Last week, I wrote about the different responsibilities we have in marriage, and how we shouldn’t rely on our partners to do certain things for us simply because they’re naturally better at those things or we don’t want to do them. But I must admit, there is one thing I rely on James for, one thing which, as perhaps a lot of women feel, I really wish I didn’t need him for: feeling safe.
Whether I’m walking home from work in the evening or sleeping alone because James is away for the weekend, I often don’t feel 100% secure when I’m by myself. I start off confidently enough; bopping along to my iPod, watching whatever I want on the TV, eating bangers and mash because my British-food-hating, vegetarian husband is out for the night. But invariably at some point my brain pipes up: What if I’m being followed? Oh Jesus, please help me get home OK. What was that noise? Is there a stranger in the house? I’m fortunate in that I don’t think I’ve ever been followed and I’ve never encountered a stranger in my home, yet still I stay up late watching YouTube videos I don’t care about because I’m terrified of turning the lights off and, with the rise of #metoo, it’s becoming clear to me that a lot of us feel this way.
A while back I interviewed a group of teenage girls for International Day of the Girl Child, and the one thing I remember from that conversation was one girl who said she got annoyed at her parents for not letting her out after dark, even though her much younger brother was allowed out. I remember empathising with her that her parents were annoying and it wasn’t fair that she was being treated differently from her brother, while at the same time thinking, “I totally understand why.”
On some level, we all know it’s not safe to be a woman in the world we live in – but it’s a thing we talk about without really talking about it. We tell young girls to make sure they always have a guy to help them get home, and we leave it there. My Dad once showed me how I could escape from my room “just in case I needed to” but didn’t explain why. When James and I were dating, if I knew I’d be home alone for the night I used to make him come in and check the house for “monsters”. He used to do it but he’d laugh about it. It was a while before I realised he thought I actually meant “monsters”, whereas I thought we were just using a euphemism for the word “rapists”.
Even now, when James is away for the night and wants to know what I’m so scared of, I say, “thieves and murderers” because to say “someone might come in and rape me” feels almost taboo. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want anyone breaking in to murder me or steal my stuff, but that’s not what I’m worried about. And I’m starting to think skirting around the issue has gone some way to helping the issue prevail. When my Facebook feed was flooded with #MeToo statuses, I was not surprised in the slightest, I was surprised it wasn’t every woman I knew posting that status, but a lot of men I knew were shocked that so many women in their lives had been harassed or abused – they’d had no idea it was such a big thing.
We don’t often talk about what it’s like to be a woman and spend our days dreading everything from cat-calling to rape, because it’s so commonplace we’ve come to accept it as normal. Or because we don’t want to come off as making a fuss and getting labelled as a rant-y feminist. Or because, when we do mention it, we get shot down and our experience is diminished. We don’t want to make ourselves vulnerable only to be told “not all men” or “if a girl hit on me from a moving van I’d take it as a compliment”.
Please don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying men would all react that way. I’m saying some men do react that way, and it puts me off even starting the conversation. And I don’t think the men in our lives don’t care about us feeling safe, I just think it’s not on their radar enough for to them to ask. A few months ago, James had to walk home from the station at gone midnight, and when I asked him if he’d be OK doing that it hadn’t occurred to him for a second that he wouldn’t be. Being a man doesn’t make him immune from being jumped on his way home and attacked, mugged or even raped, but it’s less likely, he’d have a better chance of fighting them off, and so he doesn’t really think about it.
I’ve been rolling this around in my brain for months now without writing about it because I can’t think of a solution. Usually, I try to write about a problem and at least offer some form of “how about we try this instead” but I’m drawing a blank. It is scarier to be a woman in this world than it is to be a man. The world is more dangerous for women simply for because we are women, the heinous act of having boobs does make you more vulnerable to rape, abuse or even just getting bothered by some dude on the street. The world is broken and, aside from praying for change, I’m struggling to find a way to fix it in less than 1200 words.
But I do think we need to talk about it more. I do think that the #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns have kick-started a conversation that shouldn’t end just because Harvey Weinstein hasn’t groped anyone lately. I do think we need to raise our kids – both boys and girls – with an understanding of how their experiences might be different, and what the right way to treat each other is. And I think we need to be open and clear about what we’ve experienced, what we’re scared of and what we need from our friends and partners and co-workers to feel safe. Safety and security is one of our most basic human needs, and it’s not OK that half of the population spend a little part of their days without that need being met.
And, just so we don’t end this one on a complete downer, this SNL sketch is at least a funnier way of saying what I’ve been trying to say:
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti