A woman, on her own, is walking home. A perfectly reasonable thing to do, necessary even. How else is she going to get there? She’s wearing flat shoes, a coat. Sensible and brisk. She’s looking eyes front, all purpose, yet her ears are tingling with the effort of straining for the rustling in the undergrowth and the treads. Gritty treads of maybe men behind her. Was that one? A trainer – size 10 – in the road-edge grime. Her heart beats “hurry, hurry, hurry,” until she can’t resist and runs from her road-end to the door. And she’s in. Thank God.
My mistaken response has been threefold:
- Years ago I strong-armed myself with logic – most attacks are carried out by people known to the victim, in their homes, and I don’t know anyone who’d attack me, therefore I’m safe. (Yes, I know what’s wrong with this, but I was 18 at the time). It certainly reduced the number of times I sprinted home.
- Then I grew up and moved to the ‘burbs. No social life = no chance of being followed home. Ok, that’s flippant, but if you’re driving everywhere and spend your evenings collapsed on the sofa hoping the kids will stay in bed, the Bad Man is not your problem.
- Then, while I was busy juggling the plates, middle age arrived, with its Cloak of Invisibility. This is the enchanted garment that causes people to look right through you, over you and round you. It’s brilliant – even the drunkest man on the train can’t see you and tell you to smile. Your vanished body never merits a second glance, let alone a grope or whistle. What a relief. The problem, you later learn, is that you can’t just take the cloak off when you want.
- Women shouldn’t need strategies to keep their fear at bay.
- Women shouldn’t be so swamped by the striving that comes with motherhood that they lose everything else.
- Women shouldn’t vanish as they age.
The solutions won’t fit neatly into three bullet points, but for a start:
- I can’t solve it myself, not even with the help of all the women in the world – this is a people problem.
- Women everywhere need to be visible and fearless – a goal only possible with the help of all those already visible and fearless.
- No death is ever acceptable, but neither is potential missed because of fearful choices and unheard voices.