THERE was a dinner party at a friend’s house and by the time we were done catching up, it was past 2am. Under usual circumstances, I’d have excused myself and left at a decent hour not because I have somewhere else to be but because leaving early is something I do to keep myself safe. Just like taking a photo of a taxi driver’s ID or sending my ride share driver’s information to someone waiting for me just for safety reasons. If anything happens to me, like Hansel and Gretel’s trail of breadcrumbs, there would be some clues left. As crazy as it sounds, that is my rationale, and I am not alone in thinking this way.
So here I was at two in the morning. I made sure a friend walked me to my car and as I got in to my car, I locked the doors and my brain quickly figured out a route back home with the least number of traffic lights – I don’t want to be a sitting duck at a crossroad in the dark of night. It sounds neurotic and somewhat paranoid but that is what I think of when I am out alone on any night, even on a great night out.
Before heading to dinner that evening, I made sure that my phone had enough juice and the car had enough petrol before it got dark because there are a few things I do not do once it is night; go to an ATM or fill up at a petrol station. For some reason it feels safer to do all that during the day or when there is someone else around. An incon-venience to me but I’d rather not “invite danger”.
There are other things that I do to keep safe. For instance, I try not to walk or exercise alone in a park and definitely no headphones when I am out alone. If the options were between a shorter faster route versus a brighter lit longer route, I’d opt for the latter. If I have to go to the store down the road, I’d drive rather than walk not because I’m too lazy but it’s just not safe to walk there alone and back. I’ve tried it and the catcalling is not only demeaning, it scares me.
There are a few strays that live near me, but if it’s too quiet a time in the day or if I am alone as I drive by, I hesitate before stopping to feed them. When I do stop, it’s in a frenzy of panic in case a human tries to harm me.
You might think I’m over paranoid and I myself think I might be, but if something did happen, I’d be blamed. Why did she get out of the car? She should have known better, she was alone. So even though I may not actually be in danger that particular day, I take precautions because I could very well be in danger at any time.
When taking public transport, I ensure my outfits are a little more conservative and in line with the dress code at a government department and I also make sure not to wear any flashy jewellery.
I am weary when I enter a lift alone or extremely aware when there are no women in the lift. I think about escape plans, or if my self-defence skills will protect me, just in case. No eye contact is given or if I’m brave enough that day, stern eye contact with the unpleasant “don’t mess with me face”. It’s so unflattering and a horrible reminder of my forced vulnerability.
Once when heading home from the airport at midnight, the airport taxi driver decided to take a quiet dark non-toll route without asking. Throughout the ride he kept insisting that I should take a nap because it was late and he had convinced himself that I was tired from all the travel. He even asked why my husband did not pick me up.
Times like these, as well meaning as the driver may seem to be, I am reminded why women tend not to stay in landed property alone, or if they do, they have a big dog(s) and/or a tight home alarm system with cameras. I am also reminded of the many times I have made up stories about my life. Some days my husband is at home looking after our four fictitious children, and some days he has an important meeting to prepare for but the big dog is enough to scare them, that particular taxi driver included. But is it really enough I wonder as the house keys in my hand stick out like Wolverine’s claws masquerading as a potential weapon, just in case.
Many women navigate their day based on personal safety. This restricts our capacity to engage in the public sphere freely and as we please. Constant vigilance is socialised into us, as we text our female friends the phrase “home safe?” after we head to our homes. When the responses take longer than usual, we wait up, checking their timestamp until they respond and there is a sigh of relief when they have made it home. How did an ordinary part of one’s day end up being a potential plot of a horror movie.
As women, our daily movements have to be chaperoned like children and not the adults we are, just so that we don’t become a statistic. It is drummed into us so often that it becomes second nature. Without even realising, we unconsciously take precautions to avoid physical or sexual violence every day and we do this without people knowing. That is why confessions like those you just read scream paranoia to many. Sadly these are not episodic in nature but a daily occurrence.
Can you imagine how tiring it is that women have to constantly think about these kinds of things on top of the other responsibilities we have?
Makes me wonder how many men think about their safety on a daily basis? Or limit their daily movements based on how safe they are. Not as many I suspect.
How do we make our cities, neighbourhoods and society safer for everyone? It starts with a mindset change that requires disrupting constructed beliefs that disrespect women and those who don’t neatly fit into gender boxes. Raising generations with better, braver examples of respect and rejecting the excuses of human nature by changing human habit. We also have to ensure that these perspectives inform the planning and redesigning of our cities to ensure neighbourhoods not designed to exclude or endanger people. Instead of this being a one-sided effort placed on women constantly having to ensure their safety, it is high time effort is made to make our surroundings less dangerous.