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The power of girl power, in my experience, is unfortunately not foolproof against self-righteous dudes on a solo walk home. It doesn’t seem to matter if you’re taking a stroll or headed back from a night where you’re intoxicated; boys are convinced of their superiority over the second sex. Girls can do anything, and that’s a fact. But walking home alone for women can often be a walk to forget.
Boys are quick to give girls a hard time about not wanting to walk home alone at night. “Come on, it’s Boulder!” they’ll say, or, “You’re a big girl, you can do it!” Ugh, patronizing and rude.
What I choose to wear or not wear is not your invitation — you have heard it a million times. But a woman who walks alone is somehow immediately subject to the gaze of a man who thinks otherwise. It’s like I was made for his preference, for his affirming straightness, from his rib and in his image. What a story!
Just this week I was walking in broad daylight down to Pearl Street when a truck full of young white guys slowed their vehicle and collectively shouted and cat-called, pouring out of rolled-down windows. They then called to an Asian man crossing my path, “Dude, you’re not going to try and hit that?”
There is a lot going on in this scenario, and yes, this really happened.
First of all, that interaction is not at all surprising, nor is it rare. There is something about safety in numbers, eh? The green light for a bunch of entitled boys to verbally attack a woman turns on when she walks alone. Plus, they probably laughed all the way to their destination after zooming off. Second, the policing between men should not go unrecognized here. A group of (did I mention white) men jested at a person of color for not behaving as they think a man ought to as he passed me. White men tend to reinforce the masculinist attitude expected from men who exercise “true” manhood. As white maleness sits on the top of the hegemonic pyramid, I can’t help but wonder if these boys would have addressed my passing the same way unto a man of the same race.
Not only did this group of boys feel entitled to belittle my existence, they also spoke down to a fellow male because they felt high enough above him to do so. Why? Because they were raised by a society that says they can. That they can exercise misogyny and white superiority as needed to bolster their otherwise pathetic man-boyness.
FYI, I flipped the guys in the truck off and greeted the other man with an apologetic “hello.” But I only even slightly reacted to the bandwagon of blockheads because the sun was out and another person was there to witness the whole thing.
Later in the week I was leaving a bar, headed for bed. It was just past midnight and didn’t seem too late for monkey business. My friends wanted to stay out and I didn’t want to pay the Uber surcharge — you get me. As little as two blocks from my house, a man shouted at me from a balcony, prompting me to come up and join him, and I was cat-called from a passing car and then accosted by two homeless men requesting a pipe.
Now let’s make one thing perfectly clear — this has nothing to do with me or my appearance. This is about the apparent gap of legs between my dress and ankles and evident long hair. This is not about self-flattery or looking for attention, as so many women are accused of. The so called “attention” I received on my solo walk home is product of one thing and one thing only — being a girl.
How did I react late at night? I walked with my house key between my fingers like a dagger and my sister on the phone, teetering on my heels and holding my dress down. Laughable, isn’t it? Am I really going to stab someone with my key? Unlikely. (I have this reccurring dream that someone is attacking me and I clench up, unable to move, let alone breathe, and literally can’t defend myself, trapped in fear.) And my sister on the other end of the phone line in California? Not my best bet at a smoke signal. But since I was walking home alone, this was my shred of safety, and I clung to it and headed for my door, ignoring the noises that scared me.
“In Boulder, I avoid walking anywhere by myself after 10 p.m. or so, just because there won’t be as many people around, and I know I’m not capable of defending myself,” said Emily Childers, CU Boulder student. “I’ve heard countless stories of people getting attacked even walking through campus. It’s just generally terrifying being a woman alone at night and not knowing if male strangers are going to approach you.”
When I asked Childers how she felt about guys walking her home, this is what she said: “Multiple guys have told me that I’m ‘over-exaggerating’ when I have expressed that I don’t feel safe walking home alone. They say that it’s a short walk or whatever. And if one is willing to walk me home, more often than not they expect sex or something similar in return.”
Beyond the sheer annoyance and the no-I’m-not-PMSing-you’re-just-pissing-me-off of boys taking for granted their inherent power position as a male in our society, the nerve of these guys to expect my body in exchange for their, what seemed like, consideration is just flabbergasting. Yes, flabbergasting. The most underrated word in the English language that kind of sounds like flatulence but must be brought out for moment like these — flabbergasting that you dare expect anything from me.
“I always check behind me as I’m walking home alone because I’m afraid that someone is following me,” said Abby Dann, CU Boulder student.
The uneasiness and hesitancy these women feel is normal, understandable and not subject for debate. I share in their concern for my girlfriends, my queer friends, my sisters and for my own well-being. Perhaps the men I passed that day and night meant no harm at all, as many will suggest. Regardless of the intention, I was made to feel uncomfortable and unsafe, and that is a product of my gender expression as a woman — not my weakness.
In 2016, 46 rapes, 187 aggravated assaults and 107 sexual assaults were reported in Boulder County’s population of about 100,000. To reiterate, these numbers only reflect reported instances and cannot accurately account for the approxmiately 2 out of 3 rapes that go unreported. Nevertheless, these numbers indicate record highs in all categories over a five-year report from the City of Boulder.
The go-getter, girls-can-do-anything feminist in me wants to tell you that the world is your oyster and these streets were made for you to strut down like a runway model, but I would be lying. I would not encourage my sisters to walk home alone, so I can’t ask you to either.
A walk home alone will only be one to remember when men are raised free of entitlement, taught not to intrude, taught not to intimidate, taught not to rape. We are not at fault for fearing being alone at night. You are not at fault for feeling afraid. That guilt is a feeling that is impressed upon women to keep them down. Engaging in conversations with your male friends — many of whom will deny being part of the problem but have likely been it at one time or another — is a great way to initiate change. Share your feelings with your girlfriends; you are not alone, and everything you feel is valid.
It doesn’t matter that it’s Boulder, and it certainly doesn’t matter that you’re an independent woman — not in this case. It feels contradictory and it’s definitely upsetting, but gender inequalities like safety and physical vulnerability must be addressed because of their validity, and this is a case where that shows. The fact that women widely feel unsafe walking to their homes alone shows just how much work is left to be done. We cannot stop fighting for gender equality, but until we have it, we must be mindful of the current sentiments felt by women and prioritize — demand — their safety.
Contact CU Independent Assistant Opinion Editor Dani Pinkus at firstname.lastname@example.org.