This week the Colombian city of Bucaramanga began experimenting with its first “women-only” night, an effort launched by the state governor’s office to stem a tide of sexual assaults against women. Is there a workable, partial solution here for dealing with violence against women in other cities, even in America?
As reported at Vice.com, bars and clubs in Bucaramanga are being encouraged to host women-only events on this evening. Men out after the curfew (it’s unclear exactly what the curfew time is) must present a safe-conduct permit issued by the mayor's office or be fined (also unclear: what’s to prevent someone with a safe-conduct permit from committing sexual assault?).
Bucaramanga – with a population of just under 600,000 – is no small village. It’s hard to imagine how such a curfew could be enforced effectively; and indeed, Juan Camilo Beltrán, president of the city’s Chamber of Commerce and a proponent of the curfew, said that it is essentially symbolic. “We can only hope men accept the challenge [to stay at home],” he said, making the curfew seem more like a plea than a law.
Its real purpose is largely as an awareness-raising tool and a means to drive discussion about the issue of sexual assaults in a city apparently plagued by them. But similar curfews have been attempted elsewhere, including the Colombian capital Bogota, and so far none has made a noticeable difference in preventing sexual violence. As Suzanne Clisby, the director of postgraduate studies at Hull University's School of Social Sciences, puts it,
The best a formal curfew could hope to do is send a message from the state that violence against women is seen as unacceptable and will be taken seriously, but unless this were followed through in a whole range of other ways, it is fairly pointless.
A men-only curfew could never, and should never, be implemented in a free society like the United States. First of all, it infringes on the freedom of half the population, the vast majority of whom are not sex criminals. Second, even if it does keep some bad men off the street at night, it also clears the street of far more good men who might be able to prevent sexual assaults by their mere presence, if not through actual intervention. And again, it would quite simply be impossible to enforce effectively.
Another down side: since sexual assaults are usually perpetrated not by strangers in nightclub alleys but at home or the workplace by men known to the victims, Clisby warns that such curfews “could perpetuate the myth that violence against women happens only at night by strangers.”
Alison Phipps, director of gender studies at the University of Sussex, argues that awareness isn’t enough – moral education is necessary: “The message we need to convey is that men need to behave differently, rather than women and men being separated—in whatever way—for women's protection.” Clisby concurs – or at least seems to, in academic, gender studies jargon:
We need to look at and challenge the ways boys can be gendered into particular forms of hegemonic masculinities that can be damaging for themselves, as well as for women and other people around them. Also, we need to look at the ways girls may learn normative constructions of femininities that can leave them vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
If these women are saying that men need to be taught not to rape, we already do that, which is one reason I insist that we don’t live in a “rape culture.” Rapists commit their crimes not because they’re unaware it’s wrong and a heinous crime, but in spite of our society’s clear condemnation of it.
If, by complaining that “normative constructions of femininities… leave [women] vulnerable to sexual exploitation,” Clisby is saying women need to learn to defend themselves (and I doubt she is), then I couldn’t agree more wholeheartedly. However, suggesting self-defense gets one irrationally condemned these days as being “pro-rape” by those who think the answer is not to empower women but to “gender boys out of their hegemonic masculinities.”
A curfew is not the answer, even as a teachable moment. Sex criminals will always be with us. If you want women to be less vulnerable, teach them to fight back. If you want men to behave more honorably toward women and further marginalize the rapists, teach boys chivalry, a male code of behavior that radical feminism has driven from our culture. Don’t “gender” boys out of their masculinity – encourage them to exemplify the best of it.
(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 10/15/14)