Let’s Make the World a Little Less Scary for Women

by | Oct 2, 2020 | For Women | 47 comments

Can Men Understand How Vulnerable Women Feel in Today's Society

Do men realize how much women have to be on their guard?

Keith (Sheila’s husband) here at the blog today for some thoughts for the guys.

I recently heard a comedienne doing a routine where she observed that a man’s greatest fear is that a woman will laugh at him and a woman’s greatest fear is that a man will kill her. So she observed with classic comedic understatement that it seemed to her that men and women enter relationships with slightly different stakes on the table.

That routine as well as some other things in my life have caused me to think a lot recently about how much more dangerous this world can be for a woman than for a man. I think we as men often don’t really realize how much fear women have to live with on a daily basis.

Tragically, anticipating and preparing against violence is a reality of life that women have to deal with and – also tragically – that we as men often fail to appreciate.

I did not always understand this.  I vividly remember Sheila teaching me in university about holding your keys in your pocket with each key between the fingers as a defense technique. A punch from that fist would do a lot more damage, she explained.  At first, I filed that away under “tips for if I ever get in a fight” – in the same part of my brain where I put other techniques – setting your stance, punching through your target not at it, how to hold your fist so you don’t break your fingers, etc. I am a bit embarrassed to admit it, but at the time it was an interesting, but entirely theoretical exercise for me – information that may or may not be useful at some point.

It is interesting how perspectives can change, though.  When Sheila and I were dating, at the end of the night I would drop her off at the apartment where she lived with three other young women, then walk back to my dorm room at university. I was a completely love-struck young man and I typically would walk home on cloud nine, quite oblivious to my surroundings.

That night, as I fiddled with me keys in my pocket I realized this kind of walk home in the dark after an enjoyable date would be a very different experience for Sheila.  She could not afford to daydream as I was doing, she would need to stay vigilant. What I had seen as a theoretical exercise was for Sheila anything but that.

Self-defense for women is not a theoretical exercise, but an overwhelming reality of their daily lives.

As a result, I now always think about how I must seem to women on the street if I am out walking at night.  Whereas before it wouldn’t even cross my mind, now I can’t help but think how threatening I must be to a lone woman. I mean, how could she possibly know I was a sensitive, caring father of two daughters and not a potential assailant? Depending on the circumstance, it might mean giving her a friendly, reassuring smile or “hello”, then clearly indicating that my attention is not focused on her. I might call Sheila on the cell phone and talk about things domestic. I might cross to the other side of the street or even take an entirely different route. I could ignore this as her problem, but I choose not to. I think Jesus would want her to feel peace, so I try to bring peace.

I also think back with shock (and disappointment in myself) about the times that Sheila and I parted after a date and each walked home alone. What was I thinking?!? I like to think of myself as caring and thoughtful of others, so why didn’t I just take the extra time to get her home safely those nights, too? To be honest, I think I had just tended to be oblivious to this whole issue before that point. And I daresay I think I am not alone among men.

Sheila and Keith just after we were married

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For most of us men it is just not on our radar screen the same way it is for a woman because for men – unlike for women – it generally doesn’t have to be.

I learned a bit of what Sheila was going through as a woman that night and I continue to learn. I am on a journey like everybody else, growing and (hopefully) improving as I age.  I must admit, though, that seeing the female perspective on things does not always come naturally for me; I have to train myself to switch perspective.

I have had lots of help with that, though. Having lived with Sheila for almost thirty years and having raised two daughters to adulthood has at times practically forced me to see the world from a woman’s point of view. I had a whole new set of lessons in this area when our daughters left home to go to university. I had never really looked at a neighbourhood through the eyes of ensuring personal safety before.  But thinking about your daughter walking home at night after classes makes you look at a neighbourhood in an entirely different way.  Paternal instinct started kicking in and suddenly I was checking (among other things) how many streetlights there were and how they were placed, something I never would have thought of on my own. Experiences like that have made me more aware of and sensitive to what women go through. I am sure I still have a lot more to learn.

