Like most folks, I was really annoyed that Battle Creek was listed by Forbes as among ‘The Most Dangerous U.S. Cities for Women.’ As with many residents, my initial reaction was denial. Yes, there is violence against women here; it exists in every town to varying degrees. But my hometown is the No. 9 worst in the country? No way; that’s impossible. At least, that’s where my head was initially.
The Forbes report used the FBI’s numbers for violent crimes, including murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault, in addition to reported incidences of rape in each metro area.
I attempted to rationalize the data; spin it toward something that made sense as it related to my experience living here. From the start, I dismissed the rankings story as a sensationalized attempt to sell magazines. Next, after more or less accepting the list’s statistics, I theorized Battle Creek social service agencies (like S.A.F.E. Place and Woman’s Co-op) do a better job than agencies from other communities in educating women about violence and empowering them to call police. But something nagged me. Does the same apply for the other two Michigan cities (Saginaw and Flint) on the list? What about the two Alaskan cities also cited on the list? To me, three Michigan cities in the Top 10 suggest some kind of pattern, but what?
After hard conversations with several women that involved deep listening and more honest deliberation, I was forced to consider what was initially unthinkable: what if the threat of violence and sexual assault for women here is indeed a clear and present danger, compared to all but eight other cities in the country? What if Michigan has a culture that promotes violence against women – especially in three of its communities? One city might be considered an aberration; two a coincidence. But three? Such a regional grouping means something, right? At this point, the correct answer is maybe.
A more troubling notion emerged from this line of thinking – one more personal in nature. I have long recognized how women around the world are discriminated against and oppressed. Yes, it’s better in the U.S. and improving, but a lot of work still needs to be done for the sexes to achieve equity. Yet until recently, I had not lifted a finger in active support of women’s rights. Like most men, I have been on the sidelines doing nothing. Me, sitting on my hands and thinking, I’m not the problem; I respect women. I’m a good man; I open doors for ladies, offer them my seat, carry heavy stuff for them…
Only recently have I come to understand that while I am indeed doing all the ‘surface’ things a man can do to support women’s rights, what I had not been doing is exploring the deeper and more complex issues that systematically keep female human beings oppressed as a group across society.
It’s hard to remain on the sidelines once you recognize and understand (really understand) the truth about how world culture oppresses womankind. The knee-jerk response for those of us who come into this awareness is often to defend the status quo – ‘that’s just the way it is,’ ‘it’s the natural order of things,’ and so on. Or we remain in denial.
Which returns us to The List. What’s driving those sobering Battle Creek statistics? What is it about Michigan that three of our cities appear in the Top 10? Are there common cultural elements or attitudes driving it? After a lot of painful thinking and realizations about this, all I am left with are questions. Might you have some answers? Let’s hear them. If not, what other questions should we be asking?