Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The problem with getting home...is getting home.

Last Thursday I stood under the bright lights of a bus shelter and realised that of all the things that irritated me about the world, being stood here was pretty high on the list.

It wasn't raining. The bus wasn't late. In fact, I wasn't even waiting for a bus: I'd just got off. It was half past 12, I was on my way back from the cinema and my only agenda at that point was to get home to bed. 

But minutes earlier, I'd identified the bus stop as being the most well-lit and therefore safest place to be. I waited, eyes alert and watching, heart rate clicking up a notch, while my brain did automatic things drilled into me since school - switching my music off, taking out both earphones. Removing house keys from my bag and tucking them between my middle and forefinger. Feeling for my phone in the other pocket, making a mental note of who I'd call. 

The man - older, drunk, rough looking - raised a heavy, almost apologetic arm, before crossing the road and disappearing into the distance. 

However innocent, his behaviour had buzzed as odd in my head. He'd got on the bus just one stop earlier, fixed me with a stare and spoken words I couldn't hear over my music. Then he moved to the front of the bus. My stop arrived, I got off, the doors shut.

Seconds later, the driver re-opened the front doors at the man's request and he got off, too. He continued to speak to me. I stopped in my tracks, still ignoring him, let him pass ahead - and walked back under the light of the bus stop. 

And there I stayed for a few minutes before continuing on at double speed, checking behind me the whole way; newly conscious of my heels on the pavement as they echoed down the quiet road.

Perhaps I was never at risk, maybe everything I did was just common sense and therefore the whole episode unremarkable. But what's not unremarkable is just how often this kind of stuff happens.

A conversation with three girl mates at the weekend revealed the following: one had moved to a different area of London after being followed home too many times. Another had been curb crawled twice on her road. My housemate has been "approached" - although that word seems too passive - two or three times in the years since she moved to where we live. All have found themselves running home out of fear at least once.

What really annoyed me as I continued my walk (keys ready before I got to the door, of course) is that it won't ever get taken seriously, all these minor little instances on dark roads: passing comments, words, jeers, watching, following, unwelcome attention. Nothing worth reporting and no laws being broken.

It's ingrained from a young age that as a girl you've got to be careful. Take precautions, keep an eye out, get a taxi instead of walk.

After all, we're girls, and that's just the way it is.


Blonde said...

It is just the way it is. I do exactly the same on the unlit way back to my house from the train station late at night - no music, phone in hand.

I think that men are unaware of the effect their (entirely innocent) presence can have on a girl when she's walking on her own. I've lost count of the number of times I've almost broken into a run; crossed the street several times; or tried to walk closely to other people, purely because I feel threatened - when I imagine there's been no need whatsoever.

ReeRee Rockette said...

Have you heard of HollaBack? http://ldn.ihollaback.org/

I completely agree, it makes me furious as we feel so vulnerable.

Betty Leopard said...

This is all so true, sadly, and I have definitely been in that position a fair few times before.
My boyfriend doesn't even like me getting taxis on my own, as he says a taxi driver could be just as untrustworthy as any man in the street (that doesn't really help me feel any better!).

Sarah said...

Yep, this is all too familiar. You're right. It's like we're taught to be scared.

Breeza said...

It is just that and it is unfair. But I do the same things when I'm out, alone at night, especially in the city. Makes me want to move to a small town, but not enough to actually do it.

Sophie (MissPickle109) said...

You've just described many a walk home I used to make when I lived in Seven Sisters. The 2 minute walk from the tube exit or bus stop on the High Rd to my house used to feel like the longest journey on earth sometimes and I remember running it on a few occasions, clutching my door key so that I could open the front door the second I got to it. Or stab it at someone if the need arose. Quite what damage I thought it would do I don't know but it made me feel a little safer. What a sad world we sometimes live in eh?

Dominic said...

It's not really a nice situation for men either, to be honest.

e.g. A while ago, I was walking across some fields & saw a girl coming the other way. She saw me, didn't realize I'd already seen her, and promptly hid behind a hedge until I was well past.

Anyone who knows me would tell you I'm the last person anyone would be afraid of. But of course, she didn't know me.

It's a sad state of affairs, but I have no better solution for it than the gent in your story used - stay well clear.

Incidentally, you certainly *can* do serious damage with an ordinary house key...

Josh said...

On many occasions I have had women cross the street or run ahead when they notice me on the same street as them at night. I am harmless but I feel awful when this happens because I am being treated like a predator when I am not. but safety is always going to be more important than possibly hurting a strangers feelings.

I understand and feel for women and I just hope the number of good men in society will one day so far out weigh the bad that women never have to feel insecure.

iamtimbo said...

