Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Safety: Libertarian issue or gender issue?


I was embroiled recently in an online debate that got a little heated between myself and someone who I admire and respect, a free-spirited woman who took offense to a post from a man who was quite transparently wrong in his motives and point of view. I took the opportunity to make my viewpoint on safety known.

Safety is not a gender issue. I am a safety professional in a safety-obsessed industry. My life and career is founded on safety. I live and breath safety. If anything, safety is a civil rights issue. There is a perceived polarity between safety and liberty in that people see safety as an infringement on their personal liberty. Like a true Trekkie I'll try to give the case for both and see if I can craft a middle line that will cover the major issues of both sides.

As a young man, as is the wont of young men, I took chances. I loved to run the ragged edge of danger. In some cases I did it without knowing and I can only recognise it in hindsight. Walking though Capetown alone and calling into a random bar for a beer. Truly God looks after children, innocents and trusting Aussies. It is in the nature of young people to run the ragged edge of danger, some people never grow out of it and that is a viable choice for them to make with their lives.

However, whilst I agree with and support everyone's right to travel, practice extreme sports and take any chances they wish that are neither illegal nor unethical, I do not respect people who flount safety. I will support a person's right to do so if it is legal but, no, I stand fast on my principle that it is *NOT* something I admire in people to place themselves in danger needlessly. I don't care whether it is a boy, girl, Aussie, American or the King of France!

My daughter rides a motor bike. We've talked about it once and she knows where I stand on this: she is a grown woman and I support her desire to experience the thrill of riding a motor bike. I support her desire to be wild and free but I also admire her choice to ride responsibly and defensively. I would support her decision to ride no matter what she did but if I knew she was not riding safely I'd tell her she's a damn fool. I would have exactly the same conversation with my son if he rode a motor cycle but he doesn't, he rides a bicycle through Sydney streets which is probably more dangerous.

The media and the establishment have tried to use travelling safety as a rod to whip feminists, saying that they are foolhardy to place themselves at risk. I fully support feminists when they point out that, if this is so then the fault lies with the men who perpetrate the acts of violence and that the victims should not have to take any special care. As the Guardian points out in the case of the two young Argentinian women, MarĂ­a Coni and Marina Menegazzo, killed while backpacking in Ecuador, "All travellers should take safety precautions, regardless of age or sex. Nobody is suggesting that women shouldn’t make the same sensible preparations as their male peers." Women should not need to be placed under any sort of restriction, specific or implied, that men are not. Violence upon them is the guilt of their attackers and, even if they have not been prudent, even if they have taken chances, they have the same right to do so as any other person.

As a mature man I get stereotyped. I sometimes feel that people have a photograph of me - or someone who looks like me - in their pocket labelled, "Always supports the establishment: ignore". It gives them a a convenient 'get out of jail card' whereby they don't have to consider what I say because it's 'old fart talk'.

Never discount anyone. "Even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story." When I am trying to talk about are sensible safety practices, no one - male, female, white, rich or poor - is immune. Discounting my words as sexist or anti-libertarian is a cop-out. If you have a counter argument, great, I would love to hear it, but if you are riding on a wave of bravado, you're fighting a losing battle

I abhor the very real danger that some men represent. It goes against my upbringing, my instincts, my philosophy, my ethics... but it exists. It exists at home just as much as it does abroad, as my friend pointed out, she is statistically in more danger from someone she knows than a stranger. I absolutely agree that the fault lies with the perpetrators, the men who have these attitudes and the society that condones and perpetuates it. However you have to accept that the danger exists and take it into account. 

You can say exactly the same about racial discrimination and prejudice or road rage or gun proliferation. These are all contentious issues but ignoring them won't keep you safe. A fool buying a firearm without storing it and using it responsibly might puff their chest out and spout about their libertarian right, but if his son finds it and kills himself, it will not bring him back to life. A black man expecting white supremacists in America's south to respect his rights is being just as foolhardy as a white American frat boy expecting North Korea to have a sense of humour about a prank.

Do what you will within the law but if you ignore safety and tragedy strikes I shall weep with you. There are no winners when this happens. Everyone loses.

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