By David Michael Newstead.
This was originally posted on Collective Action for Safe Spaces. Learn More.
About six years ago, it dawned on me that my female friends were dealing with a daily set of challenges in public that I just don’t face. And the stark contrast to my own life is surreal to me, because both experiences are considered the norm.
For instance, when I walk down the street I think about my day or random things I have to do. I might stare down at my shoes or look at the sky. I could be happy. I could be sad. But safety just doesn’t cross my mind, day or night. It just isn’t a concern.
Women, on the other hand, often seem to plot out specific streets to take at certain times with an exit strategy and countermeasures for unwanted attention or a worst case scenario. That is to say, our routines couldn’t be any more different.
Essentially, women have to live as if the entire city is overrun with zombies and typically men do not. That’s how I started to think about it anyway. And I don’t say that to be funny exactly, but to point out that if a person felt at-risk most of the time, that’s much worse than any horror movie.
In public, I get to have peace of mind. In fact, I have so much peace of mind when I move from place to place that I take it for granted: on public transit, on sidewalks, in bars, restaurants, side streets, the gym, in any store, at any hour. For women, even if many of them arrive safely, that very real concern for their well-being would hang over them in ways that are shocking when you really think about it. Recently, I heard a friend openly worry whether the scarf she was wearing could be used against her, which means she felt any mundane decision could endanger her safety.
And, in fact, research supports her concern. According to the 2014 study by Stop Street Harassment, a majority of women (65%) report having experienced sexual or gender-based harassment in public, along with 25% of men who mostly identified as LGBTQ.
The more I heard about things like this, the more I wondered what if anything I could do to help and how men in general could be an ally on this issue. Obviously, do no harm is a good place to start. But the solution needs to be about more than just not harassing women in public. Being an ally extends to your own personal conduct as well as being aware of what’s going on around you. Ideally, your support will never be necessary, but it could make a critical difference. Even if it’s just for their peace of mind.