How you experience and move through the world changes depending on the different facets of your identity. That’s what intersectional feminism is all about — the idea that intersecting identities and intersecting systems of oppression have a palpable effect on even the most basic of things. Like, for example, going outside. For women and femmes, simply existing in the world can be fraught in a way that it isn’t for men — and this viral Reddit thread on the r/AskWomen sub shows just how much consideration goes into our personal safety every time we walk out the door.
Posted on Jan. 1 by Redditor u/Dovah_Dave, who has decorated his username with flair indicating the Mars symbol (that is, the symbol for "male" — according to its sidebar, r/AskWomen has flair available for “men, women, trans folks, and gender neutral people”), the title of the thread asks, “How often do you consider personal safety when going out? Do you constantly fear for the safety of yourself and your girl friends during a night on the town?” And you know what’s most interesting about the answers? How similar they all are.
They do come in different camps, and different Redditors emphasize different things; after all, no one’s experience is exactly the same as anyone else’s, and whatever your experience has been is always going to inform how you process and function in the world.
But there are common threads that weave throughout all the responses — refrains that come back time and time again, repeating over and over and over, ad nauseum: We’re not constantly afraid. We don’t quake in ourboots every time we leave the house. But, we’re always aware of it, and there are lots of little things we do to mitigate it as a matter of habit. And none of us consider it out of the ordinary to do so. That’s what’s so troubling about it: We’re so used to it that it’s “normal.”
And honestly, I don’t think that’s much better than “constant fear.”
Here's a small selection of how many Redditors responded to the initial question. Head on over to r/AskWomen for more.
Speaking From Experience
Some commenters did say that they've felt fear simply just being out and about — and by and large, these commenters were speaking from experience: Something had actually happened to them or someone they knew, recently or in the past, that drove home the fact that the world is frequently unsafe for pretty much everyone who's not a cisgender man, just as a matter of course.
And then there's this:
Here's your reminder that, according to Hollaback! and Cornell University's International Survey on Street Harassment, which was published in 2015, 77 percent of women under 40 in the United States reported having been followed in the previous year by a man or group of men in a way that made them feel unsafe. That's more than three-quarters of the women surveyed.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, 28 transgender people were killed as a result of anti-trans violence in 2017 — the highest rate ever recorded. Stop Street Harassment's National Street Harassment report for 2014 found that black and Latinx people were disproportionately affected by street harassment.
Let Me Give You An Analogy
A lot of commenters replied with analogies: The kind of awareness many said they have is like being "aware of whether or not your wallet is in your pocket."
Or like how most people drive in bad weather.
Or like what you pay attention to while crossing the street. Yes, the activity may technically be inherently dangerous; however, you tend not to think about the danger and just make sure you're careful when engaging in it to minimize your risk.
The thing is, for many women, femmes, and nonbinary people, the "technically dangerous activity" we're talking about may just be "existing in the world" — and that's unacceptable. The care we take to minimize our risk is by staying constantly aware at all times... but we shouldn't have to be thinking about our daily safety in this way. We should be able to go out without having this kind of background thinking going on all the time.
"I Do The Normal Things"
A number of commenters wrote about the routines they've put in place to ensure their own safety.
I mean, I would argue that in a perfect world, it wouldn't be up to us to develop routines that will help us combat other people's choices to harass or assault us; it would be up to potential harassers or assaulters not to harass or assault others in the first place. But yes, these routines can help, both with regards to our safety and for our peace of mind.
This is true; according to RAINN, 45 percent of incidents of sexual violence are committed by an acquaintance, while 25 percent are committed by a current or former partner. It's worth noting, though, that perpetration by a stranger is a hallmark of street harassment — which 85 percent of U.S. women have experienced by the time they turn 18, according to Cornell University and Hollaback!.
A Heightened Sense Of Awareness
A huge number of responses described it not as constant fear, but as a heightened sense of awareness they carry with them at all times.
For some, that sense isn't unusual or overly concerning; it's just the way it is.
For others, though, it's both a blessing and a curse: It's useful, of course, but it can also cause spikes in nervousness or anxiety.
Watch Your Drink
I’d like to zero in on the whole “keep my drink in sight” thing for a moment. This comment from u/aintnosocrates is one of the few that centered entirely around keeping an eye on your drink, but you'll notice that a lot of the comments I've grouped in other sections of this piece also mention the idea. Indeed, it's such a prevalent remark that it prompted the original poster of the thread to make this comment in response:
It’s something we learn to do very early on. It’s information that gets passed down from generation to generation. I remember being taught it by women who were older than me when I got to the point where it was essential information for me to know; then, when I was older, I did the same thing, teaching it to the younger people I knew. And the reason we keep passing down this knowledge is because our safety depends on it.
In 2016, a study of more than 6,000 college students at three universities in the United States found that one in 13 reported having been drugged or suspected that they’d been drugged via spiked drinks. 79 percent of those who reported having been drugged were women.
Keeping an eye on your drink at all times so that someone doesn’t drug you: This is our “normal.”
This should not be our “normal."
"There Are Considerations That You Make"
Things that shouldn't be a problem to do, you maybe don't do.
Things that you know will be a problem to do, you definitely don't do.
This comment nailed it. The same way that a lot of people don't realize how much emotional labor women are expected to do, they don't always, as u/tessie999 puts it, "consider the mental energy it takes to maintain a heightened state of awareness whenever in public and the toll it can take."
Just as u/tessie999 says, it's unfair.
And just as u/tessie999 says, it's especially unfair because it's just expected that we'll do this. That we're responsible for preventing ourselves from being harassed or assaulted. That, if we are harassed or assaulted, the perpetrator won't be held responsible for it; we will.
That's victim blaming.
That's rape culture.
And that is the culture in which we live.