I really want to avoid the temptation of writing about this topic as though it is solely a female experience or feeling. I want to note from the off, that I completely understand that there are some gay, trans, straight men that will have felt this too. Similarly, there will be women that have never felt this fear. I am speaking from the viewpoint of a woman that has felt this, and regularly speaks to other women about this specific problem. So that is the narrative that I will be giving. (fear is a little strong, it’s more of a discomfort?)
It’s often that I will leave the station with my hood up, on the phone to a friend, with my house keys wedged between my knuckles. Dramatic? yes probably. But inside of me there is an innate unease of walking home alone after dark. It’s not that I have necessarily had a horrible experience or live in a particularly dangerous area, but I feel on edge until I shut the door behind me, and know that I am home safe.
My Mum always tells the story of when she was walking home from the Student Union in her second year of Uni and was followed by a guy. He started by just talking to her, then he tried to hold her hand, and cleverly she played along, keeping her distance but being sure not to piss him off. Thinking quickly she walked to a house where four of her guy friends lived. She said it was her boyfriends house, and that the guy better go before her boyfriend came to answer the door. He wanted to wait, check that she ‘got in safe’. My Mum was ringing the doorbell, quickly starting to panic as she thought that they may not be in. Eventually her friend came to the door, confused (he’d been asleep, in bed with his girlfriend) my Mum hugged him, relieved to be safe and shut the door without saying another word to the creepy guy that had the entitlement to walk alongside her, harassing her. Stories like this are all too common. Sometimes it’s just a group that you have to walk past, they throw a comment, laugh amongst themselves and you’re able to carry on. But sometimes it is so much worse.
I’m guilty of feeling invincible when drunk, or when I’m in my hometown. I would walk through Cheltenham as if it was my front room. Even in London when I’ve had a drink I couldn’t care less what time of night it is, if the bus isn’t waiting at the station, i’ll just walk. Part of me, Ellis would say this, thinks that you can’t live your life looking over your shoulder and worrying about what ‘might’ happen. But then there’s the other part of me that can’t deny the fact that I feel on edge, I feel like a victim before I’ve even become one. I’ve been desperately trying to figure out why this is. I don’t really want it to be because I’m a woman, therefore I am vulnerable by default. Because I don’t think I am, especially with my keys and my new found boxing moves, I’d like to think I’d be able to kick, scream and bite my way out of most sticky situations. It may be the stories, the stories of girls on their own, like my Mum becoming victims on their regular routes. This I suppose is being scared of something because of experience, even when it’s not your own experience.
I think really what it is, is a constant state of awareness, a hyper-vigilance when alone at night, after dark, or in a taxi, or even sometimes alone in the house. Sometimes it’s really prominent in me, hence the keys, other times it’s asleep in my subconscious and I skip home singing out loud. Neither state is ideal, in one I’m working myself up into a state of anxiety, and in the other I’m laying myself open for any situation.
My anxiety about this definitely got worse last year. I was out with friends and had a confrontation with an extremely drunk dude that persisted to wave his willy around (his very small willy might I add). He was arguing with my friends so I told him to “calm the fuck down”, he stepped toward me saying “Woah you’ve got big balls” and persisted to put his hand up my skirt. I pushed him away and he punched me. It really wasn’t the end of the world, I lived to tell the tale with nothing but a black eye. But I can’t deny that it chipped away at my armour, made me a victim and fuelled everything that I had always known. I’m not that safe.
The feeling is pretty unavoidable, but the situation isn’t. I’ve decided I’d rather have one less Gin and Tonic, and be able to afford an uber. Or I’d rather stay out for the extra half an hour just to wait until my crazy friends are eventually ready to go home. Or I’d rather sit at the bus stop, in the cold than walk the mile home. It’s little decisions that can save a lot of worry and god forbid nasty situations. I’m actually realising that I’m a bit of a hypochondriac, like I wouldn’t wear my hair in a ponytail, but that’s a minute detail that Faye’s Mum told us when we were 15. (someone could pull at easily I guess, I dunno, ask her?!)