When Will It Be Safe For Women To Walk Alone?

safe for women to walk alone
Photo by Noelle Otto

Sometimes I think, “Wow! Look at how far the feminist movement has come.”

Other times?

I am reminded that perceptions of women have changed very little over the centuries, and now is not the time to rest on our human rights laurels.

For example, there has never been a time when women could walk the streets (especially at night) alone without fear.

Growing up in the 1990s, my mum instilled in me a deep distrust of men. As soon as I started walking to the corner shop as a kid, my mum would give me the whole “Don’t talk to strangers” speech. And we both knew she meant strange men.

As a support worker of abused women and children, she was hyper-aware of how dangerous the world could be for a young girl. She gave my sister and me rape alarms when we were in our teens.

When I was 11, I had my first lesson in not walking home at night.

I said I’d get home by 5pm (pre-mobile phones), and I got back as the sun was setting at 7pm. All my neighbors were out looking for me, and when I got home wondering what all the fuss was about, my mum was furious.

Even fathers don’t trust men. When I got my first serious boyfriend at the age of 15, my dad’s stock phrases included, “What’s his game?” and “They are only after one thing.”

If these are the messages we reinforce in children, no wonder we grow up to internalize the belief that men are corruptors and women are pure.

Want some feminist food for thought?

I recently watched The Ripper documentary on Netflix, which tells the story of the Yorkshire Ripper murders in the 1980s, and two things outraged me.

One—how prostitute murders didn’t count. It was only when ‘innocent’ women got killed that police and the media actually cared.

Two—how Yorkshire women were given a curfew to keep themselves safe. Women were basically penalized, while men could stay out having fun as long as they liked.

Wouldn’t it make more sense if everyone had a curfew? Then if the police spotted anyone suspicious out at night, they could question them?

In Victorian Britain, wholesome women were taught that the outside world was a scary and corruptible place and that the safest place to be was in the home. In other words, creepy men were lurking around every corner, and it was up to women to protect themselves. Or better yet, get a husband to protect her.

Then I look at the news today. Men attacking women, women being given curfews to protect themselves. Nothing has changed since the 1980s or the Victorian era, for that matter.

When will women feel safe walking the streets alone?

During the 1980 Yorkshire Ripper attacks, the media portrayed the murdered women the same way they did during the Ripper attacks in Victorian London. They were always presented in a binary way as whores or virgins.

This belief is as old as the bible, and unfortunately, they are the two clichés murderers with mummy issues really get off on.

Similarly, men are often framed as either predators or protectors of women. This is just as unhelpful because it reinforces the belief that women are passive and subject to men’s actions—good or bad.

But this time, women are saying no more. No more restricting our behavior. It’s time to stop treating the symptoms and start addressing a cure for our sick sexist society.

I don’t think men always realize the risk-assessments women have to do regularly. The walking home check-list goes something like this:

1. Text your housemate that you’re coming home.

Check.

2. Hold keys to use as a potential weapon.

Check.

3. Run through dark passages.

Check.

4. Call a friend when you see a creepy-looking guy.

Check.

5. Text your friend to let them know you got home ok.

Check.

Do men have to take these precautions?

I’m not saying it’s always safe for men to walk the streets at night, but it’s more widely accepted, and we assume they’ll be fine.

It’s all well and good men protesting, “Not all men!” But it sometimes feels like it is most men because every woman has a story. One where a man crossed the line and made her feel unsafe and disrespected, so where are they still learning this is ok?

I know how common it is for women to have frightening encounters with men. Just the other day, my friends and I had plenty of harassment stories to share between us.

They range from a man putting his hand under my friend’s skirt in a club to a man following my friend home and sexually relieving himself across the road from her house.

Women will report such incidents to the police, but by then, the damage has been done.

We need to radically shift the odds to work in our favor, so that walking home at night no longer feels like the shittest kind of lottery. No one wins in this current climate.

If these kinds of actions are still common, we need to educate men to be feminists from a very young age. We need systemic change—a change in everyone’s mentality through education, not just changes in the law.

It’s not going to be easy. But if women keep raising their voices, and if men are willing to listen and not just shout, “Not all men,” we can work to make change happen—and preferably at a much faster rate.

They say we are in the fourth wave of feminism. Whichever wave we’re in, let’s make this the tidal wave that smashes outdated patriarchal views and creates a safer world for women, and a better world for us all.

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