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Part of the reason I was so clueless may have been that I grew up in a house as one of four brothers and no sisters.  It was testosterone 24-7 with no little sister to bring a different perspective or to say “No fair!” if fights turned physical.  My brothers and I were never mean or nasty to each other, but we certainly were not afraid of asserting ourselves against each other verbally or physically.

In contrast, Sheila grew up in a very female-dominated and rather reserved family, so the first time I stormed out of a room and slammed a door after a fight, she was terrified and she told me so.  I can imagine an alternate universe where I blew that off as her trying to control my emotions (and me!) or where I could have told myself that she was being ridiculous.  She had nothing to be afraid of as I had not – nor ever would – actually hurt her!

But I am so glad I learned about this “Female Fear Factor” beforehand so I took what Sheila said seriously. I don’t want my wife to be afraid of me, I want her to feel I am going to be the one to protect her from everybody else! So I worked on keeping my voice even and not storming out of rooms anymore. It took time and some self-discipline for me to change, but I did it because I want my wife to feel safe around me. Interestingly enough, though, it actually helped me out as well. I have found that when you are focused on how you are speaking, you also tend to focus more on what you are speaking (i.e. fewer regrettable words spoken, fewer misunderstandings due to unclear communication).

I would encourage all men to think about these issues despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that we don’t usually do so naturally.  Maybe a good start start would be talking to your wife tonight about it. Does she worry about these things? How does she deal with it? Don’t be oblivious to these issues the way I used to be. Instead, do your best to understand what she goes through and let that influence how you treat her.

How can guys better understand how women feel? If you’re a guy, have you ever had this conversation with your wife? Let’s talk in the comments!

Written by

Keith Gregoire


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Keith Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Keith has been married to Sheila for over 30 years! They met while he was in pre-med at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. He has served as Chief of Pediatrics in the Quinte Region, and has been the chair of undergraduate pediatric medical education at Queen's University, and participated in the Royal College examination board for new pediatricians. He is the co-author with Sheila of The Good Guy's Guide to Great Sex, and a new marriage book they're working on. An avid birder, he loves traveling with Sheila all over North America in their RV.

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  1. Kay

    My husband sometimes puts his hand on the front of my neck when we are kissing; it isn’t a choke hold but to pull me closer. I 99.99% enjoy it. But for a split second, every single time he does it I become acutely aware that all he would have to do to kill me is tighten his grip. My husband is a sweet and gentle lover, but it doesn’t change his he fact that he technically has the strength to kill me with one hand.
    I imagine thoughts like these never even occur to most men. We are always aware of our vulnerability. Always.
    I am grateful my husband has never made his strength intimidating to me but safe.

  2. Doug

    First of all, Keith, Thanks for taking this subject on and sharing some of your experiences. Maybe it will lead to some individual changes and help some of us soften our rough edges a little bit.
    Tho I don’t have any experience in what it is like to be a woman where every man is a potential threat, some of my time in the military has taught me to always scan my surroundings for threats. I have found myself in alone in some very threatening environments on occasion. One that comes to mind had nothing to do with active hostilities As a young man, I spent a bit of time in Honduras during the Reagan years. We were very popular with about half the locals, and hated by the other half. It was not uncommon at the time for a bomb to be planted in an establishment frequented by GI’s, or for lone soldiers to be stabbed in an alley. On more than one occasion, after drinking too much, I found myself walking alone in the dark in that environment, so I truly do understand that fear of unknown threats lurking in plain sight, and the hyper vigilance that evolves from being in those situations. The threats are different and I suppose that upon leaving that environment, I could have switched off that mindset, but I seldom do. The difference I suppose, is that I would seldom be mistaken for a victim in normal circumstances, where I woman always has that in the back of her mind.
    Truth be told, my response to those experiences probably makes me appear more threatening to women than most men would. The women in my life appreciate that when they are with me, my demeanor alone is a pretty big deterrent to trouble, but I never considered how it might appear to a woman who encountered me alone. I would hope they might see me as a potential protector, but I suppose I could be seen in the opposite light.
    I recall one instance in particular where I saw a woman walking on the shoulder of a narrow road with a toddler, and I was concerned. I stopped and offered them a ride to safety, and she declined. I suppose I looked like the same sort of threat to her, that I was trying to protect her from.
    I have often been told I am intimidating, but at the same time, I try not to look frightening. Not sure exactly where the line is, but I suppose I should try to get closer to it.

    • Maria

      My husband is not military (thank you for your service, btw!) but he has a very similar demeanor, people often assume he served! Just very confident, without being arrogant or cocky, and he’s also very physically fit. We met in high school, and I remember a lot of girls being drawn to him because he had that protective air about him that generally makes you feel safer. I had one friend however that said she could never date a guy like him because he was clearly so much stronger than her and she’d be physically afraid of him (she had been assaulted before by other guys, sadly), and was shocked that I was intimidated by him. Individual experience obviously shapes our view of men. I’m a lucky one that’s never been abused or harmed in any way so I’m prone to be a lot more trusting up front than those who have been hurt. I imagine men can’t do much about that other than like Keith said, offering a polite smile and maybe getting on the phone or stepping across the street when it seems appropriate. Or even keeping safe watch from a distance if you’re concerned for a ladies safety. We left a restaurant once and were about to pull out of the parking lot when he noticed that a younger woman was walking in the dark to her car and there some guys standing around nearby where she was parked so he he waited until she was in her car and pulling out of her spot before he left to make sure she’d be ok. 💕

      • Doug Hoyle

        I tend to be aware of women alone in those sort of circumstances. I have a really wonderful counselor, and when we were meeting, it was often after normal business hours. She really did go above and beyond the call of duty for me. On a few occasions, we were the last to leave the building, sometimes after dark. I usually left a few minutes before she did, so I asked her if it would be ok if I stayed in the parking lot until I was sure she was safely in her car. At first she was reluctant, but as time went on and she started to know me, she would ask me to do so. The first couple of times, I turned the opposite way from the shortest route home, so that she could see I wasn’t following her. She knew roughly where I lived, and asked me one session why I always went the wrong way. I told her that it was for her peace of mind. I think that surprised her.
        Haven’t seen her since all this Covid mess, but I guess she helped me past the worst of my issues. Only a few really rough days in that time.
        Sarah mentioned down below that only 2% of men would intervene in an actual assault. I know it is that way in some areas, but I would hope the number would be much higher.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Doug, that is so sweet! I’m so glad that there are guys like you out there. And I’m glad you’re doing okay during COVID even without her.

  3. Melissa

    I tried to explain this concept to a man on the internet once. He ended up telling me to “go home and feed your cats and take your meds sweetie”. *giant eyeroll*
    Thank you for addressing this from a man’s point of view. Women are not psychic, we don’t know if a strange man out in public is a threat or not. So you may be a good guy with pure intentions, but we don’t know you. And we are just trying to navigate the world and get home safely.

  4. Andrea

    That was Margaret Atwood’s famous line (a Canadian author!) that the comedienne was quoting. The various online dating platforms that are out there are conducting their own research in this area and one survey by OKCupid found that women’s biggest fear was that they’ll end up on a date with a rapist, whereas men’s biggest fear was that they’ll end up on a date with a woman who misrepresented herself in her photos. So just consider that contrast – a woman’s worst fear is rape, but a man’s is having to spend a little time with a woman he finds unattractive.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Was it Atwood? Interesting! (I must admit that I was forced to read FAR too many of her novels in high school, and I didn’t like them, and it turned me off of her. Perhaps if I read them again now I’d like them more. I think the Canadian school system makes us read them far too young).

