Leah Himline, Contributer
First, I want to give a content warning for the following article. I will be mentioning some potentially triggering topics including sexual assault, rape culture and violence. I want you all to stay safe. Do not read this if you think it will negatively impact your mental health. Second, for the purposes of this article, I will be talking about cisgender women and female-presenting people. The fears and harassment of people who are trans-identified, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming are topics that deserve their own entire article.
I’m stressed, I’m tired, I’m sad. I need fresh air. I want to take a walk, but when I look outside to see that darkness has fallen, I know that I can’t. I’m too afraid to leave the building alone because I’m a woman. I am a small, female-presenting person, and I know that I could very easily be kidnapped, trafficked, raped, murdered or any combination of horrible things. So I find a friend to go with me. We go out and walk around campus together. We stay in the light as much as possible. We cross the street if a group larger than two people comes toward us. She keeps a hand on her alarm just in case. And yet, I still don’t feel safe.
No one wants to assume the worst of people, but when you’re a woman, you have to. It can be a matter of life or death. These fears are ones I’ve heard many women voice through the years, and I’ve empathized with them, but I’ve never truly experienced them before. I perceived my small town as mostly safe. I could look at the stars until 1 A.M. and not feel like I was going to get
kidnapped. I could wear a skirt and feel cute and confident. Looking back, I realize I was fortunate. I knew the fears logically before, but I understand them emotionally now. It is
terrifying to be a woman.
As I dress, I know it will be hot and sunny. I put on my skirt and tank top: my usual outfit for a day of this temperature. I look in the mirror and hesitate. A thought bubbles to the surface: “If I get raped while I’m wearing this, will people say it’s my fault?” I know rape is never the fault of anyone but the rapist, but I have to debate whether I should change my outfit or not. I decide not to change, but the fear lingers in my mind. I debate whether to bring my water bottle with me, not because I think I’ll get thirsty but because it’s metal and a blow to the head could probably stun an attacker. I decide to bring it. I see a car idling by the side of the road. The person inside doesn’t look dangerous, but what if they are? I decide to cross the street even though there is no crosswalk. These little decisions are ones that women are constantly making because we are guided by the question: “Will doing this put me in danger?”
A Twitter thread drew attention to this problem by posing this question to women: “What would you do if all men had a 9pm curfew?” The answers varied, but they were all so ordinary. They were things like going to a club without worrying about being drugged, running at night without worrying about being kidnapped, and sleeping on the ground floor with the windows open without worrying about being murdered. Essentially women said they would enjoy the night without fearing for their lives. You see something wrong with this, right?
My friend and I return to the dorms, and we say goodnight to each other. I lock my door and breathe a sigh of relief. Nothing happened to me. Not tonight, anyway. Still, the fear lingers. I long for a day when I don’t have to be afraid of doing basic things like taking a walk.
If you can go for a walk by yourself without fear, that is a form of privilege. Use it. Use it to create a world where women can walk, run, dance and exist without fear.