Who do our streets belong to? Why women feel scared to walk the streets alone

By Siân Ryan

iStock/Thinkstock

iStock/Thinkstock

As a woman in my mid twenties, I should feel confident and safe enough to walk down any street in Britain. I have lived both in the countryside and city and at times, have experienced heart racing, sweat inducing fear when walking alone in either of these surroundings. I’m not alone. In fact very few of my girlfriends would ever consider walking back from a night out to their homes a few hundred meters away, without the security of company. When asking these girls if they would walk their dogs in the woods alone, in broad daylight, there was a unanimous answer of no. They would be too afraid.

What has caused this fear that none of us are questioning enough? A growing concern for young women in Britain is being subjected to male harassment on our streets. The shocking statistics of street harassment reveals that very few women have not experienced verbal harassment over the past year. The daily commute takes on another level of stress when you walk out of your front door and instead of receiving a cheery ‘good morning’ from the builders working on your neighbour’s roof, you are subjected to a onslaught of explicit obscenities and are told to ‘cheer up’ when you don’t reply to someone asking if they ‘can come on your face’. Should these verbal assaults be enough to frighten women off our streets?

INVASIONS OF PRIVACY

If you’re not convinced, perhaps a physical assault would seem a more plausible cause. Sixty three percent of British women have been groped or fondled over the past year. Getting your arse stroked by a sweaty man with a straight face in a suit, on a packed train carriage, had been accepted as the norm up until very recently. Experiencing such vile and intimidating invasions of a woman’s personal space and body is reason enough for women to start avoid such circumstances.

Daily journeys to work, university, or even school become fraught and filled with anxiety for so many women, and as these stories are becoming shared and publicised, a perception of a world of fear, in which women have no control, starts to build.

Grist/ Amelia Bates

Grist/ Amelia Bates

‘HIS STREETS’

Do men face these familiar worries when they lace up their brogues before leaving the house in the morning? Do they cross the road when they see a group of builders leering out of a building site? I am yet to witness a man looking nervously at the tube doors willing them to open while a woman stands behind him and reaches out for his crotch.

What I have witnessed however, is a growing number of individuals who call themselves ‘pick up artists’. These men take to the streets with one objective: to meet women and play a game which results in them taking a woman home for sex. In their world, women exist to satisfy their needs and are there for the taking. They flatter, intimidate and coerce women into having sex with them, which they usually film without the woman’s consent or knowledge, and post later online to encourage other followers of ‘the game’ to go out tomorrow and do exactly the same thing. Nice.

These guys walk down our streets with more arrogance than confidence, along with a self assured swagger, believing they have nothing to fear. One man in the BBC documentary, ‘Britain’s Biggest Sexists’, unashamedly states that these are ‘his streets’. Sadly, how right he is.

TAUGHT TO BE FEARFUL

Pick up artists and male street harassers create a frightening idea of the world for women, just as much as schools and parents do. Young girls are taught not to walk alone at night, to be careful of strangers, to dress appropriately, to learn self defence moves and even avoid putting their hair in a pony tail, incase someone jumps out of the bushes and pulls on it to drag them in. With society teaching a generation of young girls to be fearful of stranger attacks, you would think abductions and sexual assaults on the streets are rife, yet the truth is that 90% of people who are raped know the perpetrator prior to the offence. This kind of fear mongering by society perpetuates the idea that the streets are a dangerous place for women, and they are better off staying at home.

When examining my own fear about walking my dog on my own and listening to my friends share their fears, I realised how we have normalised this irrational fear, and how crazy that is. A generation of brilliant, successful, young women do not feel the streets belong to them, whilst a small group of egotistical men, and bullying street harassers, claim full ownership. This is so wrong, and we should not let this continue. I refuse to live in fear, waiting for the worst to happen. Tomorrow I’ll feel free as I walk to work and stick two fingers up at the man wolf whistling out of his van window, or maybe I won’t even care enough to do that.

I’ll no longer edge around the shadows on the pavements, as I remind myself that there is more chance of a black cat hiding amongst them than a raged psychopath getting ready to pounce and drag me in by my ponytail.

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