Women, why can’t we be safe? Why can’t we walk outside at night without clutching a key through our fingers like a weapon, speed walking to get to the car fast, always trying to get an escort or a group of other people to walk with?
Why can’t we get into an elevator in a strange building and not immediately tense up when men get in with us? Why do we always have to look over our shoulders, carry pepper spray, share our locations with loved ones on our iPhones when we drive anywhere alone?
We do this because we could get hurt. Still. After all this time. Nothing has changed.
As children, most of us were taught to turn to the police for help. To call 911. To use all the programming on our smartphones and in our smart cars to make that call for help just one touch away. But what happens when your name is Sarah Everard?
If you aren’t familiar with her, Sarah Everard was a young British woman who lived in London. She did all the things you’re supposed to do as a woman walking alone at night in a big city, and yet she went missing. Days later her body was found and a London police officer was soon charged with her murder. The situation, which occurred a few weeks ago has ignited London in protests against violence against women and frustration that in modern cities, women still aren’t safe.
The parent in many of us and the concerned human being in all of us may have a knee-jerk reaction of “just stay at home and don’t go out anywhere if you are alone.” If you have young girls or women in your household, it’s tempting to extoll the virtues of an early curfew or stay-in nights. But it’s not practical, nor would that idea ever take root.
Because we aren’t living in the chivalrous days of long ago where women had protectors of both reputation and body. We are our protectors—of those same two things. But all the Take Back the Night Marches (that originated in the 1870s), haven’t changed this familiar story. A woman is out alone. A woman is found raped or beaten, and/or murdered. It happens in busy cities, on well-lit college campuses, in small towns, and pretty country roads. We all have stories—of people we know, or people we’ve heard of. Of we have the first-hand experience, running the gamut from harassment to outright crimes being committed against us. There isn’t a woman anywhere who doesn’t have a story to tell.
Is it simply bad luck?
What would it take to make it safe for women to be out, doing whatever it is they are out of their homes to do and to know they can make it home without fear?
A male friend of mine suggested that men need to have curfews. A nice idea, but in all fairness, perhaps all of us need them, and it doesn’t solve the problem of violence against women that still occurs in broad daylight.
Why do the sick men who commit these acts view the night hours as an open season and the women they see in the streets as objects to be hunted? Their psychology is one forensics experts and mental health professionals have studied for years. But there is no winning formula for keeping women safe that any of us can apply. We do our best—and that is all we can do. The rest, sadly, seems up in the air.
The solution isn’t entirely in more lightbulbs in parking lots, buddy walking services on college campuses, women evacuating the streets at dusk, or even in curfews for men. But I think strides can be made in ways we collectively have not done the best in thus far.
It starts with the birth of baby boys and takes off from there. Teaching little boys about respect, consent, protectiveness out of empathy and compassion, not dominance; helping them to understand from a young age that the safety of others—especially women—is part of their responsibility as good human beings. Females and those identifying as females should not have to fear men when they are out at night by themselves.
What would the world look like if more men were raised in such a way and continued to raise their sons in that fashion? What if society and the media advocated for treating each other with kindness and care, that in looking out for one another, especially the more vulnerable, we were contributing to something greater than ourselves? That sounds like something akin to utopia, doesn’t it?
We may not get there in our lifetime, but we can certainly do what we can now. Keep the conversation going. As males, think about things you might unknowingly do that positions you as a threat and change that. How can we see our allies better and how can they be of more help to us?
In the meantime, ladies—pay attention to your God-given instincts. Don’t second guess yourself. If something seems off, or if you have strange feelings about a situation, listen to them. Try to protect yourselves all the ways you possibly can. For now, it’s all we can do.
This post and additional exclusive content is available on my podcast The WiloPod on Spotify.