Universiteit Leiden

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Wilke Geurds

Keyring in your hand when walking down the street alone? 'Many women are always on guard'

A cover over your drink in the pub, deodorant as pepper spray or headphones to avoid hearing catcalling: many women use everyday objects to feel safer in public spaces. Student Anne van der Linden made an online exhibition about this.

Anne van der Linden. Picture: Wilke Geurds

'Some women carry a bunch of keys between their fingers at night as a weapon,' Anne explains. 'When I talk to a woman about that kind of thing, I often get the response: I do that too. But when I talked to Fresco about it, he was shocked. That really set me thinking. Actually, it's abnormal that so many women make these kinds of adjustments and are always on the alert, while other people are not concerned about it at all.'

Fresco is Fresco Sam-Sin, founder of the Things That Talk platform, which puts objects at the centre of scientific research. A few months ago, he was approached by the Leiden branch of the Orange the World campaign, which draws attention to violence against women and girls every year. Did he think bringing attention to the campaign with Things That Talk would be a good move? He discussed the proposal with student editor Anne and was shocked by her examples of everyday defence mechanisms as well as his own ignorance of them.

Who is responsible?

Anne and Fresco therefore decided to set up an online exhibition about this difference in perception. Using a photo, students tell what a particular object or location has to do with safety for them. A deodorant spray, for example, acts as a domestic version of pepper spray. 'The idea behind it is that women probably can't do that much physically if they are attacked, but carrying a deodorant spray gives them the feeling they can prevent an attack,' Anne explains.

By including this item in the exhibition, she wants to question the responsibility women feel to prevent violence. 'If something happens to you, you are always asked: what did you do to escape it? I want to show that a lot of women are already making adjustments in their daily life, but as long as we are the only ones doing that, it will never be enough.'

Starting a conversation

She hopes that sharing stories will help make people aware of this issue. 'That’s why we are organising a human library on Friday. The writers of the stories will act as the books there, and visitors can ask them questions. We hope this will get the conversation going and also bring the situation to the attention of people who have not read the stories yet.'

Anne wants as many people as possible get to see and hear the exhibition. 'We have had so many reactions that we want to keep adding stories to the exhibition in the near future and maybe organise another human library next semester. I don't expect people to change their behaviour immediately as a result, but hopefully they will think about it if they see a woman sitting in a train and looking uncomfortable.'

The exhibition can be seen on Things That Talk. The human library is taking place on Friday 9 December from 11.00 to 15.00 at BplusC on Nieuwstraat.

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