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Detroit Proper: A Homegrown Fear

Desiree Cooper explores how the constant fear of violence follows women home and into the most intimate room of the house.

The worst decorating trend du jour is the completely see-through shower doors that give the illusion of standing in a room naked and sopping wet in clear view of everyone. In other words, a sitting duck.

That's because I live in constant terror of being attacked – something many men rarely feel, particularly in the comfort of their own homes. But women live 24/7 with that nagging burn of vulnerability. For them, even the cheeriest, pinkest, aroma-filled, candlelit, bubble-bathy room in the house – the bathroom – is sullied with the tinge of terror.

Recently, I asked a group of women if any of them were ever afraid in their own bathrooms. Nearly every woman in the room raised her hand.

"Yes," says one married mother of two. "I usually lock the door for protection. I always feel like someone might come in and get me."

"I'm afraid every time I wash my hair," another woman adds. "I hate having to close my eyes in the shower."

Mind you, this was not a support group for survivors of domestic violence or rape. It was an ordinary book club gathering. I've started asking this question every time I speak, asking first the women about their fears in the bathroom, then asking the same questions of the men. The men, who are rarely afraid, are ashen when they hear random women of all ages say things like:

I only shower when someone is home so that they will be able to hear me screaming. As soon as I enter my bathroom, I always check behind the shower curtain to make sure no one's there. I cover the mirror so that I won't see the reflection if someone is standing behind me – I'm too scared. I look behind the door as soon as I enter the bathroom. I always keep the door unlocked so that I can get out of the bathroom if an intruder comes through the window. To keep me safe, I bring my dog into my bathroom while I shower. I stopped taking baths and switched to showers because I don't like to stay too long in the bathroom by myself. I like the clear shower glass because I can see the whole bathroom at all times.

It's sad that the girliest room in the house is often the one that strikes the most terror for women. And it's sadder that the men in our lives have no idea how much the fear of being attacked permeates our most intimate moments.

It's easy to blame this fear on Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 film Psycho. The knifing of the woman in the shower is iconic for its trailblazing, graphic violence. I've never seen the movie, and only clips of the shower scene, yet it haunts me daily. The problem isn't just the disturbing mainstream embrace of Hitchcock's misogynist imagination, but that versions of that scene are now a staple in mainstream horror films that depend totally on "woman hunting" to inspire fear.

Nearly six decades after Psycho, there's no such thing as a horror movie without a scantily clothed and/or stiletto-heeled woman running from a male predator. Women have learned that we are safe nowhere, even in our own homes. We've learned that we can be attacked for what we have on – or for what we don't have on. Our clothes are invitations to rape. Our nudity is permission to murder.

One in six American women will survive an attempted or completed rape in their lifetimes. One in five black women will be the victim of rape. Ninety percent of rape victims are women and 55 percent are raped at or near their own homes. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), nearly half of rape victims report that they were sleeping or performing another activity at home when they were raped.

This is the landscape upon which the current workplace harassment scandal has landed. The #MeToo campaign has unveiled the true depth of sexual predation that goes much further than a job. In a nation that so wholly embraces sexual violence and rape culture, workplace sexual harassment is merely an extension of the potential for violence that women endure every waking (or sleeping) moment.

It's affirmation of what women already know: A home may be a man's castle, but for women, it may be the place where no one will hear their screams.

To help get rape kits tested in Detroit, donate to the African American 490 Challenge at crowdrise.com/africanamerican490challenge.

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