The Terrifying Reality of Womanhood

Featured Illustration: Simply Sophie Designs

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Trigger warning: mentions of gendered violence, gun violence, transphobia, and sexual assault.

A TikTok video of user @jatsiveh detailing the contents of her ‘If I Go Missing Folder’, recently went viral on Twitter, collecting over 2 million views and 200,000 likes and retweets. Her folder contains the following: social media passwords, photocopies of her passport and driver’s license, banking information, dental records, photos of identifying scars, tattoos, and birthmarks, clear unedited photos, vehicle information, and more. She explains the decision to create this folder by mentioning that no one knows when they might encounter a bad situation, and that the police often lose valuable time by seeking relevant information through legal means when searching for a missing person. The purpose of this folder is to speed up the search process if the worst were ever to happen. She references the case of 18-year-old Kelsey Smith, who was kidnapped in 2007. It took 4 days for her mobile provider to release the location information from her phone; once they did, the police found her body within 45 minutes. What happened to Kelsey illustrates the ways in which legal bureaucracy can slow the search process immensely, and the ‘If I Go Missing Folder’ aims to solve this problem.

The concept of the ‘If I Go Missing Folder’ has been promoted by the Crime Junkie Podcast, who offer a form that helps recipients get a jump start on collecting any information that should be relevant if they go missing. It’s an incredibly smart way to prepare for a possible worst-case scenario, and largely seems like something everyone should have — regardless of their gender. We should all be prepared and cautious. However, demonstrated by the way it has resonated with women on social media, it is a startling reminder of the ways in which women are particularly susceptible to violence. It is a reminder of the ways in which misogyny and gendered violence are so normalised and deeply entrenched in our society. It is also deeply depressing and disheartening that such a precaution is deemed necessary.

Women routinely suffer at the hands of men, namely cishet (cisgender and heterosexual) men. Our experiences of pain and suffering are universal.

This does not refer solely to physical abuse either — experiences of emotional, mental, and even financial abuse are more common than is typically thought. The TikTok about the “If I Go Missing Folder” was posted on Twitter soon after Eden The Doll, Jaslene White Rose, and Joslyn Flawless, three transwomen of color and social media influencers, were brutally attacked by a group of men. The perpetrators of this attack filmed their violent behaviour as onlookers simply gawked and even laughed at times. These men misgendered, physically assaulted, robbed, and humiliated these women. At one point, as Jaslene lay on the ground after being assaulted with a bottle, a video shows a police car slowing down to take in the scene, yet continuing to drive off. Everyone who witnessed this attack and its aftermath, including the police, failed to protect and support these very vulnerable women as they were attacked. The violence to which all women are susceptible is often exacerbated by other factors, such as gender history and race. Accordingly, transwomen of colour are regularly subject to extreme instances of violence when misogyny, transphobia, and racism intersect.

In the wake of rapper Megan Thee Stallion publicly revealing that she was shot by rapper Tory Lanez last month, as was largely speculated, this discussion is pertinent. In an Instagram Live, Megan revealed that Tory shot her in both feet as she walked away during an argument. Despite this, once the police arrived, Megan did not inform them of Tory’s involvement in her injuries because she was scared of experiencing additional violence from them, as they were acting aggressively. This aggression would have been heightened by the revelation that Tory, a Black man, had a firearm in the vehicle. Megan’s decision is an unsettling reminder that even in the face of violence, many of us (namely Black women) are unable to seek support and protection from the police due to fear of state-sanctioned violence, fuelled by systemic racism. As a Black woman, she was unable to feel safe with people who have quite literally sworn to protect and serve her. Megan’s decision to reveal this publicly was in response to accusations of lying from the public, and people have continued to disregard her pain and suffering, and have taken to calling her a “snitch”. The insensitive and ignorant reactions to Megan’s news is largely down to misogynoir — the racialised form of misogyny experienced by Black women. As written by Kelechi Okafor, this reaction is “proof that Black women are the least protected in all of society.”

Megan’s situation is also a solemn reminder of what happened to Oluwatoyin Salau, a 19-year-old Black Lives Matter activist who was found murdered after she went missing in June, shortly after she detailed her sexual assault on Twitter. A 49-year-old man has since confessed to her kidnapping and murder, as well as that of 75-year-old Victoria Sims, whose body was found with Oluwatoyin’s. Across different ages and social backgrounds, Black women are under-protected. Women, but especially Black women and transwomen, and so particularly Black transwomen, are so grossly under-protected that we are forced to take actions such as creating folders should we go missing, and avoid police involvement for fear that they will contribute to violence against us.

All of these stories are very public instances of what happens to women constantly. These experiences are not uncommon or distinctive. Instead, they are part of a wider pattern of gendered violence, which is often exacerbated by other forms of discrimination such as racism and transphobia. These experiences are symptoms of how deeply entrenched and normalised misogyny and rape culture are. Misogyny and its effects are a systemic issue, and the mistreatment of women is not solely down to our dating choices or other interpersonal relationships, as some would argue. Instead, we have no choice but to navigate a world in which experiences of traumatising gendered violence are common and misogyny is normalised. For women who belong to other marginalised communities, this fear is even worse. Ultimately, until people (particularly cishet men) begin to take our plight seriously, and actively commit to protecting all women, we will be forced to prepare our ‘If I Go Missing Folders’ and carry around rape alarms, as I personally do.