This kind of safety work goes largely unnoticed by the women doing it and by the wider world.

Why it matters

The vast majority of this work is preemptive. It’s the subconscious attempt to evaluate what one of my participants called “the right amount of panic“—never quite knowing if a behavior is an overreaction or if that reaction is actually the reason they avoided an encounter. The trouble is, women are only ever able to count the times when such strategies don’t work—when they are harassed by a man, or assaulted. The work put into the successes—the number of times women’s actions prevent men from intruding—go unnoticed.

All this in turn keeps us underestimating the scale of the problems women face in everyday life. Estimates on the prevalence of sexual harassment in public are unable to account for all the times instances are blocked. And survivors of sexual assault are blamed for not preventing it when their safety work fails them.

Challenging this silence means talking about the range and extent of what women experience, from unwanted comments to flashing, following, and frottage. The Everyday Sexism project does this brilliantly. It means considering how we establish a new normal, recognizing the extra work women put in just to be free. That’s why the move to make misogyny a hate crime in Nottingham is an interesting step, and something to keep an eye on.

Recognizing the sheer scale of the effort women are habitually putting in to avoid public sexual harassment could help us to change a culture that makes victims accountable for not preventing assault. We continue to talk about the problem as though women need to take more responsibility for preventing sexual assault. But preventing sexual assault is something women do daily, often without realizing it.

This post originally appeared at The Conversation. Follow @ConversationUS on Twitter.

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