It’s been a very long time since I last committed an act of civil disobedience but, as you can see, the poster was totally asking for it.
This is not the first time I have seen this particular poster. We’ve met on several occasions, exchanging glances across the short distance outside of a multistory car park. It tempted me, I know it. The insidious, misogynist message. The graphic imagery straight out of 1950s era pulp fiction cover art. The victim-blaming propaganda pouring from its tight-fitted lamination.
This poster was totally asking for it.
Of course, before its final desecration, I had to make it understand just what it had done wrong. But that would be selfish. After all, I had the supreme pleasure of tearing down the poster. I decided other forces should have the opportunity to vent their anger.
My daughters are aged ten and five. Ten and five. I wish they lived in a world where this poster didn’t exist. I wish they lived in a world where a lot of things didn’t exist. But I cannot let them live in a world of ignorance.
I didn’t tell them what to think. I asked them to tell me what they thought of the poster. My girls did me proud.
‘What does the poster show?’ I asked.
‘Someone getting murdered.’ The five-year-old is a bit more bloodthirsty than her sister.
‘Someone?’ I asked, emphasizing the last syllable.
‘And what is happening to her?’
‘Someone is hurting her.’
‘A man. Probably. It’s usually men who hurt women. I don’t know why.’ My ten-year-old looked solemn as only she can.
‘Who do you think the poster is meant for?’
‘For girls,’ they chorused.
‘Who do you think it should be meant for?’
In unison they pointed to the disembodied black hand wrapped around the woman’s face.
‘Because the hand is doing the murdering.’ That was the five-year-old again.
And here is where I took over the lesson. There were many things I wanted to say but I have no desire to terrify children. I kept my message simple and honest.
‘Two things I want you to understand about this poster. First, if anything happens to you that makes you scared or hurt or uncomfortable you can tell me and I will be on your side to help you anyway I can. Second, if anything happens to you that makes you feel scared or hurt or uncomfortable it is not your fault. Not ever.’
For a moment, they both looked from the poster to me and back again in silence.
‘Can we tear it up now?’ asked the five-year old.
To the well-intentioned people of Harrogate District Community Safety Partnership, I have this to say: you should know better. I realise you have a message to convey and I suspect, at least I hope, that you and I are on the same side. We both want to keep women safe. This poster and its message will not keep women safe. It will keep them scared. It will keep them ashamed. It will keep them silent. But it will not keep them safe because they are not the ones putting our community in jeopardy.
Blaming the victims of crime and violence does nothing to prevent crime and violence. It does nothing to address the problems which lead the owners of black-gloved hands to commit crimes and violence. And that’s not even beginning to address the fact that violators of women seldom wear black gloves. They have no need for protective clothing because our misogynist culture protects them. Every day, every hour, every minute women experience violence with gloves off and the patriarchal world lets it happen mostly without comment.
If you like HDCSP, I would be more than happy to offer advice for an alternative public service poster. One aimed at the men who commit these crimes. One which might stand a chance of keeping us all safe.
PS: if you put up another poster, I’ll just take it down again and I don’t think I’ll be alone.