      • unmowngrass

        This is a bit off topic, but. I had to read/study Pride and Prejudice in high school, and I wasn’t quite ready to appreciate it. So it was a chore to read it again as an adult, but I had been so impressed with her other novels which I found in my 20s, especially Sense and Sensibility, so I gave it another try. It wasn’t as bad as I’d thought, and after several rereadings over the years I can now appreciate it with even more depth than I can the others. So as an exercise it may be worth doing and persevering with, if the books are worthy.
        (Never reread Lord of the Flies, though. Started that one in the bathtub, should have drowned it then and there! So it’s not a ubiquitous rule.)

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Did you know there was a real life Lord of the Flies incident around that time? A group of boys from Indonesia maybe (?) got caught in a storm and ended up on an island where they stayed for quite a while before they were rescued. And they got along beautifully! They built buildings, including a weightlifting gym. They did all kinds of things together, and it was nothing like Lord of the Flies.

          • unmowngrass

            Ahh, no I didn’t know about that. Good for them.

  5. Sarah O

    Thanks for this post, Keith.
    For making women feel safe in public, I would say training yourself to notice and address threats is every bit as important, if not more so, than noticing vulnerable women and trying not to be threatening yourself.
    Notice poorly lit sidewalks and maybe work with neighbors or city council to add lights. Notice where cameras are missing from public transport and get them up. Notice which stores and services (laundromats, libraries, etc) are essential to vulnerable people in your community and think about how to make them safe.
    And a million bonus points if you notice an actual person with lewd or predatory behavior and call them on it with your eyes, your body language, or even your words. (Leering, catcalling, groping, following, etc.)
    The fears and very real threats are hugely intensified by the statistical lack of consequences for mistreating women in public. If someone shouts a vulgar comment at me, probably nobody will do anything about it. If someone touches me or gropes me, probably nobody will do anything about it. If someone outright assaults me, there’s a 2% chance anyone will do anything about it. Both women and predatory men know that.
    It doesn’t take a fist fight. You don’t need to buy spandex. We just need a culture that says, “We are watching, and we don’t tolerate this behavior.” If men are so scared of being laughed at, can we start embarrassing them for bad behavior?

    • Chris

      “It doesn’t take a fist fight. “. Sadly Sarah, as men we often don’t get to have a say in that. Sometimes fist fights are forced on you. Something similar happened to one of my brothers friends. He intervened when a homeless man (he thought the guy was homeless) groped a woman in line at a restaurant. My brothers friend did not know the woman or the homeless guy. But he told the guy to knock it off and leave. When women call out men on this behavior, most of these aggressive men will laugh at them. When a man does it, its a challenge, and now it gets violent. Anyways, thats what happened. Homeless guy attacks my brothers friend, brothers friend takes him down, cops are called, and now things get real serious as an arrest can ruin your career. Fortunately, there were a lot of witnesses in this case so no one suffered criminally. Sarah, what do you mean by “not buying Spandex”?

      • unmowngrass

        I took the ‘buying spandex’ comment as, ‘you don’t need to be a superhero’. Like, you don’t have to “save” all the women all by yourself (because, in extreme, that is a different type of predatory behaviour).
        Just in case she doesn’t see your comment 🙂

        • Chris

          Unmowngrass, i guess you are right. But I have never associated spandex with being a hero. That connection is a bit of a stretch. Ha! Pun!

          • unmowngrass

            Badum tsh!

  6. Krista

    This post is so timely as I found out this morning that, just a couple days ago in my city, a woman my age was sexually assaulted by a stranger near a bike path at 6:30 in the afternoon. We have to be on our guard even in the daylight! And I admit, that I have a hard time walking around even my quiet neighbourhood by myself.

