The four of us left the restaurant together, having celebrated a friend’s birthday. Laughing and carrying on, we made our way to the Lyft that idled across the street. A woman smiled warmly at us from the driver’s seat.
As she drove us through Portland’s nighttime streets, our banter turned to the kinds of conversations that I imagine drivers have over and over, like some sort of Groundhog Day. This and that. The rain. The lack of rain. Yes, we were visiting but used to live in Oregon. Eugene, actually. How busy was her evening? What’s the dumbest thing a passenger has done in her car? Did she like driving for Lyft?
That she was a woman wasn’t lost on the four women piled in her car. After all, estimates vary but suggest that only about 1 in 5 rideshare drivers are women. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that very little time passed before my friend asked from the backseat, “So, do you feel safe driving strangers around?”
She didn’t miss a beat in responding that she felt safe. In fact, she told us, it’s important to know that most victimization of women happens in intimate relationships.
From there, she could have shifted back to the weather or turned up the radio. Instead, she took the opening offered by that back-seat question to talk about sexual assault as if it was the most common, taboo-free topic that a stranger would discuss with a gaggle of people crammed in her car while merging onto I-5. Over the next twenty minutes, we covered lots of ground — from the prevalence of intimate violence to prevention, from one end of Portland to the other.
Of course, just because most sexual assault is perpetrated by people victims know, not all is. Indeed, women have spoken out over the years about being sexually harassed and assaulted as rideshare drivers and passengers. It’s a different sort of Groundhog Day — one that reminds us that victimization and avoiding-victimization are part of the fabric of girls’ and women’s lives in the U.S. and around the globe.
Around the time of that ride, I was working in fits and starts on the ideas that would grow into Every 90 Seconds. I was increasingly frustrated that we could know so much about sexual assault and other forms of intimate violence even as the victimization of girls and women remained so commonplace. More and more urgently, I wanted to understand what would make change possible — not a decline of a percentage point or two in rates of this or that form of intimate violence, but transformational change.
Over the subsequent years and book drafts, I came to believe that transformational change will require persuading more and more people to see that they have a stake in ending gender-based violence — regardless of their genders or their own life histories.
In Every 90 Seconds, I try to do this by showing how violence against women is tangled up with the biggest issues of our time — from education access and healthcare inequities to gun violence and legal reform. From those interconnections, I hope people who thought violence against women was someone else’s problem will see their self-interest. Because when we have a self-interest in an issue, we’re more likely to act. And when we discover shared interests, we’re more likely to act together in new and creative ways.
I think that’s part of why the woman who drove me and some friends across Portland still pops in my mind from time to time. She did a relatively small thing in having a conversation with some strangers. Doing so helped reveal the shared interests we had — as friends and strangers — to build a different world; a world without gender-based violence.
And that small action continues to reverberate all these years later.
That’s just the sort of potential that community organizer adrienne maree brown points to when she argues that seemingly small actions become the pattern out of which larger scale change blooms. As she says, “how we are at the small scale is how we are at the large scale.”
Today is just the day to start practicing seemingly small actions — after all, it’s the start of Sexual Assault Awareness Month and opportunities abound. You could attend a #SAAM event in your community and bring someone along. Or take part in the #30DaysofSAAM Challenge. Maybe wear jeans on Denim Day and tell people why you’re doing so.
It’s also the day that Every 90 Seconds starts shipping from the Oxford University Press warehouse.
Inside that purple cover, I invite you to join me in discovering ways that we can take action together to build a world without intimate violence.
Every 90 Seconds: Our Common Cause Ending Violence against Women is available for preorder (Barnes & Noble, Indie Bound, Amazon, Grass Roots).