• Violet Freeney

Femininity and Fear: An examination of gender safety and its effects within our community

Updated: Nov 28, 2021

Womanhood and What It Means, A Series (Installation 1)


Throughout history, the world has been a challenging place for women to live, and our society’s gender divide always seemed strange to me when I was a little girl. I didn’t understand why I could not have sleepovers with my best friend or why there were so many more important kings than queens. Why had women not been permitted the right to vote when men had been? Why were women rarely superheros? And even when they were, why did the heroines wear so little clothing? There are many answers to these questions that I’ve discovered over the years, and they reveal so much about what it means to be a woman in a society like ours.


Womanhood is something that holds many definitions, but recently we are discovering, or maybe simply acknowledging, that for so many women across the world, womanhood comes with a very real aspect of fear. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 81% of women reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment and/or assault in their lifetime, nationwide. This precedent of violence against women is something we may often only witness on the news, therefore we may blindy assume it is not a problem within our own community.


After surveying a group of 14 Parker School students, it was revealed that even our small community is not immune to these issues. Out of the 11 students who identify as female, 10 of them reported having at least one experience where they felt unsafe because of their gender. 13 of the 14 participants also reported knowing a female who has felt unsafe because of their gender as well. Altogether, about 91% of female participants admitted having these experiences. Though this staggering percentage alone is enough to confirm the prevalence of gender based fear within our community and our school, the examples that were given by participants revealed even more.


Many reports included specific examples that justified the fear that resulted, but many girls also discussed the anxious perspective in which they view many experiences simply because they fear what could happen. What we need to realize is that the issue is not simply about who is a victim and who is not; it is about the constant fear of potentially becoming one. Society has taught women, and more specifically girls, to anticipate others’ bad intentions, and this assumed violence has become so normalized in our society that it has deeply impacted what it means to be a woman. As a woman myself, I anticipated that I would become a victim at some point in my life, and so many others have also associated this fear with their interpretation of womanhood. It is heartbreaking to hear that girls younger than 17 find that “simply being a young woman is inherently scary” and have “become accustomed to assuming [men] may have negative underlying motives”, as two participants stated.


Even in a safe and small community like our own, children feel that “In public, whether alone or with people, it is just a normal mentality for me to feel scared/vulnerable,” another survey answer admits. Society has conditioned women, because of the risk associated with their gender, to be fearful of the world around them. Fearful that the way they are sitting might give some sort of permission they do not consent to. Fearful of dark parking lots and people walking in their direction. Fearful of rustling noises outside their rooms at night. Fearful of being alone.


This article is not meant to blame or scare anyone, but it is crucial to acknowledge this aspect of our society and our roles in it. Violence against women has been defined as “a major public health problem” by the World Health Organization and while it will not be solved overnight, it is something we cannot ignore. If you are someone who does not experience gender based fear, I implore you to take this information and consider how it may be affecting others in your life, even if they do not realize it.


This is an issue that affects all readers of all genders, so if you have any perspective, topic, story, art piece, literary work, etc. pertaining to the topic above or any topic adjacent to Womanhood and What It Means, please contact me at: vfreeney@parkerschoolhawaii.org I would love to discuss and hear what you have to say.

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