Safe on the street? – 15 March 2021
A young woman walks alone down a street. We can tell she is walking quickly because her right foot is extended forward, the fabric of her skirt and the shawl in motion. As she walks by she is observed by two men standing in the shadows. The artist’s concern here is the invasive male gaze, and consequent lessening of safety. The man are intimidating and, in conversation, conspiratorial. Everything in the woman’s demeanor indicates that she is attempting to pass by without being noticed, without drawing attention to herself. She is well wrapped in her shawl and her eyes are downcast.
In many ways this is a common scene, but in highlighting the threat from the observing men this picture is unusually perceptive. The picture is called ‘Street in Venice’, 1882. The artist here is John Singer Sargent. He intensifies the drama by close-cropping the image, as in a photograph. The painting is composed of a series of rectangles descending in size, giving the whole a telescopic feel. The colours are muted, using a limited palette, with touches of red on the woman’s comb and dress. The picture asks the viewer questions: is the young woman safe? What will happen next?
Street harassment is how men mark out public spaces as their own, making women into trespassers on male territory…. By abusing and harassing women, men make public spaces their own – and by entering those spaces, they perceive that women acquiesce to their abuse.
Rachel Hewitt, The Guardian, 11 March 2021
My child, do not let these escape from your sight:
keep sound wisdom and prudence,
and they will be life for your soul
and adornment for your neck.
Then you will walk on your way securely
and your foot will not stumble.
If you sit down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
Do not be afraid of sudden panic,
or of the storm that strikes the wicked;
for the Lord will be your confidence
and will keep your foot from being caught.
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.