A few years ago, Amnesty International invited members to send in their answers to the question, “what does a world without violence against women mean to you?” One reply really stuck with me, and it came not from a woman, but a man. To him, it meant the woman he walked behind in the street at night not being afraid of him.
I think of this every time I walk alone after dark. To the despair of my friends and mother, and despite my nerves, when sober enough I’ve always refused to let fear put me off walking home alone. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve always lived in relatively “safe” areas; but then whatever the statistics are, anyone can get mugged, anywhere.
There are measures I take to give myself a sense of security. Perhaps least effectively, I sometimes emasculate my silhouette if I’m planning a trip; a shapeless hoodie and trousers with pockets say “woman” far less than a skirt, tailored jacket and bag.
This can backfire. Tonight two separate women passed me just after midnight this morning with terrified glances, and I started to know what the man in the Amnesty magazine felt like. As I turned into my road, a man was behind me and I glanced over my shoulder. I saw he was wearing a suit and instantly felt at ease- and then kicked myself for being so prejudiced. I glanced round again without really thinking about it, and he crossed the road and sped off. Any other time of day, or if he had been a woman, it would have been ok; but because it was dark, and he was a man, he must have known it would have put me on edge. I almost wanted to shout after him, I’m sorry; I felt bad for making him feel distrusted because of his gender.
It’s one thing for me to worry about being out alone in the dark in England; in various other places in the world, the circumstances of me being there (on my way back from a pub, where I had been with gay people, unchaperoned, head uncovered, to a house I share with two men who are neither relations nor husbands) would be a catalog of crimes. It was this train of thought that convinced me to make the ten minute walk to the pub on my own at half ten, because I knew I was just lucky enough to have the choice.
But I know that by going out at night, alone, I am running a risk, be it small or large, and its one that a lot of women would not chose to take. Imagine a world without violence against women? Its one where the first thought a woman has when she sees a man at night no longer has to be fear. Its one where women are confident enough to enjoy their lives to the full, and not jump at shadows in the dark.