what women carry

Photos of the Day: What women carry to protect themselves

“These loaded objects on key chains where trinkets should be really do portray how women are expected to always be on guard to protect themselves…when the rapists should not be raping.” – Taylor Yocom

A jarring new portrait series “Guarded” visually captures the physical manifestation of the need women feel to protect themselves every day. Shot by Taylor Yocom, a 22-year-old photography student from the University of Iowa, the photographs show women holding up the items they carry on their key chains to defend themselves from attack — rape whistles, keys, mace. Objects that many of us likely carry in our bags too, and that have likely failed to protect many of us because rapists aren’t just hiding in dark bushes more often than not, we know them.

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Yocom was inspired in the wake of the taxicab sexual assaults in the Iowa City community last year, when she and female classmates discussed how they kept themselves safe on walks home at night. Yocom writes, “We pulled our mace and rape whistles out of our pockets and showed them off — not one of us was fazed. The men in the room were taken aback that we even needed to think about this.”

Yocom’s story really resonated with me, because I had a pretty similar conversation with a male colleague walking home a few weeks ago. When I told said male colleague that I felt unsafe walking alone at night, he suggested I was “paranoid” and that my fear might be an exaggerated product of my reading about sexual violence. But when another female friend told him that she’d jogged back from his party with keys between her fingers the day before, the existence of real systemic reasons to be scared seemed to dawn upon male colleague.

While I’m still wary of dudes who didn’t get it before seeing this, cheers to this project for reminding us that we’re not making this shit up. And I share Yocom’s hope that the series will lead viewers “to rethink the statistics about rape and assault, to visualize that one in four women are assaulted in their lifetime, as a personal reality not a meaningless number.”

“Guarded” is currently on display in Iowa City. Check out Yocom’s website to read more about the series and for more powerful images.

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Mahroh is a community organizer and law student who believes in building a world where black and brown women and our communities are able to live free of violence. Prior to law school, Mahroh was the Executive Director of Know Your IX, a national survivor- and youth-led organization empowering students to end gender violence and a junior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Her research addresses the ways militarization, racism, and sexual violence impact communities of color transnationally.

Mahroh is currently at Harvard Law School, organizing against state and gender-based violence.

Read more about Mahroh

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