US comedian Amy Schumer says in her new stand-up TV show that she runs home from her subway stop when she’s alone at night.
She admits that she’s not just doing it for the cardio workout, but out of a genuine fear of assault. She then poses the question about whether men really know how scared women are of them.
Amy lives in big, bad New York, but it got me thinking about all the things I do and have been taught to do both consciously and subconsciously to monitor the environment, myself and situations in order to keep myself safe… from men.
And, sadly, for women these are lessons that my male friends didn’t need to learn to stay safe.
A male relative told me that he feels perplexed and a little offended when a woman crosses the street if he happens to be walking behind her in the gloom of his early morning walk.
“The irony is, if something was wrong and she needed my help, I would come to her aid,” he says.
“I don’t know why she feels she has to move away from me, like I am a threat to her. I’m just a guy having a walk!”
It’s hard to understand why women do these things when you have generally been able to go through life free of prevailing threat to your safety, real or imagined.
Recently, I wrote about my memories of my 10-year high-school reunion. I left out what happened at the end of the night, as a small group of my high-school friends and I went to a fast-food restaurant before heading home.
When we were ordering food, some young guys started chatting us up. It turned out they had finished high school the year before and, as 28-year-old women in relationships, we weren’t interested in them in the slightest. They kept pestering us. We politely answered their questions, but it became awkward and creepy.
We quickly finished our fries and hurried out, it was so quiet on the streets and I called a cab. The guys followed us out so we started walking faster away from them, keen to avoid any more contact with them. We ended up hiding in a side alley, cowering as they hurled their thick shake at us when they drove past.
These guys were 10 years younger than us, but they had the ability and power to intimidate, frighten us.
We all felt embarrassed about what happened, but now I feel angry. Nothing “happened”, we got home safely, but the memory of those leering “boys” throwing their milkshake in disdain, takes me back to how small and powerless I felt.
Women deal with fear and threat every day. We are conditioned to check behind our shoulders, to quickly find polite excuses to leave when conversations become creepy and even to hide from men when we feel scared. Tragically, the recent murders of women in Melbourne as they were walking home, shows that sometimes women don’t have a chance.
Perhaps men don’t realise how scared we really are, but it’s time you knew.
I don’t offer this commentary to point fingers at men, but I truly wish men and women could continue to work together for a future in which my daughter can move around this world, free from harm and fear. That she doesn’t have to constantly regulate her behaviour and look over her shoulder.
I offered the following advice to my male relative for his morning walks – what about slowing down or crossing the road yourself to give the woman some extra space? When she’s alone in the dark, she’s vulnerable and can’t assess if you are just a “good” guy taking a walk or someone she needs to be wary of.
These minor suggestions might seem crazy, but perhaps a fair exchange in light of the constant adjusting women make each day.