I try to be very aware of who I am around when I am walking at night, and frequently end up crossing over and over the road, to make sure I am on the other side. The trouble is that this in itself looks weird, so you just have to do what you can as a rational human being.

I feel awful that it's like this, and I hope that fear doesn't ultimately outweigh confidence, and the sheer brazen right for people of all sexes, colours and persuasions to go about their business unhindered.

Anonymous said...

I'm conscious of this too, as Dominic said it's not a nice situation for us either.

I wouldn't harm a fly, but the fly doesn't know that and neither does any girl walking in the street.

I always make sure I back off and keep my distance. But I get paranoid if we've been walking down the same streets for a while ('that man has been walking the same direction as me for 10 mins..'). I end up take a different/longer route if I can.

Blonde said...

To the men who have commented here, aware that the simple fact of your presence can make us jittery when we're on our way home late at night: thank you. I feel I should apologise for inadvertently offending people like you, but as Josh pointed out - I'm more concerned with getting home safely than hurting strangers' feelings.

em said...

last weekend my dad sat there and made me download an app for my android that would track my phone with gps 'just in case' and made me give him the password! {But he was the man who used to drive to pick me up from clubs at 3am so I didn't get a cab alone}

Anonymous said...

I hate social awkwardness. I was walking home the other day and there was a girl in a bus stop stupidly wearing next-to-nothing despite it being close to freezing. She was shivering like hell, and I really wanted to go up and offer her my hat and a hug, but didn't because an alarm bell in my head started screaming "If you walk up to her she'll think you're a rapist." It's sad.

Girls: Is there any advice you could offer us more gentlemanly types? Presumably some behaviour (drunken leering and getting off the bus after one stop) must come across as more threatening than others. Maybe something we could do to ensure we keep the threatening vibes to a minimum (wear a Smiths t-shirt? Morrissey fans are too scrawny to be violent, surely).

fwengebola said...

Erm, fuck.
I really don't have any experiences like this, ever, being a bloke. That's why I can empathise with the comments above. I always have 'Oh bugger' flashing through my head whenever I have to, say, walk past a woman from behind. It's crappy for everyone concerned.

But I would recommend some self-defence lessons. It can't hurt - whereas a furious knee to the balls will.

Anonymous said...

Your experiences are sadly so common, as you can see from the comments.

I once walked the mile and a half home after night out at lightning fast pace, angrily muttering to myself that I should be able to walk home if I like, and shouldn't have to fork out £10 for an over-priced taxi or wait an hour for one of the 3 nightbus services we have in Bristol.

I hate the fact that I feel the way I do. Hate checking behind me every minute in case anyone's following me, hate looking at the floor walking past a group of guys in case they make lewd comments or gestures toward me. And I hate the way we're constantly told that we shouldn't go out alone or walk home alone on the streets that are just as much ours as anyone elses.

Sorry you feel the same way, too.
Laura x

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

Blonde - Oh exactly. I have no doubt that most of the fear is in my head as opposed to being a real threat, but I'm not about to take the chance. Sad times.

ReeRee - Thanks for that link. It's a good idea for a site.

Betty - I've had a dodgy experience with a taxi driver once before, so I stopped using that particular company. Our options are diminishing...

Sarah - And things don't seem to be changing.

Breeza - Same. But you know, I used to live in a quieter suburban area and my mum still wouldn't like me walking up the lane near my house. I'm not sure it makes a difference where you live.

Sophie - I reckon we could do some damage with a key in the right spot! That's the hope, anyway...

Dominic - It's good to hear from the blokes on this one, and I know it's not every bloke who behaves in this threatening way. There's just no way of distinguishing between men who mean harm and those who don't, unfortunately.

Josh - At least you know not to take it personally, they'd cross the road with any bloke, I reckon.

iamtimbo - It just feels like such a long way off, you know? The more aware of it I get, the more it pisses me off, and the more worried I get.

cynical - Sad as it is, that's probably the best way to approach things. Girls would most definitely appreciate the effort.

em - Ha! Wow, now that's taking precautions :D

Daniel - As a general rule, just leave girls alone when they're on their way home, unless they're in some sort of hassle. If they're underdressed, it's their own fault! There's a time and a place for picking up girls, and a bus stop at 12am probably isn't it. But I never actually mind someone just chatting to me, as long as they take the hints if I don't want to talk back and don't over step the friendliness.

Fwenge - I am actually considering taking up kickboxing. Now that would give 'em a shock.

Laura - It's been good to see the responses and know that it's not just me, and that not every bloke is a mental. But you're right, we should just be able to go about our business without being yelled at like meat. By and large, I do happily bound around London until all hours. But the worry is always, always there.


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