Like most young Australian women, I have been touched this week by the abduction, rape and murder of Jill Meagher. Innocently minding her own business, 29 year old Jill was making her way home after an evening out with her ABC Radio colleagues, in Melbourne’s Brunswick, when she was accosted by a male stranger, just metres from her home.
I originally wasn’t going to post anything about Jill Meagher. I did not want to contribute to the media circus surrounding her family at a time when they should be able to grieve in private, and in their own time and way. I did not want to participate in the inevitable victim blaming that follows such tragic incidents, and I did not want to compromise the rights of the accused to a fair trial – the persecution of the media has the tendency to compromise these rights, regardless of intentions.
However, as a young Australian woman only a few years younger than Jill, I am horrified and appalled that this young woman, by all accounts full of zest and pizzazz, should meet such a horrendous end while undertaking an everyday activity. And I’m not alone – though it is poor comfort for her family and friends, this case has touched a nerve in the Australian consciousness.
Questions have been raised regarding whether Jill should have walked home alone in the first place, whether her high-heeled shoes prevented her from escaping, and whether her level of sobriety (or lack thereof) impacted her reaction times and her awareness of her surrounds. In my mind though, none of these things matter. What matters to me is that a young woman, who had every right and expectation to feel safe in her surrounds, had her life and her dignity torn away by a complete stranger. What matters to me is that young women all over the country no longer feel that they can walk home alone, in well-lit suburban and metropolitans areas.
Jill’s tragic demise serves as a reminder that as a young woman, I am inherently vulnerable. Regardless of what feminism has achieved, regardless of how many opportunities are presented to me, I remain vulnerable, simply by cause of my gender. This is not right, but it is the way the world is. So, to all the young women whom I know and love, and those I don’t know or love, I implore you to be mindful of your safety. For right or wrong, we are vulnerable. Similarly, to all the young men who might stumble across this – know that when a woman seems protective of herself, it is because she is aware of her inherent vulnerability. Know that when a young woman seeks protection, she may feel like she is compromising her independence for the sake of her safety. Know that Jill Meagher was simply going about her daily life, celebrating her youth, and not expecting to stumble into a dangerous situation. I can only hope that by the time I have daughters; they may walk unencumbered by the vulnerability that results from simply being female.