So there I was, coming home from a long day at work one evening… the good ol’ days when work was actually in a different location to my kitchen table. It was quite dark and since moving to the suburbs, I’ve come to accept that streetlights were an afterthought around here. Anyways I’m off the train now at my nearest station, ready to make my way home. My apartment is roughly a ten-minute walk away but at a brisk pace, I’ll get there in no time at all. Quite a distance ahead of me is a lady, walking in the same direction towards the apartment developments. To be honest, I never really noticed her until she stopped at the edge of the walkway and took out her phone as though she was making a call. Still not thinking too much of it, I walked past her only to notice she’d continued walking once she was behind me, as though she’d intentionally let me go in front. By nature, I overthink a lot of things and I remember being confused all the way back home, questioning why she’d do that. And then it started to dawn on me that she probably noticed a guy walking behind her and used the fake phone call ploy as a means of both confirming her suspicions and keeping her wits about her.
When I got home and I had some time to digest the situation, if I’m honest my initial reaction was one of annoyance. I was just literally walking home yet this woman was seemingly taking precautions against me even though I had no mal intent. Not to make things about race but as a black male, I’m privy to the micro aggressions I face in society, so I immediately attributed her behaviour to that. As my girlfriend was home, I decided to recount the story to her; priming to paint myself as the victim of some sort of discrimination lol. But as I ran through the story in my head, I started to sound less and less assured. Suddenly the fine details of the incident started to surface; a late evening, a dimly lit street, guy walking behind a woman… I went from ‘woe is me’ to truly understanding the woman’s situation and why she took the actions she did. Yeah, even though I had no mal intent, she wasn’t prepared to gamble and took safety first.
Sometimes guys don’t deep the lengths women have to go through to stay safe. My girlfriend had previously told me about her unease walking back from the station due to the dimly lit road you have to walk down but I guess I never deeped the severity of it. As a guy I’m very blasé about the risks of being alone in a public space. Yeah, of course I’m not immune from danger but it’s not at the forefront of my mind; certainly not in my day-to-day thought process. But unfortunately, that’s not the same for women. This need to be cautious when out in public spaces is something that’s been ingrained in most, virtually all women from a young age.
“Walk on the well-lit parts of the pavement at night”
“Don’t walk home with your heels on”
“Keep one of your earphones out so you can hear your surroundings”
“Make sure you’re clutching your phone in your pocket”
“Walk with your keys in-between your knuckles”
“Tuck your hair into your hood”
“Don’t make eye-contact with anyone you walk past”
…the list goes on. These have all become habitual instincts for half of the population, due to the other half of the population. Whereas in contrast I’ve been “absolutely hammered lad”, walking home at ungodly hours at night, earphones in vibing to music without a care in the world. That’s male privilege.
Recent events here in the U.K. have quite rightly raised concerns about the safety of women in public spaces. For too long society has been overly concerned about telling women to stay safe that we’ve neglected to tell men that we do not have an inherent right over a woman’s bodies. Time and time again women are gaslit into thinking situations may have panned out differently had they avoided public transport, or they weren’t out so late, or had they not shown as much cleavage, when in reality the only way to prevent men from sexually harassing women is for men to stop sexually harassing women. It’s a dangerous notion when we shift accountability to the innocent party. We’ve gone from celebrating International Women’s Day, to a woman’s admission of having suicidal thoughts being dismissed by a man live on national television, to a woman being kidnapped and murdered by an off-duty policeman as she walked home from a friend’s house, all in the same week. According to a UN Women U.K. survey, 97% of young women in the U.K. have been sexually harassed in some capacity. That’s a damning statistic… meaning it’s very likely the majority of women you know have fallen victim. This is not an issue we can afford to stay silent on, and perhaps if this conversation makes you uncomfortable then you’re probably part of the problem.