I just stumbled upon a concept that is helping me make sense of ideas that have been percolating for a long time : safety work.
When the shooting happened in Orlando, I sat in front of this screen for long evenings trying to find the words. I didn’t find them.
Besides the actual tragedy, what I found so fucking heartbreaking about it all, so hard to carry, was the knowledge that so many people’s energies are used up by safety work. That is, so many people have to use so much of their head space, their time, their energies, and their money to ensure their physical safety. Whether it’s planning a different route or mode of transport because you’re out later than planned, keeping the windows of your car closed despite the heat because you’re sick and tired of old dudes on their motorbikes telling you to smile, or letting go of your partner’s hand when you walk past certain streets because of the threat of violence, this is all safety work.
I just read this piece entitled, « Have you ever wondered how much energy you put into avoid being assaulted? It may shock you. » The author, Fiona Vera-Gray, a Research Fellow in violence against women at Durham University writes,
The public conversation on violence against women tends to focus on sexual assault and domestic abuse. We talk less about the routine intrusions women experience from men in their everyday lives, even though this is the most common form of sexual violence.
My recent research looked at how women navigate interruptions, intrusions, and harassment from unknown men in public. What was most surprising was how all 50 of the women I interviewed significantly underestimated the amount of work they were putting in to avoid intrusions by men in the street, and the impact this had on them.
With every story of systemic and structural violence against people of colour, against Indigenous people, LGBTQ, or women, I think of all of the contributions we’re all collectively missing out on because so many brilliant souls are fighting for their safety, are busy calculating what they need to do to remain unscathed. It makes me so angry. All of the missing inventions, the missing novels, the missing legislation, the missing movements. (And all of the missing every day tender moments.)
And it makes me angry at all the banked hours of safety work I’ve put in. Especially because I want to say, « I’m through with it! », but I know I don’t actually want to override my body’s instinct to keep my person safe.
A useful concept for thinking through.