This Tuesday just gone, for the first time in a while, I walked home clutching my keys in my hands, one poking out between my two fingers…
I was doing the five-minute walk from the tube station to my flat at around 8.30pm. It was dark and my residential road was eerily quiet.
I’m afraid to say that I have become complacent in recent months. Perhaps it’s the fact that we haven’t been allowed out so much due to lockdown, or the fact that I’ve become so familiar with my current area, but the news of Sarah Everard’s disappearance gave me a swift, sharp jolt back to reality.
Sarah’s case has struck a chord with so many women up and down the country – you just need to take a quick look on Twitter to know this. I think the reason it’s been playing on my mind so much this past week is because I too am 33-years-old and also live in London. And, quite simply, it could have been me.
I don’t think men realise just how exhausting it is for us women to constantly feel on edge about our safety. Judging by the outpouring on social media this past week, I hope they are now aware of the tactics we use day in, day out to just feel a tad safer whilst out and about.
From clutching keys in our hands and discreetly carrying mini cans of hairspray, to not listening to music on our headphones and sending friends our live location via WhatsApp, this is our reality. And quite frankly, it shouldn’t be.
Just ask any woman you know to check how many times she’s typed the words “home now” into WhatsApp and you’ll get an idea of how engrained this is in us.
Why shouldn’t a woman be able to go for a run in the dark? Why shouldn’t we able to take our dog for a walk once the sun goes down? Why do we have to make the decision between whether or not it would be safer to walk or take a taxi?
Many years ago I got a cab to my dad’s flat late on a Saturday night. I knew the obvious route to take as I was familiar with the area, so when the driver started going a completely different one – which felt completely out of the way – I started to panic (this was way before we had smartphones). I wondered if he had somehow locked the doors without me knowing, I wondered what would await me when we got to wherever he was going, I wondered if I would ever see my dad again… Thankfully he did take me to my dad’s and for some bizarre reason had just taken a completely different and much longer route.
Some may say I was being dramatic by assuming the worst, but I’ll say it again, this is our reality. And we’ve felt this way for as long as we can remember. From the days of being children and our parents telling us not to trust strangers, to being catcalled on the way home from high school whilst wearing our uniforms. I have to say I’ve always been somewhat of a sassy female and even at the age of 14/15, I’d flip the finger to men whistling at me or beeping as they drove past. Sometimes I’d even shout at them to fuck off!
But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that I don’t react as much and I’m not sure if it’s because somewhere in the back of my mind, I’m unsure of how the men could react. Maybe they’ll confront me? Maybe they’ll hit the brakes and jump out their van? The possibilities are endless and as women we always have to be wary.
I know many men might be reading this and thinking, ‘I would never do something like that!’ and yes, I know a lot of men who wouldn’t dream of leering at a woman, grabbing a woman, or go out of their way to make a woman feel uncomfortable – but sadly there’s a lot of men who do. There are men who relish in making us feel scared, on edge and fearing for our safety.
When I was 29, I was out in London at night with my ex-boyfriend, we were minding our own business and walked past a group of men who purposely tried to intimidate us. Now, although I was with my partner – who I knew would protect me – I remember thinking: “Wow, they’re so brazen. What would they have done if I was alone?”
I thank my lucky stars that nothing has ever happened to me on one of the many nights I’ve gone home alone, drunk at silly o-clock in the morning, and this week I’ve found myself feeling guilty at times for being so careless in the past. But instead of telling women not to get drunk, or not to wear that low-cut top, or not to stay out so late, why don’t we educate men better instead?
No man will ever fully understand, but some don’t even want to try and understand, and here lies the problem. Yes, YOU know you’re not a threat, when you’re walking behind us on a quiet street at 10pm at night, but WE don’t know that. There’s been several occasions when I’ve pretended to live somewhere I didn’t, just so I could hang back and let a stranger walk ahead of me.
In recent days I’ve been speaking to friends about their own experiences, as well as their tactics, and it really is shocking that every single female has a story – regardless of where they live, what time they go out, or how cautious they are. One had their drink spiked by a friend of a friend, one was verbally abused by a guy she’d gone on a few dates with – and to the point where she was advised to report him to the police for harassment – one was grabbed whilst in a takeaway shop with her boyfriend on a Friday night, one was punched when she tried to defend a woman being harassed on the tube, one on her way to work a night shift was confronted by a man masturbating on the escalator in a train station who then proceeded to chase her.
The list goes on and on and on, and something has to change.
As England looks forward to life slowly going back to normal in a matter of weeks, we – just like men – are very much looking forward to going to the pub again, and having a few drinks with friends and why shouldn’t we? Why shouldn’t we have our bare legs out as the spring/summer arrives? Why shouldn’t we have a few too many wines as we’re finally reunited with our best mates?
We shouldn’t have personal curfews, we are not prisoners, and we have the right to walk down the street at any time of day without feeling scared, intimidated, or terrified of being assaulted, abducted or murdered.
It’s also important to understand that these discussions women are having are not an attack on all men, but instead on the perpetrators, abusers, and a society that still functions in such a way that allows this awful behaviour to continue.