Freedom from Lockdown

Sarah Monod de Froideville

Just another two business days, she said. Well, actually, the weekend and the day following it too (for Anzac Day). As Jacinda Ardern announced we’d remain at level 4 until the morning of Tuesday 28 April, I swear I could hear the collective groan.

Everyone wants to get out of lockdown. The boredom, cooped-upness and trauma in discovering just how design challenged one’s colleagues truly are (I have a friend who describes Zoom meetings as a form of intimate assault).

Well, I don’t want it to end. I have found a freedom in lockdown, but in sharing it I have to make a confession. I, like the Health Minister, nation’s surfies and thousands of others, am a lockdown offender.

I didn’t plan on it, but have been doing my daily walks a little bit outside my local neighbourhood, and mostly at night. I’ve been walking and walking for long periods in the dark because, for once in my life, I feel like it’s safe to do so.

It is remarkable to be in the outdoors at night and just be; without having to walk briskly, keys in hand and cellphone at the ready, having to cognitively identify every sound.

When we reach level 2, it is not likely I—or any other woman—will ever have the same opportunity again. Every woman understands the effort we put into being hypervigilant in a world that doesn’t promise us our security.

Fiona Vera-Grey, an English scholar, has written a stunning book about it. She places brisk walking and phone readiness on a long list of actions involved in the ‘safety work’ all women engage in on a daily basis. It’s such normalised practice we don’t often reflect on how wonderful it would be to not have to do it.

In fact, there could be many positives to come out of our time locked down.

According to social media, we’re all going to appreciate each other much more afterward. Perhaps. The climate, for one, will be happy. Wellington’s first week saw a big drop in emissions. This is good news considering New Zealand’s emissions from personal vehicles are some of the worst in the world.

The prospect of four weeks of lockdown prompting a kitten adoption frenzy, with the SPCA reporting it was out of kittens, was heartwarming. I’m sure many, like me, have reflected on the exquisite quiet that comes with empty streets. We really could think about toning ourselves down a notch after this.

These thoughts are bittersweet, however. I am well aware there are human casualties of preventing a predicted 80,000 deaths. Figures for intimate partner violence (IPV), a festering injustice in our society, and one well known to increase under crisis conditions, are reportedly up around 40 percent. Jacinda Ardern prepared for such a rise by designating to Women’s Refuge some of the $27 million for social services.

Knowing the actual figures will be higher, given IPV is prolifically under-reported, is difficult to think about. Incidentally, the death rate from IPV is in the vicinity of 12 to 15 women a year in New Zealand, so our continued complacency about it presents a threat akin to that of a virus.

Just Speak called for the Police Armed Response Team pilot to be abandoned in an open letter to the Police Commissioner earlier this month. Director Tania Sawicki Mead noted in the letter that a long history of mistrust between Māori and the police meant the unprecedented new police powers to detain at any cost could detrimentally affect some communities.

I signed that letter as an academic, and as a mother, as it had struck me when lockdown began that my sons, who are of Māori and Pākehā descent, could potentially face the immediate danger of a trigger-happy officer who had the power to protect the 80,000 at all costs.

As a criminologist, I am well aware criminal justice agents call on stock standard stereotypes when making heat of the moment decisions. Such practice is identified in our ‘focal concerns theory’. Moreover, the deplorable actions of the police in Ruatoki in 2007 exposed just how mindful unconscious bias can be.

And then there’s the tagging of COVID-19 as the boomer-remover. It is supposed to be a bit of tongue-in-cheek millennial humour. But while the notion of a designer virus released to spare them the pension bill for a generation considered to have had its fair share of the pie might be fantastical, the institutional care of our elders is in dire need of review. Luckily, we haven’t had to make the horrible decision Italy had to and prioritise resources towards the young.

On that note, we may have saved lives by going into lockdown, but we also have sacrificed the wellbeing of others in the process. In doing so, we have drawn the dividing lines between who we want to protect and who we are willing to throw to the wolves.

At the same time, it is like a mirror has been handed to us, allowing us insight into our everyday ways. That normally the streets are places of danger for women reveals it is our freedom that is sacrificed to protect the liberty of movement for ‘all’. That we are designated wolf tucker every single day.

So, while I will enjoy the return of many of my former ‘freedoms’ in the weeks to come, I will also miss the absence of fear when walking at night.

Dr Sarah Monod de Froideville is a Lecturer in the Criminology programme at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington.

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