Vigils Held In Memory Of Murdered Sarah Everard. Picture credit: Hollie Adams/Getty Images
Artillery Row

Under his eye

The new women’s safety app is the logical endpoint of feminism’s culture of fear

Most young women’s experiences of nightlife are based on being secretive. Like our male counterparts, we lie to our parents about whose house we are going to, we sneak in back doors to mask what time we get home — sometimes we even hide who we’ve come home with.

But unlike men, adult women are now being encouraged by the Home Office to download an app that would allow family and friends to track our whereabouts on nights out. Path Community is a new venture created by Harry Mead, an entrepreneur who has founded both a private members club with scantily clad women in oversized champagne glasses and what he is now billing as the app version of a woman’s knight in shining armour. Path uses data to compile “safe” routes along well-lit streets or places without reported anti-social behaviour at the same time as tracking the user and sending their whereabouts to a twin device held by a chosen “guardian”. If a woman stops along her route for longer than three minutes, Path will ask her if she is okay — if she goes “too far off route”, the app will likewise signal the alarm.

Sometimes we don’t tell anyone where we’re going because we don’t want anyone to ask

Poor George Orwell gets misused a lot these days, but the idea that women would carry around a tracking device in their pockets to keep them on the straight and narrow is more than a bit 1984. It’s not like the tech doesn’t already exist — as some have pointed out, WhatsApp allows individuals to share their live locations with friends, meaning you could spy on your sister’s whereabouts if you think she’s somewhere she shouldn’t be. What’s shocking, but unsurprising, is that the Home Office is celebrating the idea that women should be surveilled for their own safety. Answering calls for government to take action following the murder of Sarah Everard, Home Office minister Rachel Maclean praised the app saying that the she and the department “welcome initiatives from the private sector” if they help with “a whole of society approach to tackling violence against women and girls”.

It goes without saying that being digitally monitored is most women’s nightmare. Will we give our mothers a heart attack every time we take a detour to a 24-hour McDonalds after a heavy night of drinking? Will the walk of shame be made any better with an app pinging in your pocket telling you you’re not moving fast enough?

Privacy is deeply important.  Sometimes we don’t tell anyone where we’re going because we don’t want anyone to ask. When I was homesick during my first few weeks at university, I disappeared from the Vodka Revs dance floor and jumped on an overnight coach back to London without telling any of my friends. For younger people, being trusted to go out without having to give three rings or check in with their parents is an important right of passage.

But perhaps the worst part of this new app is the response from many contemporary feminists. Anna Birley from Reclaim The Streets argued that the app was “insulting to women and girls” because it “still isn’t enough”. What would enough look like? Bringing back the convention of chaperoning, like Kramer’s command over Miss Rhode Island in Seinfeld or Aunt March’s watchful eye on Meg in Little Women? From calling for greater police involvement in women’s private lives through new street harassment laws or making misogyny a hate crime to new regulations in workplaces policing speech and conduct, feminists seem to be arguing that women be watched far more than men. The Path app is merely the logical endpoint of contemporary feminism’s culture of fear — an app made by a man to police women for their own good.

Whether or not the streets are safe for women is a tricky question to answer. On the one hand, the stats show that attacks like those perpetrated against Sabina Nessa, Sarah Everard, Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman are comparatively rare — the highest rates of violence against women take place in the home.

Subjecting women’s lives to paternalistic scrutiny is a dangerous precedent 

The UK Femicide Census report, published in 2020, found that of the 1,4251 women killed by men in the UK between 2009-2018, only 119 were killed by strangers. Furthermore, the report points out that: “the primary context in which perpetrators killed victims are unequivocal: overwhelmingly, perpetrators killed women who were or had previously been their spouses or intimate partners”. A tracking app is a worrying prospect for someone with an abusive partner who exhibits controlling behaviour.

On the other hand, feeling confident walking the streets isn’t simply based on cold, hard data. Many of us will have felt unnerved by leering men, comments made by strangers and dark alleys echoing with the warnings of our fearful parents. What Path or other interventions into women’s private lives will do is heighten that sense of unnecessary anxiety that many women feel at night.

Contemporary Western feminists need to realise what a dangerous precedent they are setting by constantly demanding that women’s lives be subject to paternalistic scrutiny. By arguing that we need workplace codes to be able to move about the office safely, or certain words made illegal in order to operate on Twitter without fear, or men cautioned on the street by police officers every time they wolf whistle at us or indeed apps to let our parents know which club we’ve gone to, contemporary feminists have put women into a separate category to their male peers. Much like putting reigns on a toddler, we are closing the parameters of women’s freedom in the name of safety.

But we are not children, and we are no less capable of handling life and all it throws at us than men. It’s time to start arguing for freedom, instead of this fearful feminism.

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