Opinion: Walking Alone At Night Isn’t A Symptom Of Silliness, Thank You
High on my list of dislikes is the word ‘I’ spread liberally over an article, but this one says ‘I’ a lot and I’ll ask you to excuse me for it, because the thoughts are just my own.
I live in the city centre and find myself out and about a few nights a week. Between dinners, pints, questionable dancing and hikes to the 24 shop for the milk for the tea, there’s a 3km triangle of the south city that’s well worn with my footsteps. My Mother likes to admonish me for telling her that I walk home alone – not for doing it, just for telling her. Acquaintances like to say ‘You don’t walk home on your own?’, as if I might be lying to them. Friends make me text updates on my safety after we have parted in the wee hours. Everyone seems to think that I am doing something wrong.
If I walk directly from my front door to Grafton Street or back the way it takes 25 minutes and is well lit and quite busy at any hour for most of the way. I like the walk. I like having a think about whatever event I’ve just been to. I like people-watching along my route home. I like not paying €10 for the pleasure of a 10-minute taxi drive when I could cover the same distance on foot more happily in twice the time. I like not having to make small talk. I like sticking a headphone in (just one) and listening to music on the way home. I like this city and I haven’t been made afraid of it just yet.
You hear the phrase ‘silly girl’ a lot, with reference to girls who don’t or didn’t look out for their own safety. Women are encouraged toward not walking alone at night. To my mind, there is a balance to be struck between looking out for your own safety and having a reasonable expectation that you won’t come to any harm by going about your business in the place where you live. I have never gone home alone while roaring drunk. I bow to the inevitability of a taxi if my phone is dead. I keep one headphone out to listen for the overexcited breathing of a predatory type and I don’t stumble like Bambi down streets that are known to be robbery central. I keep up my end of the bargain – but that’s all my obligation extends to. If I live in one place and I work and socialise elsewhere then there is no onus on me to pay for public transport, acquire a manfriend for protection or wait until first light to scurry home at the speed of a frightened rabbit.
Nowhere is safe 100% of the time and anecdotally, Dublin is less safe lately. I can tell you solemnly that I have no ideas about my ability to self-defend myself – in fact, I think I look eminently robbable – and I would cry terrified tears if I was mugged, assaulted or raped. But fear is no reason not to walk down the street. And ‘stupid girl’ isn’t fitting commentary for people who choose behaviours that work for them – economically, physically, or maybe just because they like the city and a good gander up at the stars while they meander home.
This is not to say that it’s someone’s duty to make the city safer so that we can all walk around, though that much is true. This is just to say that if I disappear some night, you may not call me ‘stupid girl’, because I’m perfectly aware of crime statistics and my own mortality, but I deliver on my duty of care to myself, I choose not to be afraid of the street I live on, and if anything ever happens to me there’s another soul entirely at fault. Let’s not make an equality thing of it – because we all know we don’t say ‘stupid boy’ to men who walk alone on the basis that actually, they may be better able to take on another man in a fight. Let’s just say this – in the same way that wearing a sexy dress doesn’t mark a girl out as asking to be raped, walking down the street doesn’t mark a girl out as looking to be mugged or assaulted. I’m not naive about how awful it would be to be attacked – but on balance, I’m not giving up all of those potential walks where nothing at happened except a pleasant wander home.