It is no surprise when an individual fears a threat to his or her own life during a natural calamity or a man-made war. However, the objective of this post is to relay some ordinary life examples where a woman is likely to fear for her own safety. Of course, there really isn’t a dearth of situations where a woman can be harassed or sexually assaulted, the perpetrator being anyone from a complete stranger, to a teacher, to her own spouse at home.
Women are certainly not weaker than men but I were to commit the error of generalization, men, on average, have a stronger built than the average woman which puts us at a disadvantage when it comes to protecting ourselves. No matter how equipped we may be with knowledge of a martial art or pepper spray, it is still not easy to defend ourselves against an attacker, thus lending to these deep seated fears even if we serve as our own bodyguards. Quite frankly, it shouldn’t even be our onus to protect ourselves from assault and rape; rather it is the mentality and actions of the perpetrator that should be our primary focus. Moreover, this list does not imply that women are merely passive victims; rather, I simply hope to raise more awareness about these common life situations because personal security is not just a women’s issue but a humanitarian issue.
p.s. Men, too, get sexually assaulted so the following points need not be gender specific.
1) Being cat-called or stalked on the street
This one is especially important because some men assume women like to be stared and offered crude words of flattery as a means to woo her. This is completely false. I can say with complete certainty that no woman likes or wants verbal or worse, physical, harassment in any form. If we happen to smile towards you on account of your incessant staring or woofing, we are only doing it for own protection to get away safely and not instigate any attack upon ourselves. When I had taken some self-defense classes a year ago, I met several women who had to file restraining orders so that their male stalkers would not terrorize their routine life.
Here is an excellent image to suggest ways to stop street harassment.
2) Being the only woman inside an elevator
Working in Manhattan implies that you are likely to take an elevator to reach your desired office space. My workplace is on the 12th floor of a 16 floor building and there are only three elevators that allow for such access. With so many floors, there is obviously going to be significant traffic in the morning and evening time and on several occasions, I have found myself to be the only woman in the elevator packed with multiple men. Once the door opens, the unconscious fear of being stuck inside that enclosed space dissipates away. Of course I have never personally had any bad experiences but I do know a friend who was verbally harassed by a group of men in her brief 20 sec stay inside the elevator. The recent Tejpal case is also testimony to this issue.
3) Commuting in public transportation systems
It can be difficult to find space to stand, let alone, be seated in modes of public transportation during rush hour. In such a case, it is not uncommon to have people standing neck to neck and landing up in uncomfortable positions. Many cities across the world try to make commuting safer for women by providing for cabins reserved just for women; however, this mere segregation, as necessary as it is, just exemplifies how unsafe women would be otherwise. I have read stories of women being stared and approached by men in trains and buses and I know women who have been groped and assaulted as well, including myself. Our commutes would be far more pleasant if we could all try to be cordial and not invade each other’s personal space. And if you are a good denizen (man or woman) and notice any individual facing harassment, please help them by informing an officer or take the help of other citizens, if possible.
4) Waiting at a deserted street or an area with hostile passerbys
For anyone who has seen Jab We Met, they can recall the classic scene where Geet is trying to escape from a gang of vile men at a train station. Rather than anyone coming up to help her, she is instead harassed by a new man on a motorbike who doesn’t seem to leave her alone. You may think the situation is far-fetched in real life but it is reality for many women. When my dad cannot pick me up from the train station due to work conflicts, I take a cab or a local bus to get home. The bus is less expensive so a week ago, I took the 2 number and the nearest stop still required me to walk an extra mile to reach my destination. As I got off the bus and stood at an empty intersection to cross, I heard not one but two cars honk at me. One of the cars was literally waiting at the red light and I could see the man smiling behind his wheel. I just stood there in most petrified state until the car went away and I hurried home. Because of that one experience, I might resort to spending the extra money and take a cab. But what about women who cannot afford that luxury?
Below is an excellent image that suggests a 3 petal plan that incorporates actions of bystanders and society to combat street harassment.
5) Unwarranted attention at a social venue
Bars, clubs and related venues are ideal for people to let their hair down and socialize. Some people try their luck to meet new people by approaching them with compliments or a drink etc. Those generic tactics are not the point of this item on the list. The objective here is to shed light on some of the more aggressive tactics that men employ on women. At times, women fear just politely excusing themselves from a conversation or expressing their discomfort. Some men also don’t take “No” for an answer which heightens our fear, although we may not express it directly. I know women who are genuinely single and they need to use the excuse of “I have a boyfriend” because that is the only way she can be free from unwarranted attention. That to me suggests that a woman’s request for personal space is not sufficient by itself and men will only respect women if she is already taken as another man’s property. That is a serious mentality that needs to be eradicated.
All of the aformentioned examples are based on my own personal experience but please feel free to share any of your own in the comment box below.
I hope by reading this, we can all become a bit more aware of our situations and behaviors and collectively help each other feel safer 🙂