The writer Will Self has told of his proclivity for city walking at night: “In sodium-tinged darkness the city takes on a phantasmagorical air and the imagination takes flight into realms at once lofty and obscure. Of course, what makes it possible for me to unreservedly enjoy these peregrinations is… my penis.”
Self is patently aware of the privilege he shares with many men — myself included — and with far too few women: the privilege to roam through twilight cityscapes and urban parklands unimpeded by the tightening grip of fear. How few women? According to recent one survey, around 45% of women in the U.S said they’d be afraid to walk alone at night in their neighborhood. That’s compared to around 22% of men.
Perhaps these numbers are not too surprising. Other studies reinforce how the general concern women have towards their own safety is grounded in experience. In 2016, ActionAid conducted a survey on street harassment and found that instances directed at women were desperately high.
For instance, 75% of women living in London reported having been subjected to harassment or violence in public. In cities in Thailand it was 86%, and in Brazil as high as 89%. In Australia, a 2015 survey of 1426 females found that 87% had been verbally or physically attacked while walking down the street. 40% of those surveyed said they felt unsafe walking around their neighborhoods at night.
A recent European survey showed that more than half of the women in the EU avoided particular situations or places for fear of being physically or sexually assaulted. 40% women avoided public places when there were no other people around. They opted to avoid walking alone at night, would cross the street if they felt unsafe, and often changed routes or form of transportation on the basis of a perceived threat.
The ramifications of this type of constraint can be profound. If significant proportions of the population feel the need to alter basic patterns of their behavior in our public spaces, then not only are individual women not as free and fluid as they should be, but the movement towards equality of the sexes will be curtailed by ongoing invisible prohibitions.
In a recent tweet, Danielle Muscato pondered, “Ladies … what would you do if all men had a 9pm…