I wonder if men think about this
I get off the bus and start on my walk home. It's only 6 p.m., but it's winter in Melbourne, which means the sun is long gone and the clouds have smothered the stars. My walk is dark and cuts through a shallow grassy ravine guarded by a squeaky gate that makes my skin shiver when I open it. A man has gotten out of the bus behind me and is walking the same way. I take out my headphones, cutting off my podcast mid-word. Trying to be casual, I reach into my purse and pull out my keys. The car key is the sharpest, and it's the one I hold firmly in my fist as I continue walking toward the gate.
I hate going through the ravine the most.
The slopes are slick with mud and wet grass that needs to be cut. I'm walking quickly, but I hear the rusty gate shriek as the strange man walks through it about ten seconds behind me. He's keeping a respectful distance, but the keys don't leave my hand. The headphones don't go back in. I have to listen, to make sure.
And as I'm walking with a makeshift weapon in my fist and the cheerful voices of my writing podcast on pause, a thought crosses my mind.
I wonder if men think about this.
I wonder if men notice someone getting off the bus after them, or walking behind them, or opening gates. I wonder if men feel the need to call someone just to chat because they're walking home in the dark and want any would-be rapists or murderers to know, sorry, you can't have me, I'm on the phone which means I'm somehow protected.
When I lived in London, I used to walk home from the pub where I worked about midnight every night. The streets were well-lit, and usually busy with college-aged party kids and the occasional random guy asking me if he could bring me to a club because they wouldn't let him in without a girl. For the most part, I felt safe on those streets.
Yet here I am, walking home at 6 p.m. with my headphones out and my keys ready to stab if needed. Why?
Here, I am alone. I walk through dark residential streets surrounded by houses filled with the scent of curry and spaghetti, with families chatting around tables or in front of a blaring TV. There's nobody around except this strange man walking behind me. If something happens--if the small statistical probability comes true, I am on my own. There's no group of high-heeled popped-colored 18-year-olds hanging out nearby to step in. There's no young woman who'll step up and mouth, "Are you okay?" like I have done for so many girls I've seen trembling and crying while their boyfriends yell.
I'm by myself.
And again, I have to wonder, do men think about this?
But it goes so much deeper than that.
Walking alone with my keys in hand, it's impossible for me not to think about an incredibly powerful statement from a rape victim in the USA that I read this week. It's one of the most well-written and sharp essays I've ever read, directed at the man who sexually assaulted her on a college campus while she was unconscious. Even though he was convicted on three felony counts of sexual assault, her rapist was sentenced to a pitiful six months in prison because the judge thought any longer would have too severe an impact on his life.
I'm not the first person who has been angered at the hypocrisy of how society responds to crimes against men vs. crimes against women, or crimes committed by white people vs. those committed by people of color. As this tweet and thousands of other posts have pointed out, the sentence would very likely have been different if the perpetrator had not been white.
So I guess it's not just, I wonder if men think about this. It's also, I wonder if white people think about this. Being friends with so many people of so many different races, cultures, and backgrounds has opened my eyes to this whole other world of things I've never thought about.
I take so much for granted because of the privileges and the life I was born into, and even though I'm walking down this road with my keys in my hand, at least I know that neither in this country or my own am I likely to be stopped and searched by police just for walking home after dark.
The world is pretty messed up indeed if all we are willing to see of it is what affects us. That's the problem I have with picking a political party, the problem I have with taking sides in race or gender debates. We tend to support what positively impacts us instead of looking at what benefits society.
There are plenty of men who fight for the rights of women to be respected, who despise the way other men get off easy -- or completely -- for crimes they commit against our bodies and our minds. There are plenty of white people who are furious at the injustices continually brought upon people of color in all parts of the world, but particularly in developed countries where we should and claim to know better than we really do.
But there could be more of these people.
Not everything that happens in the world can be summed up in your experience or mine. There is always something we haven't thought of, some event or work-around that someone has created due to fear. Whether it's keys in the hand or hands up, don't shoot, there are habits we establish and lessons we learn from what we have seen happen to others that we shouldn't have to.
We shouldn't have to, but we do in order to survive.
Before you judge, listen. Before you assume, try to understand. Before you speak, think. Chances are, that person is thinking, I wonder if they think about this.