A friend recently recounted how a male co-worker suggested she try going out for a run after work. The Manhattan Bridge late at night, he said, was practically empty. It’s a great view. And besides, it’s cooler after the sun goes down — the perfect time to get in a run before bed. She should give it a try.
No way, she replied. It’s not even an option. I can’t go running by myself at night. Especially over the bridge. I could get attacked. I could be raped. So many things could happen. So many things that men never even have to consider.
Because as much as feminism has helped women gain parity with men in the workplace and at home, there are still a lot of subtle but very real ways that women are required to police and monitor themselves. The public sphere is still a very fraught and frightening place for women to navigate — especially alone, and especially at night.
It’s worth thinking about how much you alter your life — whether it’s by taking a different route home, going home early, changing the way you dress or walk or wear your hair — in order to feel safe. These are things that men often don’t have to think about, that men take for granted, that men simply don’t have to consider as they go about their lives. And they’re things that take up a shocking amount of time, strength, and emotional bandwidth to negotiate.
When asked what they DIDN’T do — what activities they missed out on — in order to protect themselves, women I surveyed answered:
1. Get drunk, because you never know if someone might try to assault you when you’re under the influence.
2. Leave our drinks at the bar, unattended, because someone might try to drug them.
3. Move into certain neighborhoods or live on certain blocks, because the harassment is too severe.
4. Meet our creepy landlords, the cable guy, or the electrician by ourselves, because it makes us feel unsafe.
5. Travel solo, because there are certain places where it’s just not safe to be a woman traveling alone.
6. Try couch-surfing, because staying at a stranger’s house seems like an invitation for trouble.
7. Run alone at night, because we fear attackers.
8. Talk back to harassers, because you never know if the abusive words will escalate to violent actions.
9. Meet a stranger — for a date or to buy something on Craigslist — without telling a friend exactly where we’ll be, because we’re aware there’s always the threat of danger.
10. Walk home at night without holding our keys out, because you never know when you might need a makeshift weapon.
11. Wear flimsy clothing when we’re out walking by ourselves, because harassers see it as an invitation to bother us.
12. Wear loud or outrageous clothing, either, because that’ll invite comment from strange men too.
13. Wear anything that will expose our breasts or remind men that we’re women, because that’s seen as an invitation for leers.
14. Wear a ponytail, because it will make it easier for an attacker to grab our hair.
15. Wear high heels, because it’ll make it harder to run faster if we need to.
16. Engage in small talk with a man, because he may interpret it as an invitation to come on to us in a lecherous way.
17. Make eye contact with strangers, because it’s seen as an invitation to approach us.
18. Even smiling can be seen as tacit approval to talk or approach us.
19. Eat food in public — like ice cream cones — that might attract unwanted male attention.
20. Ride our bikes late at night, because we don’t want to deal with the harassment.
21. Stay at a party or a show after our friends have gone home, because we don’t want to worry about being stranded in a potentially threatening situation.
22. Get into a subway car with just men in it, because we’re afraid something might happen. Instead, we scope out subway cars with other women already in them.
23. Walk around late at night with headphones on and blasting music, because we’re afraid attackers might come up behind us.
24. Answer the door to unexpected visitors, just in case it’s someone who got into the building randomly, who might be planning to attack.
25. Let the cab driver/our date drop us off directly in front our buildings, because we don’t want random guys to know where we live.
26. Walk directly home, sometimes, if we’re afraid someone is following us. Instead, we’ll stop at a neighborhood bar and pretend we’re meeting someone.
27. Give our last names to strangers or potential dates, because it makes it that much easier for a stranger to find out where you live, or where you work.
28. Stay late at our offices by ourselves, because of the potential of being attacked.
29. Use an ATM that’s outside or isolated, because we fear being attacked.