. She was a young woman attempting to meet a man she started talking to on Tinder, an app frequently used to facilitate casual hookups. This contextual information is crucial to understand the supposed ‘lesson’ of the video.
The intended message is clear: women should avoid pursuing casual sexual relationships, for our own safety. If we can’t be trusted to remain chaste, and thus safe, men who want to ‘protect’ us are justified in exerting control and treating us like children. This applies particularly to young women, who are considered especially incapable of making sensible decisions about their own lives.
Curiously, young men are rarely thought to be at the same risk. Or, if they are, respecting their autonomy is considered more important than forcibly protecting them from all possible dangers, however statistically unlikely.
This double standard is so widespread that many of us never even think to question it. Certainly, every person who has shared this video approvingly accepts it as fact. It’s exactly the same logic that leads people to castigate women for getting drunk and making themselves vulnerable, but cheer on their mate as he downs pint after pint after Jaegerbomb after double whiskey and Coke.
The fact that having the freedom to fuck, drink, and leave the house unattended might be intrinsically valuable is frequently forgotten when women are involved and concerns about safety are raised, even by committed liberals who would never dream of denying those same freedoms to men. Even, sometimes, by people who consider themselves to be feminists.
Ideas about female sexual purity and safety are often so closely entangled it’s difficult to separate the two. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that this ‘social experiment’ probably has some slutshaming subtext, but in some ways it’s almost irrelevant. ‘Safety’ is not a reasonable basis to intrude on an adult woman’s personal life and try to limit her basic liberty, regardless of how well-intentioned you might be.
It’s time to call bullshit on men who only want to oppress us because they care.
Main Image: YouTube