Safety is for more than a season.
Halloween is a holiday that different cultures around the world celebrate every year. There are many origin stories related to Halloween including the Samhain festival and All Hallows Eve. In the western world, Halloween is commonly celebrated through the carving of pumpkins, dressing up in comical or creepy costumes and the childhood favourite- trick or treating.
As a child I was never allowed to celebrate Halloween or go trick or treating. My parents would hand write a sign for the front door every year: “Do not knock or ring the doorbell. No trick or treaters” and we’d go to alternative Halloween at church and watch wholesome movies dressed up as even more wholesome super heros.
So inevitably, on occasion I felt some serious FOMO for my peers who got to throw on a mask of some kind and go about the neighbourhood collecting sweets. (Now that I’m older the concept of dressing up as a young girl in a costume and knocking on strangers doors does not sound like the safest idea in the world but regardless I was still jealous.)
Now the FOMO has faded and over the years I have begun thinking about Halloween in relation to our society and the masks and costumes that we wear in our day to day lives. In the context of observing the work of Safe & The City (SATC) over these past two years and through general identity thoughts and discussions, I’ve thought about the masks I wear moving through the world, particularly in regards to safety.
According to the governments Sixth Report of Session 2017–19 on Sexual harassment of women and girls in public places- ‘‘sexual harassment in public places is overwhelmingly experienced by women and girls,’’ with 68 per cent of women respondents in the UK saying that they had experienced sexual harassment since the age of 15.
Therefore, it is unsurprising that YouGov research found that one in three women consciously take steps to avoid being sexually assaulted in the UK and that 49% of women feel unsafe when walking down an alleyway by themselves and 46% feel unsafe when walking alone at night. Yet, ‘‘by contrast, only between 11% and 13% of men’’ feel unsafe. (This isn’t to say that men cannot be harassed or experience sexual violence.)
One mask that I’ve noticed that I have adopted in public spaces to avoid harassment, especially when walking at night, is the problematic ‘strong black woman’ stereotype. Attempts to give off this vibe have been in order to ward off potential harassers and articulate through my body language that I am not vulnerable and nor will I be their next potential victim. It may seem odd but if you were to read various articles and the latest magazine’s advice on how women can arm themselves against harassment, projecting confident body language is in fact listed as one of their top tips.
Anyway, like I said this mask is problematic, and for many reasons but in this instance particularly due to the sheer effort to keep it up. Imagine you have just finished work, it’s dark now summer is over and you are walking home. Payday is next week so saving your coins rather than spending them on an uber is the best money decision for you. Then out of nowhere, some man you’ve never met in your life drives past honking his horn insistently at you, shouting something profane out of his window about your legs. Not only are you tired but a million and one thoughts are rushing through your mind like- ‘‘what if he stops?’’, ‘‘shall I call someone in case he comes back,’’ ‘‘is there a different, safer route I can take?’’ In such a scenario, not only would having the SATC app — a great tool to report the incident and find a safer route, be useful but you can kind of understand why the mask would help you to bat off the comments and keep going.
However, imagine having to keep this mask up every day, after long days at work, in reaction to an unprovoked, unexpected event. Not only this but I have always questioned why women should have to change aspects of themselves such as their body language in order to avoid being catcalled or harassed in the first place. Surely, it should be society and the perpetrators themselves who should change their beliefs which form as justification to why behaviour such as catcalling and harassment is seen as perfectly acceptable or a compliment.
Nonetheless, admittedly, my mask has not always been an effective technique. On too many occasions despite trying to wear my mask well, have I experienced the relentless harassment many women face. So ultimately, I reckon that as a society we should shift the focus onto harassers to swap their creepy ghoul costumes for Casper the Friendly Ghost, and that way we can largely guarantee better and safer streets for women and girls in our communities.