There’s a scene in The Power where Jocelyn, one of the characters, is telling her mother what it’s like to have these new powers:
On Tuesday, I went for a run and I just lost track of time and it got dark, but instead of rushing, I just walked home in the pitch black… it was nice… I run with both my earbuds in now… and I don’t put my keys between my fingers just in case… I don’t make elaborate plans with friends to make sure that we all get home from the party safe. I didn’t even realize that I was living in constant fear…
Is everyone, everywhere watching The Power? Don’t just watch it — read it, absorb it, live it. It’s been a long time since I’ve watched something so… er… powerful, for lack of better word. The whole damn thing has me short of adjectives.
Quick catch-up for those who aren’t up to speed: this is a fabulous piece of feminist fiction (as much as I wish it were true!) in which teenage girls develop special abilities to send electric jolts through their fingers. This genetic anomaly is really evolution — protection, in fact — for women and girls. With these new powers, they are at last able to protect and defend themselves. And just like that, the historic imbalance of power is rectified, and women become the dominant sex.
I write about women’s safety a lot. Why? Because we don’t have it. We are not safe. This has been our reality since the beginning of time. Granted, there are a lot of things wrong with the world we’re in — but this is the one thing I absolutely cannot tolerate.
So here comes this book, this show, this revolution — and it reframes the world. At least temporarily, in our imaginations. Imagine that we did live in a world where we’re free to go out, walk alone, wear what we want… Imagine a world where our safety was a right we never had to question. Imagine that we’re all safe. It’s pretty radical. And it’s so far from reality, it’s unbearable.
Until we — women and girls — develop the power to shock people with currents running through our fingers, we’re going to have to take “special measures” to keep ourselves safe. There are lots of layers here — and all of them piss me off.
Firstly, the assumption that it’s our responsibility to stay safe.
And, we have to restrict our lives and freedoms in order to make sure we’re safe.
And, it’s our fault if we don’t.
I hate all of this.
And another thing I hate is the idea that we have to do things — or buy things — to keep ourselves safe. There’s a whole market of women’s safety gadgets out there. These often-expensive, often-pink “rape prevention gadgets” are all over the place. The assumption here is that we should carry them — just in case. None of these are practical. Most of these aren’t accessible. And too many of them aren’t affordable. Meaning, only those who can afford to be safe are allowed to be safe. No.
I refuse to pay for what society should grant me — the right to move freely, live freely, exist freely — no matter where or when. What’s more, it has been said before and is worth repeating again here — and everywhere: Rape Prevention Tech Won’t Stop Sexual Assault.
Still, I’m a social scientist. Meaning, nosy-by-nature. And until we evolve and develop electric powers, we’re stuck with this stuff. So here’s a little run-down of what’s out there. Overall, there’s a lot of stuff targeting women directly and laying responsibility at our feet. The language of victim-blaming weighs heavy. There’s a sense that we just shouldn’t be walking alone (!) at night (!) because… why? But, if we insist, there’s a little pink thingie we can use.
Interestingly, a handful of companies that started out as “women’s safety gadgets” have expanded to market to older people living alone or workplaces where there may be risks. Meaning, a lot of people are not safe.
In terms of gadgets designed for our “protection,” the one that seems to be advertising everywhere is She’s Birdie, a bluetooth-enabled personal safety alarm. The options include accessing live support 24/7, sharing your location with emergency contacts, and receiving a fake “excuse to leave” call — because we have all texted a friend and asked her to create a fake emergency so we can get TF out of there. And, there’s a loud siren if you pull a pin, hopefully deterring the attacker and altering people nearby that you’re in trouble. I did once read that we should scream Fire! because no one will help if you scream Help or Rape… but that’s for another blog! Birdie is easy to travel with, and easy to use — or so they say. Cost: $39.95.
There’s always the classic carry-on: pepper spray. When I posted about sexual harassment on the streets last week, many people suggested pepper spray as an answer. The thing is, I can’t live my life in fear. I can’t carry pepper spray at the ready when I’m out for a walk around the block with my dog. What kind of life is that?! But here we are, folks.
So, pepper spray. Seems we can get a large can at Walmart for $15. Or, a pretty pink portable one online for about $13. There’s also a range of colors and patterns just for us. Pepper spray comes with restrictions. In New York, for instance, you gotta be 18 to buy it. And you’ll need to sign a form stating that you have no assaults or convictions and so on. It is legal to carry — but only in small, pocket-sized containers. And the container itself must say something along the lines of: for self defense purposes only. And absolutely no you can’t bring it on a plane!
Moving on. The Kitty Keychain is — as you’d imagine — a cat-shaped keychain where you put your fingers through the eyes and use the pointed ears to stab an attacker, like “cute” brass knuckles. This portable-pussy (sorry!) is somewhere between $9 and $15.
Fabulyss Boutique’s Viral Self Defense KeyChain comes with a story. The founder was sexually harassed by a staff member on her college campus. She reported it, and instead of protecting her, the staff member was given her name and information that she had filed a report. Meaning, the school put her at even greater risk. So she decided to create her own safety.
The self defense keychain includes multiple tools — for stabbing and spraying and whatever else you might need, along with a wristlet and chapstick holder. In short, this is our answer to everything! The basic keychain is $35 but there are lots of options and add-ons. The company also sells stun guns and portable door locks as well as “accessories” such as a cover for your drinks, and knives disguised as a key or a pen.
But wait, there’s more. There’s a range of location alerts like the Safelet for $89.95 and Invisawear personal safety jewelry for $149. Nail polish brands like Undercover Colors (that never released a product) claimed to have created a polish that would change colors when put into a drink to detect common date rape drugs.
Watch over me is a free (!) app that uses technology to help women feel safer. Turn it on if you don’t feel safe, and it will track your location until you say “I’m safe.” And if you don’t, it sends out an alert.
With Shake2Safety, you can ask for assistance in a number of discrete ways, such as by shaking the phone or repeatedly touching the power button. Both can record audio and video of what’s happening and send emergency messages to a contact of your choice.
BSafe is one of the most feature-rich safety apps for women. It has a built-in timer alarm and siren, and can live-stream and record any emergency you’re in and transmit your location to your guardians along with the audio and video. This app has an SOS system that can be started by touch or key phrase. The app aims to reduce violence and sexual assaults and develop an ecosystem to improve safety and security.
Yes, great, but… my ideal “ecosystem” is one where I don’t need any of this stuff at all.
Anyway, none of this is an exhaustive list or a formal review. There are lots of options out there. Too many. And I sorta hate them all. Rather, I hate the world that makes these options necessary.
But back to The Power, because — damn — let’s imagine that an alternative was possible. Another character, Tunde, says that, as a man, he never thought about how that informs his position and privilege. He says that he previously had not understood how different it is for women, how he took for granted “the safety, the voice, the space” that men are allowed — and women are denied.
And then Jocelyn, speaking of her little sister, says this, around the time I broke down and sobbed:
Imagine what it’s going to be like for Izzy… she’s not going to look at the ground when a guy passes by and she’s never going to worry about what she’s wearing… Can you imagine growing up with that kind of freedom?
Can you imagine?!