Why Walk Alone?
I’m walking alone because I’d like to be safe walking alone.
In America, it is an unspoken truth that women and girls are not safe, even in times of “peace.”
Since the start of the war in Iraq, thousands of American women have been murdered by their intimate partners–more than the young men and women we have lost in the war. In addition, over two million American girls and women have been raped in that time.
The vast majority of the women in this country order their daily lives around a fear of male violence, making decisions about what to wear, where to go, and how to behave to best avoid abuse at the hands of men. Women are afraid to walk alone. But few people ever admit that a country where half of the population is forced to make day-to-day decisions based on a fear of violence is not at peace, even when it isn’t fighting a war. Even fewer will acknowledge that women’s fear is gender-specific: we are afraid of violence by men.
Women and girls are not the only ones who live in fear of male violence. Men commit over 88% of the violent crime in our country, and in fact most of the victims of this violence are men, not women. Women are much more likely to experience male sexual violence–a particularly terrifying possibility that effectively controls our lives and prevents most of us from living freely. But men and boys (especially men and boys who won’t conform to traditional gender roles) are not immune to the violence of other men. When we talk about “school shootings,” “gang violence,” “terrorism,” war, and virtually every form of violence, torture, and abuse, it is tacitly assumed that the perpetrators are male, and this crucial information is disregarded as irrelevant and unremarkable.
It is time we ask ourselves what we have done to the men.
Men live with extreme pressure to conform to masculine “ideals.” This is reinforced by nearly every aspect of our culture, from parents to the media to male peer groups. We rarely allow men to express any emotion other than anger. Men and boys who act in ways that are not “masculine enough” are punished with decreased social status, exclusion from peer groups, and even violence.
Men in our culture are also taught to accept unfair entitlement based on their gender, and to devalue women. This cuts many men off from the one source of real friendship and acceptance that would be available to them. It also, obviously, encourages dehumanizing and violent behavior toward women and girls.
All of us–men and women–have taught the men in our culture that they must dominate others and that any other impulse will be punished.
In recent years, we have allowed the unnecessary deaths of over 600,000 Iraqi men, women, and children. We have destroyed most of our natural environment. One in twenty Americans (and, due to this country’s racism, one in three black men in America) will spend time in prison at some point in their lives. Our lives have been built on a foundation of domination and exploitation, and men are expected to uphold this dominance by using force.
I am walking across the country alone in an effort to bring attention to the central role that masculinity as we have created it plays in the extreme violence of our culture. I also hope to begin the process of finding the internal peace that will allow me to determine the best contribution I can make to addressing this problem and creating external peace–a peace in which women are not afraid to walk alone and men are free to be their true selves.
I won’t carry food, money, or any means of providing shelter because I am attempting to give up the benefits I have gained through violence or exploitation. I won’t ask for anything while on my walk, and I will only take what is freely given. I’ll eat when given food, sleep when provided with safe shelter, and accept the protection and company of anyone who wants to walk with me for a while.
I am not part of any organization or religious group, and I won’t accept money. If you would like to give money to someone, I recommend a peace-supporting organization of your choice.
I’d like any media attention the walk receives to focus on peace, not on me. For this reason, I won’t be giving my name for the duration of this walk. I am happy to respond to the name “Peace” until then.
The inspiration for this walk came from the story of the original Peace Pilgrim. For more information about her amazing life, go to www.peacepilgrim.org.