  7. Phil

    My wife and I have had these conversations. My wife is vanilla. She comes from a vanilla family and a vanilla life and in many regards is naive. While she is completely aware of the necessary ways to carry herself such as the key trick when running and other safety precautions she pretty much avoids any type of situation such as the dark alley or low lighting etc. I suppose today she can afford that luxury. That being said I see my role as more the protector – which is part of her needs. I can recall having to remind my wife in Situations such as walking through New York City or similar type atmosphere how to carry her purse across her chest or inform her of the drug deal going down that she just totally missed as we walked by. I am often the one guiding my wife in public places on safety tips that are best for her and in some cases our family. I have come to believe that my instincts come More from my experiences more so than just because I am male. Here is the thing. Sheila mentioned not too long ago with regard to racial inequality and the color of her skin that this is not something she has had to deal with in her life. Me being white I would concur that this is not something that has effected me directly as well. I do need this pointed out to me as a reminder. The same goes for this topic as well. Its kind of sad that we have to think that way but especially in todays world women must be vigilant. About 3 weeks ago we determined that our house was the target of an attempted break in and there was potential for it being a big hit as the evidence mounted. We have never been big on security other than your standard bolt locks for the house. Those locks saved our house and my sons instincts saved our future. I have been on a quest the last 3 weeks like a good soldier to secure my house and keep my family safe. Fear is a driving factor. Even given the circumstances my wife wanted to maybe not want to deal with the facts that yes we do need a security system and yes we do need to take necessary steps to thwart potential threats.

  8. Benzyme

    Still new to the blog and I want to get into the habit of participating but I don’t have a lot to say on this topic.
    I guess I have a pondering on how much a country’s culture can influence how vigilant a woman needs to be.
    I am from Australia and I would say buy and large where my wife and I live the majority of our suburbs (bar some lower socio-economic ones on the outer-fringers) and the majority of the city are really safe places for women to be and operate by themselves unless you’re hitting an obviously seedy nightlife.
    But I guess from overseas and being bigger population sizes, the culture in the US and maybe Canada can be very different? I guess also with the increased likelihood that guns or gangs may be involved (although that’s less likely in Canada correct?).
    I am still trying to form a proper question here but in countries and areas where safety is statistically higher, should women be better encouraged to live without the increased anxiety of always being in danger and that should be relative to where they live or should we always live in the worst case fear of assuming the worst about a fallen world?
    Also this may be unrelated but I feel challenged by Christian martyrs who overcame way worse things than fear. When I am scared of a dodgy town (or more likely in Australia a dodgy outhouse filled with spiders) I always pray with God about it and that helps me make wise choices but it also means my heart isn’t choking me in my chest. I agree men should go out of their way to make women safe but if there is an innate fear factor level in women, is there part of it where some fears are needed to be submitted to Christ? Because I find as a Christian, living and performing actions out of fear in general, even with good intentions can be a clumsy thing.

    • Kya

      That’s an interesting point, about this being less of an issue in other countries. I come from the Midwestern USA, from one of the least populated states. In college I studied abroad for a semester in Berlin, which is a MASSIVE city compared to where I’m from. And Berlin has amazing nightlife, so I was out at all hours in the heart of the city, often with others but occasionally alone. And oddly, I always felt completely safe. Everything was well-lit, and all of the men I interacted with were respectful, regardless of how much they had been drinking. I can’t remember ever feeling at risk. Now that I’m back in the Midwest, in a measly 70K-person town, I can’t say the same thing. I don’t feel safe outside at night in my own neighborhood sometimes. Often I can’t put my finger on why–it just feels scary here. And we don’t have the crazy gang problems of bigger cities or anything like that, but I feel like if I met a man in dowtown at night here, I really don’t know if he would be a threat to me or not. The whole feeling is just different somehow.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        I felt MUCH safer growing up in downtown Toronto than I did when I moved to my small town! Just always people around, and well-lit areas.

        • Cynthia

          Same here! I lived around the same area (Bay/Gerrard) 1996-2002, and I walked around all the time. Living so close to several major hospitals, there were always people around 24/7. I did, however, try to dress down and avoided some spots known for drugs.
          I will also point out that often the danger doesn’t come from the total stranger jumping out of a dark alley. It comes from someone who you know.

