Type ‘is it safe for a girl to…’ into Google search and the top four suggestions are ‘walk alone at night’, ‘travel alone’, ‘be an Uber driver’ and ‘live alone.’ Type ‘is it safe for a guy to…’ and, to put it politely, all the suggestions are about sex. Replace ‘guy’ with ‘boy’ and there are no direct suggestions – the only one is ‘when is it safe for a boy to start lifting weights’. While this last question is clearly a problem of mass international concern, the experiment itself shows something interesting, and something that everyone pretty much knows; women, especially girls, are afraid. Afraid of walking by themselves, especially at night. Afraid of going anywhere alone, at any time. Afraid, even, of living completely independently. This is a problem.
Ever since I was tiny, I’ve wanted to explore. In primary school, I explored the edges of the Great Forbidden Front Paddock, climbed trees and stayed up there all day. In grade seven, I decided I wanted to be a marine biologist so I could go to Antarctica. Sound logic, I know. In Grade Nine, I decided my friends and I were going to the Pilbara for schoolies. Also in Grade Nine, my friends told me ‘no’, very firmly. Now, in Grade Ten, I’m heading to Arnhem Land in the September holidays. I also horrified my parents by asking if I could go to Splendour with my friends. It didn’t have to be Splendour, though. The Birdsville Big Red Bash would do just as well. My parents were very firm. I would not be going to any such functions, most especially not music festivals. Music festivals were not safe places for a young woman to go.
We live in a big scary world, but the sad fact is that it’s bigger and scarier for women – especially young women.
The Human Rights Commission into Sexual Assault on Campus came out last Tuesday, affirming that the answer to “is it safe for a girl to live alone,” is no, and it’s even more dangerous to live in a residential college at uni. It’s sad. It’s sad and it’s scary and it’s not right. But what can we do? What can girls, women and the vast majority of guys who aren’t doing these sorts of things actually do?
Be-My-Travel-Muse suggests (joking, of course) that women travelling alone should walk like a man. In fact, there are dozens of ‘travel safely as a woman’ websites out there, which is helpful, I guess, but also sad. The truth is, if you want to go anywhere as a female, you need to be prepared for the worst. To ‘dress conservatively’ and walk like a man. To carry banknotes in a spare tampon applicator (onya, Sonja-from-Breadcrumbs).
When do ‘deal with it’ and ‘chin up, love’ become redundant? When is it time to reach out, even if there’s nothing in it for you?
It’s up to us to shout love, to spread hope and comfort. It’s up to us to reach out. It’s up to us to prove them wrong.
It’s also up to us to find practical applications for these nice sentiments.
Because I sincerely believe that one day, a girl will be able to walk down a street dressed in whatever the heck she wants and not be scared.
Of course we should look out for ourselves, but I’m dreaming of a day where girls don’t have to be scared just because they’re girls.
And I reckon that one day, I can go to Antarctica and walk like a girl getting there.