At first I dismissed Representative Todd Akin‘s weak statement about rape and conception as more political cant like that about abortion. Another statement about women that sidetracked the real issue of violence in our society. The candidate had supplied no statistics and yet he gained international attention.
Just a month before, I looked up the statistics of violence against women in Minnesota, thinking of a move. I had been told that the crime rate was better in Minneapolis. In 2009, Duluth boasted a zero rate of rape while the rate in Minneapolis was about five times per capita that in New York City. I lived in South Minneapolis in the 1980s while attending graduate school and, although many women were from outstate Minnesota (towns or small cities), we didn’t know how quickly the crime was rising.
According to this chart, rape and assault increased 20 times in Minnesota from 1960 to 1995.
|Note: The complete chart also includes statistics for Larceny Theft and Vehicle Theft.|
Candidate Todd Akin did refer to studies that documented a woman’s physical response to sexual violence. For what reason? To diminish the impact of rape? This, to me, was like heightening the abortion issue after the birth control pill was available. Control of violence against women is the issue at hand just as abortion should shadow the control of pregnancies for women in unstable relationships. The first issue improved upon, the second issue is not as critical.
Women living in high crime districts talk of crime, discuss it, and they live very differently from women in safer areas. Many in 1980s Minneapolis became conservative with men, even reactionary, and not matching the attitudes about them. Often I discovered that neighbor women left a relationship for school or a career and that they were hardly ready to respond to anything hazardous.
The police had less time for complaints that weren’t life-threatening. Relationship violence could be heard sometimes in apartment buildings, what probably added an invisible statistic. Violations that would usually deserve a patrol car were neglected and made women vulnerable to the men they knew and to men in general. After work one day, I made a call to the police about a man exposing himself in an alley. The police didn't want to spend time chasing him down because such cases were not deemed as harmful as others. There was so much major crime that the lesser crimes were a part of the environment.
When I moved to Duluth, I owned only one pair of shorts. I didn't show my legs except when wearing skirts, usually below the knee, and now I wonder if women in that high crime area would dare to wear a scoop-necked blouse. I would say not often while it is the fashion for many women in America.
I kept strange hours and a nightlight on then. My tastes in literature changed and I didn’t even watch BBC “Mystery” much, my craving for excitement was so much lowered. I began watching home improvement and nature shows on PBS. Though I lived in an old building with nice carpeting and light fixtures, cocaine raids were often going on down the street. I went from reading Anais Nin to reading the early works of Virginia Woolf, an author who hardly ever relied on violence. Her diaries tell how the bombs during two world wars were dropping on London when she wrote. It was like learning that Doctor Dolittle began in Hugh Lofting's letters to his children while he fought in World War I.
I read nonfiction, Jacques Cousteau and other mellowing influences. Many tenants were living within their own interior current and in apartments decorated for that. I read magic, folklore and children’s literature. At the same time, re-reading Shakespeare, I developed an interest in the Roman Empire. The portrayal of violence was fine if it happened and especially if it was in a distant past. I found graphic violence unsatisfactory. If it didn’t have the sensitivity to feel for the victim and give the victim pages, it lacked conscience.
My building was broken into twice. The first time, the window at the back door was smashed and a woman tenant found the burglar in the laundry room after which both ran. When the police came, they said to appalled women in the hallway, “Maybe he was cold.” I moved. There were nights of vigilance held at neighborhood parking lots but as I now see from the chart, the improvement is not great.
I would say that the threat of violence is enough to lower birth rates. But if Representative Akin took buses in Minneapolis, he might see many young women with children and without a wedding ring. The city is a place of extremes. Some of my experiences were sublime but when it was bad there, it was very bad. I resented the difficulties of living in a large city a hundred miles from my birthplace when the work I did wasn’t so available in smaller cities. And there were so many advantages there. Recently I saw that my short collection, Curiosity Killed the Sphinx and Other Stories, was ordered into the Hennepin County Library, Minneapolis. That thrilled me, its being the central downtown library and a place where I spent many hours.