        • Cynthia

          I will say that the huge parking lots at my university (York) at the edge of the city were a lot scarier than walking in the city. We knew that assaults happened there, and I would call for a security walk to my car for evening classes.

  9. Bre

    This is ironic, because I was just thinking about this last night! I walk alone a lot at night (like 5 nights a week) because I WANT to, especially now that it’s fall, cool, and the sky is pretty. It started this summer; I now routinely run down to the gas station three blocks away at all insane hours of the early morning for snacks and I walk to work at 9-10pm. I’m a college student and live in a college town, so things are pretty well lit, and I don’t normally go anywhere that isn’t lit or near traffic or security cams and everything is pretty darn quiet now. It’s not like I’m an idiot; I hold my keys or phone, turn on my phone tracker, and keep my head on a swivel, but I just enjoy it. I was just thinking last night about how nice it would be not to have to have that ‘something could happen, and then you could be blamed for not being a ‘good girl’ or ‘being safe and smart’ in the back of my head. That’s another part of it, I think; people tend to blame women/girls who want to/have to walk at night if anything happens, but is it really that much to ask to be able to just enjoy the fall night or go to work without being scared out of your mind or having your character and intelligence questioned? We talked about this in my sociology class two years ago, and my Nepalese professor expressed exasperation at the fact that girls carrying pink pepper spray cans is considered normal- “if it’s that big of a problem, then deal with it and don’t just put a band-aid on it. I don’t understand why people are just accepting this.” I’m totally for being safe, even though I freak my family and friends out with how I exercise my independence; I was literally just informed by my exasperated mother that she accepts my choices, but I’m getting pepper spray for Thanksgiving so she’ll feel better. It’s frustrating that men don’t really seem to get it and this is where I’m at the point of “for the love of God, if this is an issue, deal with the problem and get people to stop being monsters!” I see men jogging and stuff late at night all the time from my window and I honestly feel jealous that they don’t have to worry about their safety or need to justify just wanting to go out at night.

    • Doug

      Bre, I actually think you have a pretty healthy outlook. Being conscious of a possibility, and taking precautions is not the same thing as being afraid. For those who live in fear, I would just say that it isn’t rational. We can’t always control our fears, but I think it is something we should work on.
      Sheila makes a good point, maybe without even realizing it, when she talks about how vulnerable women FEEL. That feeling does not mean that it is real. It certainly could be, and it is always good to do those things that keep us safe, but that fear is largely irrational. It would be like saying that I am afraid every time I get in my truck and travel down a two lane country road. Every time a vehicle passes in the opposite lane, I am literally 3 to 4 feet from death. If I let that possibility make me fearful, I couldn’t function. Instead, I try to be alert, and drive my vehicle in a manner so that I minimize the risk.
      I have lost one brother, and few friends and acquaintances in horrific construction accidents. One was literally ripped apart. If Iet the worst possibilities make me fearful, I couldn’t do my job. Instead, I take all appropriate safety measures to keep myself and my workers safe, and I drive that home to them. I am not fearful, but I am always cautious and look for whatever hazards might present themselves, and address them. Even then, I recognize that the actions of someone else could end me.
      The one thing I am truly fearful of, maybe a result of a lifetime of losses, is being left alone. When my wife is traveling, or out of touch for just a short while, that is when my fears kick in loudest, and all the worst case possibilities start competing for space in my imagination. About the only way to make them go away completely would be to lock her in a room when I can’t be there to protect her, and somehow, I don’t think she will go along with that.
      Yep. I can be pretty irrational with my fears too.

