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Afraid to walk alone at night? Just don’t tell your male pals. They may laugh.

Photo by Viktor Juric on Unsplash

A recent conversation with a male acquaintance knocked me for six. Full on onslaught of mockery. Right to the face. Like a slap of a wet fish.

The topic? My desire to get a taxi a short distance home. Perhaps the alcoholic haze confused him. He may have thought of me as this lazy sloth too precious to walk the fifteen minutes to my abode. But when I reminded him that the roads were dark and isolated, he continued to mock me in a childish manner. Unable, or perhaps unwilling, to see my fears as real possibilities.

How could it be that this modern man was so oblivious to what women face late at night, when walking alone?

Despite my better judgement I ventured home on foot. I headed off, defiant and determined to prove nothing would happen. There was no boogeyman out there waiting to pounce. But prove to whom, you may ask? My acquaintance wasn’t offering to escort me or simply find me a taxi. I was the one who could be losing out here. Because if anything had happened, it would have been me experiencing it alone. Not him. When I reflected on it the next day, I realised I was embarrassed. By his response, yes, but also that as a grown woman I still needed protecting.

Protecting from what, exactly? The dark figure walking towards us, hands in his pockets? The man who suddenly crosses to our side of the street? The car that appears on otherwise quiet road? Unfortunately for women, in the dark shadows of the night, every presence is a threat.

You, the happy sod walking home, may not think you are. You’re just minding your own business. Hands in your pocket to keep warm. Crossing the street to make your way home. Not aware of anyone else. Let alone, the petrified woman with her hand firmly grasped around her keys.

While you’re nonchalantly meandering home, we don’t wear earphones for fear that you’ll come up behind us. We carry a rape alarm in the hope that the noise will scare you off. We cross the street if you’re walking towards us. We cross the street if you’re walking behind us. We’re conscious of ever turn we take. Of whether we are paying full attention to our surroundings. Are there bushes near us? Are there dark alleyways someone could drag us down?

I could tell you stories about women attacked metres from their homes. From vicious rapes and murders to mindless muggings to unprovoked verbal abuse. (Recently a friend and I were verbally abused by an inebriated man walking near us. Although we were dressed for the cinema, not that that should matter, he called us sluts and belittled our class. Firmly informing us that we should go home, daddy would be waiting. The whole encounter was as strange as it was unnerving). You would sigh and say that’s awful. What has this world come to? But you would move on, because you would rationalise to yourself that these are random attacks. Not an every day occurrence. And perhaps you’re right.

But what you don’t experience is the daily conversations women have with themselves when they venture from a bar, their work, the supermarket, the gym, wherever to simply get home.

Because, in truth, if we are approached, whether it be on a quiet street or on a night out, we have to judge the situation. Are you suspicious? Are you drunk? Are you dangerous? And how should we respond? If we ignore you, you get upset. If we politely ask you to leave us alone, you get upset. If we snap back, god forbid, would we emerge unscathed?

Women battle with the egos, the eccentricities, the drunkenness and the abusiveness of men every day. Zero provocation can result in an unpleasant experience for us. We are on our guard all the time.

And it is no longer acceptable for any man today to be oblivious to that statement of fact. No, we don’t want to be protected. We don’t want to be mollycoddled. We can get our own taxis. But we ask for awareness. And understanding. Not mockery and idiocy. Speak with your female friends. Step into their shoes. View the world as they see it at night. And maybe one day, a world where a woman can walk safely without concern for the shadows will be a reality.