Trigger warning — anthropomorphizing a car —
The other day, I went downstairs to my underground parking lot and I found that my car had been, um, re-positioned. Her name is Dolores Isabella Loretta Stuart-Graham, the Irish Disco Party Wagon. She’s a 1999 Honda Civic sedan, with a disco ball hanging from the rearview mirror and a creepy little sculpture of a screaming mouth sitting on the dashboard. One of my students last summer made this sculpture for a final project and gave me one of the parts of it. I credit it with always finding me parking spots. Always.
Anyway, She was perched at an angle, backed partially out of my parking spot. I thought i’d forgotten to engage the parking brake and she’d rolled backward, though the angle of the underground surface was such that it would be against gravity for her to roll backward. but that’s what I thought. I continued to think that as I noticed that the front doors were slightly ajar, and the contents of the glove box were strewn about the floor of the car. I put my gym bag in the back of the car and noticed another thing, a large plastic cover plate. then i got in behind the wheel–the seat had been pushed quite far back, so I moved it up again, and saw that the cover came from my steering column. Still I clung tenaciously to the belief that someone had come along, seen my car stranded in the middle of the parking garage like that, and tried to start it to get it back to it’s home spot. ridiculous, I know. But finally, I was forced to admit that in fact, someone had tried to steal my dear Dolores. The steering wheel was loose, and the ignition was dislodged kind of at an angle, and she wouldn’t start. Note that during this time, I touched everything, every place that the thief might have touched. Also, one of my neighbours came and helped me push her back into the parking spot. So he touched parts of her, too.
I sent a text to the friend that I was to meet that morning, and went back to my place to call BCAA to tow her to my mechanic. Then I thought, “oh, I’d better call the insurance company”– and when I did that, I learned that I should call the police first so I would have a file number. So I called the non-emergency line and the person I talked to there told me not to move the car until the police could come look at it. I cancelled BCAA. My file number with the police indicated that I was one of nearly 6000 people reporting auto theft or vandalism so far this year. That’s a lot. And that’s a lot of people reporting.
The whole time i was doing this stuff, i thought about how people respond to male violence against women. Now, I’ve worked with women escaping and resisting male violence since 1989. and throughout that time I’ve called the police scores of times. Not hundreds, because mostly we don’t report men’s violence against us to the police. Certainly not in the numbers that we will report car theft or other property crimes. there are good reasons for this
Among those reasons, though by no means the most compelling, is the amount of time it often takes police to respond to our calls to come take a statement. I’ve waited for between four and twenty-four hours for police to come to the transition house or drop-in centre to talk to a woman. I met with an officer a little less than an hour and a half after I called them. Now, the information they’ll need to take about an assault will be more detailed and take longer to record than the information about a vandalism, but still. Of course, I didn’t complain to the young woman who came.
When she came, she asked me where I had found the car, and told me that they might need to take it to the police station to dust it for prints. When I told her that I had moved it, and checked all the doors and touched the wheel and the glove box and, well, everything, she said, “oh well, that’s okay. It’s understandable, it’s your car, you were trying to figure out what happened”.
compare this to, “You shouldn’t have showered, what do you mean you burned your clothing? you’ve destroyed the evidence…”
She asked me how the thief had gained entrance to my car, “ah, I always leave it unlocked down here” i said. She gave me a sympathetic look and asked if maybe our strata would put in some cameras. At no time did she say or even faintly imply that I had invited this violation. Never. Even when I said, “I should have, I guess, that was bad,” she replied something to the effect that you would expect in a secure lot that your vehicle would be safe.
Also, here’s another thing. Dolores is OLD (for a car). And she has a manual transmission. No one uses a manual transition anymore. So I’ve assumed that because of her age and, well, lack of sex appeal, she would be safe from theft attempts. Where have you heard that before? And of course we know that men will attack women whom they judge are most vulnerable. Including older women, for example, disabled women, women wearing high heels (that’s why they are marketed so strenuously to women — who can run in those?), women who are wearing flashy revealing clothing but also women who do not at first glance appear vulnerable, who might be wearing floral print dresses with high necklines, or women jogging through public parks in the middle of the day. Mostly, though of course, men (like, oh Jian Ghomeshi) will attack women to whom they already have access–they have dated them, or married them, or are related to them or to their friends in some way. I also told the police officer that a friend of mine has another set of keys, and that I lend the car to her from time to time. At no time did the cop say, “oh, well then — you have to just expect that people will assume you’ll let them drive her whenever”. That would be ridiculous, right?
As several of the speakers said at a recent demonstration against the over-policing (and under-protection) of women in Vancouver (especially Indigenous women, especially poor women), “sometimes the police provide an excellent, caring, thorough response. so we KNOW they can do it right”. Everyone was good to me when i reported the violation of my car. And even though I am white, highly educated and a “big P” professional now, I do not trust that I will receive such good treatment were I to report a violation of my body.
yesterday the judge acquitted Jian Ghomeshi of all charges against him, and women rose in fury in response to this travesty.
I don’t anticipate that the criminal justice system (or any of the systems of power and domination, in fact) will change to adopt a vision of women’s liberation anytime soon. But I do know that we are talking about male violence against women more than we have before, and we are on the cusp of an absolutely necessary change. It is not enough that the cops respond to women reporting male violence with the same compassion and respect that they respond to auto theft, of course — but it is an essential step. You’d think that it would not be necessary to say stuff like that, wouldn’t you? but it still is. it still fucking is, and I suspect that unless the cops and the media and the judges take this tiny essential step to believe women, and soon, women will take action (not that we’ve ever stopped).