  10. Chris

    My dad taught us that even the sight of a unknown man (especially at night on the street) can scare a woman or girl. He also taught us that we had a responsibility to try to make women feel safe. Combine these two things and you get the philosophy of “self erasure”. In short, we were taught to be invisible. We were taught to cross the street if you found your self on the same side walk as a lone woman, regardless if you were walking towards each other or in the same direction. (I am not sure how i survived my teenage years as i had to keep darting out into the street every time a woman/girl came around a corner and was now on the same sidewalk i was on. In a way i think it taught us that our actual physical safety was less important that a womans perception of her safety. I am not complaining about that, we are men after all, its part of our job to be expendable at times.
    Just recently I had my own experience with all this with a homeless guy. I went into a mini mart type store and i was in the socially distancing line. Two teenage girls were in there looking at stuff completely oblivious to their surroundings. Homeless guy comes in, starts leering at them and starts getting belligerent with the store keeper. Girls are still oblivious. I told them to get behind me. (I was really nervous this thing was going to get ugly and wanted them safe behind me). They looked at me like i was nuts. I told them again and they finally saw what was going on and got safely behind me. Men do stuff like this all the time. And sometimes, we get looked at like we are nuts.

    • Andrea

      Chris, you have articulated the experience of black men very well — they frequently have to practice “self-erasure” to make white people around them feel safe. If you are a white man, though, just consider how much worse it is for black men. I don’t know one personally who hasn’t had a cop called on him by a white woman just for walking down the street. This doesn’t happen to white men (unless they’re homeless or look tattered enough to be assumed homeless).

      • Chris

        Andrea, I don’t see how my race is relevant to this discussion at all. I understand the point you are trying to make, its just off topic.

  11. Lisa

    I remember when we moved to our new house a few years ago and I was going for an early morning run. My husband suggested a scenic path nearby and I firmly turned him down – it would be deserted in the early morning. He asked why, as the trail is wide and flat and should be easy to run on even in dim morning light. I responded I wouldn’t be able to see who was out there. Hubby said no one was going to mug me. I stared at him and said slowly, “If they only wanted to mug me, I’d thank my lucky stars.” He stared back at me not comprehending for almost a minute. As what I wasn’t saying dawned on him, he asked if that was really something I was worried about. I told him, “EVERY time I leave the house.” He had NO idea. So I asked him, when he was a teenager going out with friends for the first time, did his parents sit him down and talk to him about not getting so caught up in conversation that he ceased being aware of his surroundings? Parking in a well lit area? Not going to the bathroom alone? Throwing out your drink and getting a new one if you so much as turned your back to it? How to stay out of arm’s reach of men on the street and carry keys between fingers? Then I told him I have to be right 100% of the time, an assailant only needs to be right once.
    I have had this conversation with men before who have told me teaching like this is what makes women paranoid. My husband knows I was raped – for me it’s not hypothetical or paranoia. It’s reality. In our culture, it’s up to me to prevent my own rape – no one is telling men not to be rapists. I believe firmly this is because most men would never even have the thought of raping a woman and can’t fathom it needs to be said – but it does.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly, Lisa! (And I am so, so sorry for your past trauma. So sorry. That’s just heartbreaking).
      I remember when I was 18 debating with a guy about hitchhiking. He and his brother (they were both football players) used to hitchhike all the time. He said it was a lot cheaper than taking the train between cities, and couldn’t understand why I was always shelling out money for the train. He was one of a bunch of brothers–no sisters. I told him he had no idea how the real world worked. (He was a great guy though, and he now has all daughters!)

  12. E

    I always recommend the books Left of Bang and the Gift of Fear when talking about safety and being aware of your surroundings. I think that everyone, whether male or female, should read them!
    Also, studying human body language – things like the angle of your body, where your eyes are looking, how you are holding your hands, etc etc are all good ways to signal to women that you mean no harm (even if she only realised it subconsciously). Working with animals is an amazing way to learn how a slight shift in your posture can turn a horse from vigilant and on edge, to relaxed. Humans are the same, even if we tend to stuff those intuitive instincts down through social constructs (like being polite and nice), they still give us those ‘weird’ feelings.
    And guys, trust is earned over time, don’t get all down if a woman isn’t comfortable with you YET. If you are a decent guy, she will get there over time! Prove yourself worthy!
    And remember that if a woman seems uncomfortable, don’t take it personally, she might have something in her history that is triggering her nervousness.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, my son-in-law Connor had a routine he’d do whenever he was walking near a woman in the dark. He’d make eye contact, smile, and look away and then get on his phone. And if he was wearing a hoodie, he’d take it down so that she could see him. You look far less threatening when you’re totally visible and when you’re clearly trying to say to the woman, “I see that you are there, and now I’m going to go on with my life.”

