Today’s contribution to the never-ending treatment-of-women saga is from Tessa Jowell, currently shadow Olympics minister. She’s managed to turn parking charges into an attack on women’s safety.

Writing in the Evening Standard, she says not only are women “shouldering more than two-thirds of the burden” of the cuts, as has been widely discussed (though how that is worked out I have no idea), but they, in particular, will suffer from the proposed new nighttime parking charges* in the West End. This argument against Westminster Council’s bid for more funds has been made elsewhere and is not the first of its kind. But I take issue with it for several reasons.

The argument goes that women will be at risk if they are not able to park their cars close to the venues they are attending (due to an aversion to paying up to £5 an hour for the privilege) because they will be walking alone at night. You can probably guess where I’m going with this, but stick with me.

In order for women to be, and feel, recognised as equal to men, they have to stop playing on their vulnerability. Yes, far more women get raped than men and yes it does happen to women who are walking the streets alone at night. But it also happens in their own homes and in nightclubs, and yes, in cars. And it also happens to men. According to the Home Office, 1 in 6 victims of sexual crime in the  UK in 2010-11 were male (crimes that were reported that is). Plus men are more often the victims of other violent crime such as mugging. So is Ms Jowell saying that they are not also at more risk, that women’s increased risk is of greater concern?

Another problem is also brought to mind, and it is the same point that was raised when, in an interview with a girl who had been raped, Eamonn Holmes asked why she was tempted to walk home and didn’t get a taxi. Fear of walking home is exactly what is exacerbated by articles like Ms Jowell’s, and exactly what portrays women as vulnerable – just asking for it. (Unless men are just as afraid as women are supposed to be, but I don’t think that’s what Mr Holmes meant.) Far be it from me to pass judgements on a broadcaster’s slip of the tongue, but this case was no slip of the tongue. He went on to advise her to always take taxis from now on. It must be deeply ingrained in his psyche for him to come out with that on live television and not think another thing of it. (Well, until the press rubbed their hands with glee…) So is Ms Jowell agreeing with Mr Holmes here, saying that women should be driving to Central London if they want to stay safe? That if they don’t have a car or a very handy bustop or money for a taxi, they shouldn’t go at all?

For as long as women are seen as victims, as the vulnerable of society, and for as long as they perpetuate that view themselves, they will not succeed in gaining an equal footing with men in any sphere. Women can be just as strong as men, and men can be just as vulnerable as women. It is only society that chooses which is which. I believe in equality of treatment of the sexes, but I am not a feminist. Much as feminists would wish it, men and women are not the same. But they both deserve respect in equal measure.

Personally I would never dream of driving into the West End – as Michael McIntyre so delicately put it, the traffic’s a nightmare! Not to mention petrol prices… So admittedly this parking price problem would not have the slightest effect on me were it to be introduced. The bus is just fine thanks, and I will continue to walk the streets at night, albeit sensibly briskly and with ears pricked, but out in the real world, taking it in.

*Their introduction has been postponed until Christmas due to the uproar

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