by Nicholl Hardwick
Content warning: this article mentions sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape.
Here is a little snippet of the continuous thoughts and actions that are applicable to many women when walking alone as the night begins to descend.
- Multiple checks over her shoulder.
- Trying to cover up and make your self look as undesirable as possible (pulling down top, head down, arms covering torso).
- Weapon ready in hand (Keys slipped between enclosed fist, rape alarm, pepper spray etc.).
- Analysing what the quickest escape route is (Your mind works like a ninja e.g. what is the quickest way to exit the park? THROUGH THE TREES!)
- Being ultra responsive to sound (the snap of a twig = RUN YOU FOOL)
- The old ‘I’m talking on my phone so you can’t attack me’ trick, when in reality your phone died two hours ago.
- The ability to power walk like a trouper — thighs of steel — the quicker you get home the sooner you can stop shitting yourself that you’re not going to make it.
- The avoidance of headphones — If you’ve got Bey on full blast then you ain’t gonna hear the footsteps!
- The ability for women to have extensive knowledge of all ‘well lit’ routes in their area — THERE MUST BE LIGHT OTHERWISE IT’S MY FAULT — our minds work like twisted Satnavs.
- The continuous regret that you didn’t just save money and get a taxi.
All jokes aside, growing up as a woman who enjoys staying out late (a sin I know) and being an individual who finds her self fairly low on funds most of the time, means that this is a regular experience for me. Whilst growing up with a large group of close female friends, I believe it is a shared and collective experience for most young women. The fear of assault, sexual or otherwise, is rife in the minds of women walking home alone, and as you can see, the lengths women go to to arm them self appropriately from attackers is extensive.
The fear of assault, sexual or otherwise, is rife in the minds of women walking home alone
However, what interests me particularly about this bizarre yet disturbingly normalised cultural female tradition, is the lack of progression and help from our authorities and society in general. Really think about it. What lengths have they gone to to make females feel safer walking alone when the sun is no longer there to protect our fragile bodies? Other than supplying us with weaponry (pepper spray and rape alarms) how have the institutions around us changed anything?
The only attempts have been through Women’s Liberation groups, such as ‘Reclaim the Night’ which began in the 70’s and still carries on to this day all around the world. Women are twice as likely as men to feel unsafe when walking alone at night and for good reason, endless amounts of surveys have reported that 95% of women don’t feel safe on the streets at night due to fears of being attacked or raped. There are over 47,000 reported rapes every year and around 40,000 attempted rapes and over 300,000 sexual assaults. However, despite these statistics, Britain has one of the lowest rape conviction rates in Europe with only 5.3%.
All advice to tackle this sadistic problem is aimed at women. Take self-defense classes! Download the Kitestring App, it sends a text to your friends letting them know you’re not home when you should be! Yes, these are all hugely constructive pieces of advice and inventions, but why are we only asking women to change their behaviour? Why aren’t we focusing on institutions such as education and the judiciary system? Why are we being taught that it is our job as women to find an alternative method of accommodating to the atrociously sexist culture around us? It is not only us that need to be made aware of this.
why are we only asking women to change their behaviour?
Men as well as women need to be educated on the lack of safety for women and the threats that specifically affect the female demographic. We cannot create effective change for women unless we are all educated to strive for real equality and taught that sexist and sexualised behaviour towards women is an intolerable threat which must be prevented at all costs. Why aren’t more rapists convicted? Why aren’t males educated on female safety as well as women? Why aren’t there services ensuring individuals get home safely for free? Aren’t these things our government should be focusing on rather than specific groups? It sends the message that the safety of women is not on our government’s agenda, which in turn creates the impression that the patriarchal reign remains strong and women are not a valued enough member of society, therefore they cannot be seen as a demographic we need to protect on all fronts.
Attitudes need to change, perspectives need to be altered and knowledge needs to be spread. The sheer fact that countless women in my social group have expressed that they hope not to have a daughter purely because they don’t want them to experience this oppression is utterly saddening. Rape is real, fear is real and patriarchy is real. Educate all and alter prosecution laws and this has the power to create effective change where women feel safer to walk alone.
Featured image: artwork by artist and activist, Tatyana Fazlalizade