Danger and harassment can be around any corner for women
The low heels of my silver flats clacked along the cold sidewalk as my friend’s navy jacket rustled with every hurried step we took in unison. The orange street lights over our heads created long and stark shadows as we quickly walked past people standing, half-hidden, smoking glowing cigarettes in the alcoves of bars and restaurants along the sidewalk. We walked with purpose, avoiding eye contact with strangers and barely acknowledging the “have a good night ladies” that was tossed in our direction. I moved my purse, containing both of our wallets, from my outside arm to my shoulder that was closest to my friend. We did not speak to each other, but instinctively moved closer to one another, rustling sleeve to rustling sleeve.
A loud noise started up behind us. Quickly, we turned a corner, falling out of step. A man consistently clicking his tongue was walking after us. We walked faster. As soon as it was possible we crossed the road, putting a lane of traffic between us and the man who continued to make the incessant sound. My friend gestured to her right hand where her keys, shining silver from the light of the street lamps, were sticking out from between her knuckles
Back in the car, with doors locked, we pulled out of our spot almost immediately. As we drove away, my friend showed me the number 911 dialed and ready to call on her phone. I could not fault her for either of her safety measures. I could just shake my head that the simple act of walking to her car at the end of the night had to elicit such reactions.
I wish I could say that this feeling of imminent dread and creeping fear that we experienced last weekend when we were simply walking down a sidewalk to our car is a new sensation. Its not. When you are conditioned to fear and expect the worst every time you walk in public as a woman, especially late at night, being that prepared is routine.
Nearly everywhere I go, especially when it is dark out, I get that familiar sense of anxiety and acute awareness of the people around me. That horrible dawning feeling of dread that creeps over me when I am out in the world is not unique to my experiences, however. This is a pretty universal feeling felt by all women.
I want to clarify that as a slightly taller-than-average woman who appears straight, who is white and as someone who predominately spends her time in the Midwest, my experiences with street intimidation and harassment are much different than the experiences of women of color, women who appear to be on the LGBTQ spectrum or of women who live in more dangerous parts of the world. Even with those qualifiers, it can be a debilating experience to be out in public alone, which can cause me to restrict and limit where I go and what I do.
I loathe being the victim of sometimes deliberate or seemingly insignificant acts of intimidation and harassment. I hate that if only I were walking with a man I would not feel so exposed or be such a target. But it is the reality that women in public must face over and over again. I despise that I have to be well versed in the coping mechanisms of these familiar situations by walking very fast and purposefully through crowds or empty streets, by not speaking or looking too long at people and by drawing as little attention to myself as possible. I never have my phone out, I do not wear earbuds in my ears, I arrange the strap of my bag horizontally across my chest to make it more difficult to grab off of me, and I know to cross the street when I see large groups of guys coming my way. This constant threat of the many ‘what ifs’ can be unbearable.
This past weekend’s experience reminds me so forcefully about the everyday #MeToo moments all women have. That the threat of sexual assault or harassment is present at nearly every corner of life. Every woman faces street harassment and intimidation, and we should not have to feel like at any moment comes the possibility of attack or unwanted attention just because we need to get from point A to point B.
Lauren Simenson is a student at UW-River Falls.