By Catherine Gilligan
CW: discussion of gender based violence and sexual assault
A little over a month ago, a woman went viral on TikTok, and subsequently Twitter, for filming a video in which she showed off her “In Case I Go Missing” binder. Among many other things, the binder contained the contact information for several of her friends and exes, a sample of her own handwriting, personal medical records, fingerprint samples, and a lock of her own hair, presumably to be used for forensic analysis or DNA testing. The video has garnered 1.7 million likes since it was released. In the comments, other women chastise her for not taking the lock of hair from the root of her scalp (supposedly in order to get a more accurate sample) and for not including her dental records in the folder.
Meanwhile, other viewers naturally had a field day mocking this woman’s particular brand of entirely deluded, true crime-induced hysteria. What many didn’t realize, however, was that the video came not from a personal account, but rather a page for a brand called “Savor”. The company has about 200k followers on TikTok and primarily sells organizational receptacles for everything from wired headphones to passports (who says capitalism doesn’t breed innovation?). Generally, the account averages about 10k views per video, but their “In Case I Go Missing” binder video racked up about 11 million in just six weeks.
Of course, Savor is far from the only company that sells inane products intended to “keep women safe”. While it’s tempting to deride the woman in the video, or Savor itself, the truth is that there is a multimillion-dollar industry predicated on women’s fear of gender-based violence; think Hello Kitty switchblades, sparkly pink rape whistles, lipstick tasers, “lady’s” handguns. This fear doesn’t only lend itself to the popularity of bedazzled weapons—it permeates into every aspect of many women’s lives. Recently, a British supermarket company caught flack for releasing an advertisement for a dress with the tagline “For walks in the park, or strolls after dark”, to which many Twitter users chose to “clap back” at with quote tweets like “HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA THEY THINK WE STROLL IN THE DARK HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA”. There’s an entire genre of content on social media dedicated to “spotting signs” that you’re being targeted by sex traffickers, be it zip ties on your tires or white markings on your tail lights. And of course, there’s the pervasive media obsession with missing (white) women; Natalee Holloway, Lauren Spierer, Maura Murray, Gabby Petito. All of these disappearances and others like them have inspired True-Crime podcasts, Lifetime movies, Netflix limited series—genres that are popular almost exclusively with women.
The bottom line is, one can accrue immense financial and social capital by commodifying women’s fear of violence. This is not to say that this fear is necessarily irrational. While the racial and socioeconomic implications that underlay these anxieties can’t be minimized (what types of neighborhoods are middle-class white women afraid to walk through at night? What kinds of men do middle-class white women fear being victimized by?), the reality is that women of all backgrounds are at a higher risk of experiencing sexual violence than men. While accurate statistics on sexual assault are difficult to procure for a number of reasons, according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), the largest anti-sexual assault nonprofit organization in the US, about 1 in 6 American women have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape (compared to about 1 in 33 American men). These numbers are even higher for women who are marginalized in some other way; Indigenous women, Black women, transgender women, incarcerated women, women with intellectual disabilities, sex workers. It’s a fear that’s instilled in us from the first time our mom shows us how to hold our keys between our fingers or the first time a girl at a party asks us to watch her drink while she goes to the bathroom. It’s a fear that is reinforced constantly by TV and TikTok and Twitter. And it’s a fear that comes from a very real place- even if it’s also a fear so detached from the reality of whom the primary perpetrators of sexual violence actually are.
In reality, most women who are victims of sexual assault know their rapists well. Offenders are rarely strangers trailing a little too closely behind us as we walk home from work, nor men ogling our tits on the bus, but instead boyfriends, husbands, brothers, fathers. Not only do about 90% of women assaulted on college campuses know their assailant, about 50% are on a date with them when they are assaulted. Instances of marital rape occur in roughly 14% of all heterosexual marriages. In about half of all instances of child sexual abuse, the perpetrator is a male relative.
In my mind, it’s no wonder why the pervasive narrative concerning “female safety” is that the outside world is inherently dangerous for women. A contributing factor is undoubtedly how easy it is for “feminist” social media influencers and predatory brands to capitalize on, but I think there’s something much larger at play. Perhaps the real reason why we hide behind our bejeweled pepper spray canisters and why we don’t wear ponytails in public anymore and why we might even be compelled to put a plaster mold of our teeth in an “In Case I Go Missing” binder is this–it is far more painful to know that what you are coming home to is more dangerous than any Uber ride, crowded bar, or late night walk ever could be.