Share this with your guy friends, stat.
Years ago, I remember having to explain to a then-boyfriend why he should always be conscious of walking too close to women on the street. He thought I was insane, paranoid even. ‘Walking too close?’ he’d laughed. ‘What do you think I’m going to do, attack her?’ ‘Maybe,’ I replied, to his disbelief. ‘She doesn’t know whether you’re harmless or a threat, so for her own safety she has to presume you’re a threat.’ He couldn’t believe my words.
I tried to explain that, as a woman, if any guy walks directly behind me I immediately become more alert. How close is he? How busy is the street – are we alone? Should I cross over so I can keep a distance? Should I hang back so he can overtake, and at least then I can watch him in front of me?
As women, we’re trained to be more vigilant, more alert, more aware than most men. Why? Because we’re more likely to be targeted. We’re also ‘easier’ targets (as in, women are generally perceived as less of a physical threat) for mugging and theft.
My boyfriend was completely unaware of the underlying fear many women carry when they’re out in public, alone. You see: he’s probably never had to look over his shoulder. He’d never grown up with the distinct fear of being raped. His mom hadn’t had to drill into him self-defence pep talks, like she had for his sister. He’d never considered that his nonchalant lope down the street may feel intimidating to a woman walking just ahead of him. He hadn’t realised that I, like so many women I know, would tactically cross the street if we felt uncomfortable with a guy walking behind us, or if we could see a group of guys hanging out ahead.
Of course, guys can be targeted, attacked and raped too – it happens, and it’s something we don’t talk about enough. But the stats show that sexual crimes are weighted heavily towards women as the victims.
Why am I writing this? Because I think if guys knew what it was like to always look over your shoulder – to be afraid, nervous, anxious, exhaustingly alert – less of them would do things like cat-calling, or hooting, or ignorantly trailing a woman’s shadow on the street without realising the effect.
Ending every part of ‘lad culture’ – from chauvinistic ‘locker-room banter’ to cat-calling – comes with men understanding the impact it has on their girlfriends, sisters, mothers, wives. It comes with men understanding that their joke has a harmful impact; that their insensitivity can create paralysing fear; that while they may not see themselves as a threat, someone else may. It comes with men giving us a little more space on the sidewalk – an assurance that we’re safe and okay to keep walking.
It starts with the reminder that, as women, we are forced to look over our shoulder – not because we want to, but because we have to. And that desperately, desperately needs to change. We need men onboard to help effect that change.
From Cosmo ZA
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