Walking in a “safe” neighborhood sparks fears shared by all women

womanwalkingI just walked a half mile to a Subway restaurant, and it was the most stressful experience of my recent experience. Because I am a woman.

Sometime around 7:30 pm, I decided I wanted something to eat. Recently, I’ve been back at Webster University, living in the dorms while training for work before the rest of the students come back and classes begin. Since it’s technically still summer, though, there are no food options available on campus, so I looked for cheap food places nearby to fill my stomach. Subway is only a half-mile (a ten-minute walk, according to Google Maps) from where I was staying, so around 7:40 pm, I took off in that direction, thinking it was a close enough distance I didn’t need to bum a ride—I would be back really quickly.

By 7:43, just as I was leaving the residence area, I started to become a little nervous, realizing sunset was rapidly approaching. When I saw the first person on the street, I quickly pressed my keys between my fingers, as Law and Order plots started whispering through my mind. It wasn’t too hot or muggy, but I had started sweating profusely. I was beginning to mentally kick myself for not bringing the pepper spray I usually carry with me; my parents insisted I buy it so that when I’m walking home from night classes at 9:30 pm by myself, I am “safe.” I became hyper-aware of everyone and everything around me; the sound of every rabbit and squirrel running through a bush startling me and making me jump. I smiled tensely at everyone I saw, wary of anyone in arms-reach.

I should take a moment to note that this is by no means a shady or sketchy area in which I was walking; much of it was actually on or right by campus. I’ve never seen anyone suspicious around campus or in that vicinity; the area was well-lit, there were shops and apartments up and down the entire stretch of road I was walking. There was even a sidewalk for the convenience of walkers. And yet, still, I felt unsafe.

By the time I got to Subway a few minutes later, I was just relieved to be able to let my guard down for a second. And you can be sure that as I was leaving the restaurant, food in hand, I put the key between my fingers again and had several plans running through my head that, if I was approached maliciously, I would throw my drink at them and run, or I would knee them if they were too close or stab with the key. or I could run into that shop because I knew the staff well and they would help me. It was frightening. Halfway to campus– a quarter of a mile away– I was literally praying for my safety as I walk-ran. And by the time I got back to campus, I was almost shaking from the adrenaline flowing through my veins, thanking God that I was safe.

Again, there was no reason for most people to feel afraid in that situation. Literally none. But I’m a woman. And walking by myself close to nightfall for any length of time just gives me a moment to put into practice the litany of things I’ve been told to do to protect myself from the ever-present threat of an attack. All the little self-defense things I had picked up rushed through my brain as I realized I had violated the number one rule by walking alone by myself too close to nightfall.

The reason I’m sharing my experience is that I know it’s not a novel one– too many women can identify with it. In fact, it’s probably reasonably normal in comparison to many other women’s stories.

And, honestly, that kind of terror is part of the college experience for too many women. But that doesn’t mean it’s a four-years-and-done kind of thing; it’s forever. It is a terrifying, paralyzing fear always lying at the back of our minds, always questioning our choices and making us doubt that an even slightly risky decision (like going ten minutes away for Subway) could keep us safe.

Women are constantly threatened by the existence of men around them because all women have felt terrified for their safety, simply because they were alone. I dare you to find a woman who hasn’t. And that is indicative of a far larger issue within our society: Women never truly feel safe in their own company, always looking for a threat on the horizon, living a life dominated by fear.

And perhaps now you’re looking in this article for the quick 30-second fix to this problem, so you feel like you have done your part. But it’s not that easy. Honestly, I wish I had one for you. I really do, I really, really, really do. But it’s not that easy.