My friend and I were stumbling down the street late at night, our heads fuzzy with intoxication, when he turned to me and asked, “Would you feel safe going out to the bars by yourself at night?”
It seemed like an innocent question, so I answered with honesty: “No.”
“That’s fair,” he said, then paused. “But why?”
I’d never been asked that before. The “why”, I mean. Usually it seemed inherently understood — I was a woman, and I did not feel safe being drunk and alone in the middle of the night. It felt self-explanatory to me.
But when I explained my fears to him, all the worries that pressed against the back of my skull every time I found myself in that sort of situation, he shrugged them off. “I mean, yeah, I get it. I’ve had girls aggressively hit on me at bars, probably as many times as guys have done it to you. But that doesn’t really stop me.”
And that’s when I realized why he didn’t understand: he thought he could relate.
I have a tendency to spend time with guys who just don’t seem to get it. Who don’t understand why I grab my closest girl friend when I need to use the bathroom at the club. Who don’t understand why I call them late at night when I’m walking through dark streets alone. Who don’t understand why I ask them to pretend to be my boyfriend when unwelcome men try to snake their arms around my waist. Who laugh it off or poke fun at me like it’s a funny little quirk. They don’t understand that it’s not about feeling “alone” or “uncomfortable” or “non-confrontational”, it’s about feeling in danger.
But when I try to explain how I feel, they just ask me, “Why?” Why are you so worried? What are you so afraid of?
I’m afraid of the man in the bar who forced his tongue into my mouth even as I frantically pushed him away. The man who stole my phone outside the club to call his own so he could ensure I wouldn’t give him a fake number. The man in Italy who followed me home at 3 in the morning, repeating “Una sigaretta, signorina” while thrusting a pack of cigarettes in my face, who refused to leave when I asked him to. The men who waited till no one was watching to corner me at house parties, to pin me down on dirty mattresses, to trap me so I couldn’t leave.
Because, believe it or not, I’m not afraid of the men who flirt across bar tops or who make salacious comments when they think I can’t hear them or, hell, even the ones who grope at me in crowds. I’m afraid of the Brock Turners, the Bill Cosbys, the men with charming smiles and ulterior motives. I’m afraid of finding myself in a bad position and then being told, “Well, you shouldn’t have gone out alone, anyway.” Because little girls are told to expect the worst and defend themselves against it, that only we can save ourselves by doing anything to prevent it. The problem is, little boys are never told the same things.
So no, I don’t feel safe going out to bars by myself at night. And no, you don’t get it. But even though you can’t understand it, I need you to respect that.