this is how to not be a douchebag to women on the street
Just some things men can do to make women feel more comfortable in public spaces because it is our pavement too.
Still from A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
So many terrifying thoughts run through women’s heads when they walk home at night. I always stay far away from hedges because I can’t stop imaging some huge gangling arms dragging me into the leaves and strangling me. When cars drive past on gapingly empty roads, I move into the shadows and try to become invisible in case someone pulls me into the passenger seat and I get kidnapped and hacked to pieces. All I want to do is shimmy home listening to Ariana Grande, but instead I’m plotting where I would land the first kick if someone touched me (defs the balls).
I’m pretty sure men wouldn’t believe half the bullshit women go through when walking through public spaces. I remember wandering to a park with a guy I was seeing when I was 17. “You get a lot of attention from guys, don’t you?” he said when a couple of men beeped at me and shouted “alright love” out their car windows. I had to explain: Men do this to anyone who appears female. It doesn’t matter if you’re just walking back from the gym, face flushed like a red Jelly Tot, Sainsbury’s bags wilting your shoulders, your hair in a straggly, disintegrated bun at the base of your neck. It just happens. All you need are boobs and hair longer than shoulder length. He still didn’t believe me.
The issue is, rather than address the route of the problem -- i.e. gross men -- society always places emphasis on women to prevent sexual harassment from happening. Women attend martial arts classes to learn to protect themselves, buy rape alarms and avoid wearing clothes they would look great in to prevent unwanted attention. I mean, how has the “I’m home safe” text become such an essential part of going out with female friends?
Women who walk home alone at night are seen as stupid and naive, or asking for trouble. “Get an UBER,” people say, but women shouldn’t have to pay money to move around their own cities. And anyway, given the reports of assault, it’s not even like we are much safer in taxis.
Rape culture is everywhere, embedded into how we move and communicate. Paraphrasing Margaret Atwood’s famous quote, Courtney Barnett beautifully surmises the fear women feel on her new album, Tell Me How You Really Feel: “I wanna walk through the park in the dark / men are scared that women will laugh at them / I wanna walk through the park in the dark / women are scared that men will kill them… I hold my keys/ between my fingers.”
Clearly more needs to be done by men to make women feel safer on the street because it is our pavement too. Here are a few suggestions.
1. Act like a normal human being
This (should) be an easy one: just don’t do anything weird. Don’t leer up and down at women like you want to eat them. Don’t wolf whistle -- for one, it hurts my ears and two, it makes me so repulsed I want to dissolve. Don’t say anything gross: “Why you out so late?”, “as if your boyfriend lets you out wearing that” etc. Don’t refer to us by members of our anatomy, “legs”, “arse”, “tits”. Men know beeping acting like this is not going to make women say: “yes please, pull over so I can get in the backseat of your car”. No, they do it because they feel as though the street is their space and therefore they are entitled to do what they want on it. They don’t care if they make women feel as though they are tiptoeing along the pavement, the concrete slipping away under their feet.
2. Don’t walk too close to women
Why do men walk past so close? It is creepy and threatening. As your shoulder skims against mine I will be composing in my head a slideshow of my long slow death. Just give a wide berth, slightly longer than arm length, or any distance at which you wouldn’t be able to grab anyone. Same goes for public transport. In an empty underground train don’t pick a seat next to a woman unless she is literally tapping the seat next to her.
3. Cross the road to the other side of the street
Even if guys are leaving a sizeable distance when walking behind you, it can feel as though you’re being followed. One time I was walking home at night and a guy behind me crossed the road to the other pavement. It made it obvious he didn’t want anything from me and I felt much safer.
4. Let women see your face
Hoodies aren’t scary. I am not some Tory politician who thinks everyone wearing one is a “yob” about to shoplift some Nikes. But in the dark, if you’re wearing a hoodie your face can become this anonymous black hole and it can be frightening. Make some eye contact and a friendly smile.
5. If you think a man is making a woman uncomfortable -- say something
The amount of times I’ve been freaked out by a guy, and the people nearby just pretended it isn't happening, is frustratingly often. Once I was on a bus and an incredibly drunk man came and sat next to me, while his friend sat in front of me -- so I was sandwiched in. They were funny and nice and I moaned to them about my long shift and they spoke a lot about loosing at bingo. I only started to panic when they started asking when I was going to get off the bus, and shifting closer to me. Nothing happened except a grinning wave out the window as I walked away. But I would have found the whole ordeal far less stressful if someone had asked “Is everything okay over here?” or even just nodded at me to indicate they were bearing witness to it.
The same goes for the girl wobbling home slurry drunk in the arms of a guy. He’s probably her friend or boyfriend, but he might not know her and he might be taking advantage. Just ask her -- if she’s safe the only thing that will happen is she will think you’re a nice person.
6. Probs just don’t even try to get with her (it’s just not going to work, is it)
Contrary to men’s rights activists, humanity is not going to die out just because men cannot approach women in the street. Women are on their guard when walking alone. How many people look deep into each other’s eyes and fall into sticky love on sticky bus shelter seats? Not many. I mean, it is so unrealistic you don’t even see it in Ryan Gosling rom-coms. Romance is not dead, we are not all going to be communicating through CGI screens and signing release forms before touching, it just means you should talk to women in relevant cultural contexts (after university, at parties, in daylight). Buy a French Bulldog and take it for a walk and let the women flock to you this way. I have seen it happen.