“Be safe” is a simple phrase that is translated into two vastly different ideas depending on your gender. For a man, it means to not do anything stupid and is a blessing that no random natural disaster or odd event happens to them. For a woman, however, it is a prayer that they make it through their trip alive.
The simplicities of a trip alone for straight men, especially white men, is bewildering from a woman’s perspective. Every step outside feels like it could be the last. Whether walking to Sweet Hut or simply walking around campus when the sun has set sends a chill down many girls’ spines. Countless atrocities occur on- and off-campus each week, from sexual harrasment to rape to much more.
Women double check that they have each others’ locations, plan to text once they are inside their rooms, brainstorm what they could use as a weapon, mentally plan how they’ll respond to a stranger who speaks to them and take each step with a looming paranoia wondering whether the guy behind them is going to attack or if he is just heading home as well.
A night walk is not the same for a man and a woman. The fear that a night walk instills in a girl who just wants to exercise or look at the stars is something women have become accustomed to for too long. The decision to run alone in the morning or walk back from a party alone is seen as “brave” when a woman does it.
That is because society knows how it acts towards women. Everyone is cautious when they are alone, but there is a whole world of worry forced upon women. There is never an ‘off’ time with this mindset. Tailgating and weekend parties are fun as long as girls make sure to never look away from their drinks, watch out for overly-touchy drunk men, be unbothered by the trashed man’s creepy flirting, constantly keep track of who their friends are with and ensuring no girl is left behind or led to another room.
For a night walk, listening with both headphones in makes it easier for her to be taken by surprise. Best to put away the music so as to have no distractions. Walking in dimly-lit areas is asking for trouble. Best to change paths if street lights are out. If she is walking back from an event or wearing aesthetic clothing, it is best to cover up in baggy outerwear to draw less attention and hide any beauty. Hopefully, this will pacify any kidnappers and avoid catcallers.
Before a girl even steps outside, thoughts about how to respond to catcalls rush through her head. Should she flash a quick smile and carry on walking? No, that would give him the false impression that she is interested in him. He might start following her or try to continue the conversation when she is not interested. What if she speeds up? No, he could think she is playing hard to get and chase after her while dialing up the vulgar remarks. Why not stop and tell him off? Nope, that bruises his ego and gives him an excuse to yell about how horrible she is or that he was being generous just because she is hideous.
The lack of human decency in objectifying women is disturbing. There is no logic behind catcalling someone. Girls want nothing to do with strangers who yell about how lascivious they are because of her figure. It actually
has the opposite effect.
People will throw out excuses on how it is the woman’s fault for dressing up or wearing revealing clothing. That is one more misconception that common knowledge should solve, but clearly does not. Girls get catcalled with a full face of makeup, bare skin, in sweats and gym clothes; put a woman in anything and a man will be narcissistic enough to think they deserve her.
One of the largest contributors is the lack of understanding men have of their “innocent” actions. When a man sitting on the street calls out to a woman who is already strides past him, “Hey, you with the brown hair. Give me a smile,” guys laugh. “He’s being funny, or she laughed, so it’s fine,” is what most listeners say. The reason she laughed is because she is uncomfortable but does not want to make him mad in case he tries to do something worse.
Another strange habit guys have is to grab a woman’s waist whenever they walk past them. There is no benefit, aside from ones that are perverted, for a man to grab a woman he does not know by the waist just to move her one foot to the side. Just ask them to move. Tap their shoulder. Say “excuse me.”
Yes, both women and men are subject to problems and have to keep themselves safe. The difference is women never feel safe. The simplest task or quickest walk makes a thousand possibilities cycle within a girl’s head, all of which are worse than the next. A walk home may not seem like a difficult task, but for a woman it could potentially change everything.