The day I was accepted to college, I danced around the living room with my mother, ecstatic for what the future held. That summer was spent shopping for dorm room necessities like XL twin bed sheets and a shower caddy with all the essentials. But one thing on my list wasn’t so fun to purchase: pepper spray. Moving out on my own to a new city was nerve-wracking, and as an 18-year-old female, I knew I had to be prepared for every situation.
Recent events have reminded me that the fear I had in college is a fear that I will always have. The Twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen has taken social media by storm, proving that the tragedy in Santa Barbara was not just an isolated incident that only affected a small group. Women from around the world share stories of harassment and discrimination, and the precautionary steps they take every day to stay safe. Thoughts like this have been echoed by more than a million women this week. We:
1. Prepare to Defend Ourselves in Parking Garages
Getting a driver’s license is an exciting rite of passage. But along with the initial butterflies of getting behind the wheel for the first time, women are bombarded with rules of what to do and not to do when driving alone. [INSERT NO DOUBT “IM JUST A GIRL” LYRICS HERE] The very first thing I was taught: Always have your keys in hand when walking to the car, and always remain alert. This way you can quickly get into your car and use your keys as a weapon if necessary. And if the sun has already set, you better run.
2. Say No Repeatedly
I can’t count the number of times I’ve politely declined a drink from a guy, only to have him persistently ask again and again. It’s as if the courteous smile on my face completely negates my “No, thank you” and shaking head. After the second or third “no,” I’m forced to be sterner and wipe the smile from my face to express that, “No, I am really not interested. Sorry.”
3. Make Up a Boyfriend or Husband
It isn’t until I tell said drink-buyer that I am in a relationship that he finally stops asking. Yes, I will admit to having lied about actually having a boyfriend, but it’s a defense mechanism women have learned. Some women even wear fake wedding rings just to deter unwanted attention. The sad part is that being in a relationship with another man is respected more than a woman’s right to say “no.”
4. Wear “Safe” Clothing Over Comfortable Clothing
Something as mundane as taking the dog for a walk or going on a run around the block has become a task that requires extra cautionary steps. Women dress more “manly,” wearing bulky sweaters and loose fitting sweatpants, just so we can appear less attractive to potential catcallers. It doesn’t matter that it’s warm out and we’d rather enjoy the sunshine in shorts and a tee on our daily walk, our safety is always in the forefront of our minds when we’re leaving the house.
5. Fear Men We’ve Turned Down
If a man is “just not that into me” I am told over and over again that I just need to move on. There are plenty of other fish in the sea, right? I may drown my sorrows in a pint of chocolate ice cream and spend a night in with my girlfriends talking about how we deserve better. But if I turn down a man, there is a legitimate fear that my well-being may be at risk. There have been too many stories of ex-boyfriends showing up unannounced and unwelcomed to our homes or rejected men that have stalked women, followed them home with the intent to harm them. Of course, not all men are going to attack women because they’ve been turned down, but based on the stories we hear in the news daily and share among each other, we have reason to be afraid.
So what can men do to help women feel safer? Simple changes can make a huge impact. Here are a few ideas:
Consider Your Surroundings
If you see a woman walking alone in a parking lot or on the street, hang back. Put distance between the two of you, so she doesn’t need to worry about your intentions. Even though you are just trying to get to your car like she is, fear is instilled in all women that abduction or rape is a possibility at any time.
Accept It When a Woman Is Not Interested
If a woman is not flirting back, it’s not a welcome sign to try harder. If you’ve offered to buy her a drink and she declines, leave it at that. Just because she is smiling and being courteous, doesn’t mean she wants to get hassled or bullied into it.
Be Aware of Your Verbal Messages
We hear misogynistic lyrics and jokes every day and we’ve become desensitized to them. We might not be able to change the lyrics, but we do have control over what words we choose to include in our vocabulary. “Bitch” and “slut” have become common place, but that doesn’t mean we have to use them. We can refrain from laughing at any demeaning jokes and instead make it known that we do not want those jokes made in our presence.
Women know that #NotAllMen are out to get us, not retaliating against women purely based on their frustration and hatred of females, but the fear is not to be undermined. The unfortunate truth is yes, all women experience misogynistic behavior on a day-to-day basis. We can all make these small changes and more and make the world a safer, more pleasant place for everyone.
Photo Credit: Getty Images
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