Image: Grace Millane / Supplied
This morning I woke up to an email from a reader. It said:
Please write about Grace. We were all Grace on a Saturday night. It was the eve of her birthday.
Love and hurting for her and her family,
A Woman of New Zealand
It’s difficult to know how to express the horror so many of us feel about what happened to Grace Millane. She was 21 (on the eve of her 22ndbirthday) on the trip of a lifetime, with her whole life ahead of her… and then she was gone.
It’s perhaps more horrific for women to process, for as the reader said in her email, we have all been Grace on a Saturday night. On the Saturday night in question I was in the Auckland inner city with a friend, having dinner, going to a show and then having a drink afterwards. I ended my night by catching a taxi from Skycity, where Grace had been only hours before. It makes me feel sick to think about what was happening to Grace at the time I was stepping into that taxi.
When young women are slaughtered, it reminds women that our safety is an illusion. I won’t speculate on the details of Grace’s death, but how many of us have travelled alone? How many of us have gone out on dates with people we don’t know? How many of us have dared to go out into the world and seize life? Grace’s last Saturday night should’ve been a fun memory to look back on in years to come. Instead it will haunt her family forever.
Over the coming weeks, people will probably say horrific things. These things are maddeningly predictable. If it emerges that Grace met her (alleged) killer on a dating app, they’ll ask questions like “well, what was she doing meeting up with a stranger she met on the internet?” They’ll ask why she was travelling alone. In short, they’ll try to turn Grace into a cautionary tale of what women shouldn’t do.
Fuck those people, and fuck the things they will say. Women going on solo adventures and meeting new people for Tinder and/or Bumble dates are not the problem here. Men who commit acts of violence against women are.
As women, most of us live our lives consciously and subconsciously trying to protect ourselves from danger. We walk down main roads even when a shortcut down a less populated alley would get us to our destination quicker. We tell our friends to send us a message to let us know that they’ve got home safe at the end of the night. We think about how well lit and visible our parking spaces will be later if we’re parking before the sun goes down and going to a movie. Most of the time we don’t even think about these things consciously, they just become part of the subconscious checklist that comes with being a woman.
And every now and then, because we’re human beings who should be able to do whatever the hell we like, we do something spontaneous, we don’t tick off the checklist, and we later think, ‘oh, that could’ve been dangerous…’. And most of the time we’re fine. But when we hear stories of horrific violence perpetrated against women just like us, living their lives like we’re living ours, and paying a horrendous price for it, we pause. And we’re reminded that we’re vulnerable.
A common response I’ve seen over the last 24 hours is shock and outrage that something like this could happen in New Zealand. I am not that shocked. We have some of the worst statistics for sexual violence and violence against women in the OECD. I once wrote that New Zealand was a dangerous place to be a woman, and I was excoriated for it. My view hasn’t changed. If anything, it has been reinforced. Over and over again.
This is a time for national soul-searching. Most decent New Zealanders will be devastated by Grace’s death. The vast majority of us feel horrified for her parents and her family, and send them all the love we can muster. But we must open our eyes to the dangers facing young women in our country. We must remove our rose-tinted glasses.
Rest in peace (and power), Grace. I think I speak for most of New Zealand when I say that we are so, so very sorry.
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