Reclaim the night?

August 18, 2009

My approach to diet is a bit of a contradiction. While Rachel is here, as I am sure I have mentioned before, I am a food nazi. When she isnt- I crave the worst junk food- pot noodles, ben and jerrys, snickers bars…

Late on a child free night last week- the urge for food with the ingredients of a chemistry set, saturated fat and sugar, got the better of me. I do not live in south central LA. I dont live on one of the estates I grew up on. I live in a rural friendly town, where the most violent assault in the past year, has been an incident involving a tin of chick peas. I dont do ‘scared of hoodies’- because in general the kids in this town, while looking menacing under their eyeliner and chains- are good kids. As are most-everywhere.

But when I walked down the steps to the canal(the quickest way to the shop…), I did hesitate when there were a crowd of lads at the top of the steps, with lager cans, and spliffs. Its a quiet stretch, picturesque during the day- but unlit, and deserted at night. As I walked down, I was hyper aware of how small I am, how easily I am overpowered, and how far away I was from the nearest place where there are people- and irrational fears sprung out of nowhere.  I made sure my keys poked through between my fingers(claw like- and well able to capture DNA, should need arise), made sure my phone was at 999, and easily accessable.I cursed the decision to wear flats that slipped off and prevent me running(can run in heels- am freak!).

The fact that what happened next is not uncommon, and that awareness of a need for self defence advice is necessary, and is so ingrained as to be habit, to women today bothers me in itself.  Long after the days of ‘Reclaim the Night’ marches, women still have to hesitate walking down dark underpasses. The first comment in any sexual assault discussion, will be about the wisdom of a woman walking ‘alone’ .

The catcalls, with the boys making lewd suggestions about how I would like to spend my Wednesday night, actually didnt come as a surprise-nor did the descent from lewd suggestive abuse, to blatant sexual threats- when they had failed to illicit the desired reaction from me. My pace did not change(it was already swift and purposeful), I did not hesitate, did not turn my head. I went a different way home. But no mistake- I was frightened. Not terrified- to be terrified- this would have to be out of the ordinary. And for most women, it is an occupational hazard of walking alone at night.

I am a 31 year old feminist- yet I accept that it is an occupational hazard of being a woman? THat I somehow dont have the right to walk through a dark canal bank- in a quiet west yorkshire town?

I sat outside on my favourite step this afternoon- and heard a very familiar voice shouting about his dick- perhaps it was the recollection of the words-  I recognised this boy immediately as the inadequate little prick- who felt that the best use of his time- was to shout abuse at a woman he didnt know-and could easily intimidate.

So I stopped him. I asked him if he was the boy who had done that the other night. He claimed he wasnt. I explained that actually, while I wasnt saying it was him-   a 5’11”, well built bloke, and his friends,  shouting at a 5’3′ woman, walking alone- is pretty shitty, and that I was glad it wasnt him- as it was a cowardly thing, that only one of lifes inadequates would do. He said he wouldn’t do ‘something like that’, and blushed, as he sought to avoid eye contact- while his friend looked sheepish. He didnt look quite as intimidating at 5 in the afternoon. He certainly seemed less sure of his sexual prowess when talking to me head on- without the help of his friends and a dark pathway to intimidate me.

He knew what he had done- so did I. What I also know- is what I knew underneath it all the other night. THe kind of bloke who will harrass and catcall a woman on a darkened quiet stretch at nightime- to impress his friends, is usually of very little threat- just an inadequate little man- trying to cover up those inadequacies with a big mouth.

Will I get to raise Rachel with the expectation that she has a right to walk where she likes-without fear of personal attack? Unlikely.  (Its quite telling that I had a whole paragraph justifying my reasons for walking alone at night- then deleted it when I realised that was not something I should have to justify).



  1. The walking late at night justification is like a default apologetic, thought process. It confounds me that as women we’re not allowed to do this, we have to justify ourselves and our reasons and if anything happens to us then well we shouldn’t have been out at night then should we?

    I have a stern don’t-fuck-with-me nightwalk too!

    • I seriously had a whole paragraph- justifying why I walked down there. I realised and deleted- but it infuriates me that I am socialised into automatically doing so.

  2. I love the fact that you challenged the little twat later. What is it about canal paths too, bad things always seem to happen on them. I’ve seen cracker.

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