  13. Boone

    I represent abused women on a regular basis. It’s more common than you think.
    When my wife moved up here her dad bought her a 5 shot Smith & Wesson .38 and taught her to hit a man sized target at 20 ft. After we married I taught her to shoot on the move, from the ground and with her weak hand. She then graduated to a .45 Colt Compact and learned the same skills with it. I got her into karate class with me and now she’s a second degree black belt.
    I got my daughter into Karate at age 6. She’s 28 now and a 5th degree black belt in Wado Ryu Karate and holds black belts in Traditional Japanese Ju Jitsu and Krav Maga. She helps the sheriff’s dept teach rape awareness programs.
    Her senior year of college her assigned parking was behind the football field. She had to walk between the stadium and the baseball stands to get to class. Several football players hung out back there and wold catcall the girls walking by. It got so bad that some of them even put their hands on them. This happened to my daughter. She dropped her pack, grabbed him by both shoulders a drove her knee into the side of his leg three times. Keith can explain about the nerve that lies about half way between your hip and your knee on the outside of your leg. The old boy dropped like a rock. She ran and immediately called me. I told her to call the police now and prosecute him for assault before the coach could do anything. The school tried to suspend her but other women started coming forward saying that the same thing happened to them. Several had reported it with no results. I started screaming class action lawsuit and they backed down.
    The coach called me to try to intimidate us and told me that he was going to take legal action against my daughter because the guy couldn’t walk for three days, I told him that I was so disappointed in my daughter. I had taught her to destroy her attackers knee and at least break one rib when she used knee strikes. I promised him we’d work on that for next time.

  14. unmowngrass

    *standing ovation*
    *and another one*
    Brava, Keith!!
    So grateful to know that there is at least one man out there who really ~gets~ it!
    The only thing I’d add is that there is a connection to women needing to be vulnerable to have sex. Like, walking the earth every minute of every day knowing that we could be raped, by anyone from a passerby to the cashier to a colleague to a professor to a pastor to a family member; that this quadruples any time we go on a date, and multiplies exponentially if we do things like let the guy see where we live* or invite him in for a cup of tea for half an hour to round off the night, or dare to wear something other than granny panties to make us feel a bit more fun and flirtatious even though we had no intention of letting you see them on the first date anyway… Well, the last is more about being believed should the worst happen rather than to reduce it happening in the first place, but you get the picture. Walking the Earth every minute of every day knowing that being raped is a possibility… it can lead to being afraid of sex full stop.
    Which can then lead to pain and then other problems. So to anyone reading, it’s worth bearing in mind that she will (likely) not be starting from the same baseline to even want sex in a general abstract way, just because of her experience living in a different body within the world, and you need to understand that.
    So don’t put any kind of impatience/selfishness in her way either because that will only make it worse. (If she has a day where she’s just not feeling it, which is probably going to happen sometimes, but you don’t give her a day back where you’re deliberately foregoing an orgasm for yourself but want her to have one, or if they’re not roughly equal without going tit for tat — yeah, you are being a selfish lover. But I’m getting off topic.)

    * If you are on a date, and you are walking/driving your lady home, please watch out for the following phrases:
    “Anywhere here will do”
    “It’s only just around the corner”
    “If you want to let me out here, it’ll be easy for you to get back to the main road”
    “My street is pretty narrow, you might not be able to find a place to pull up.”
    “Also, it’s a cul de sac, turning round is going to be a nightmare”
    “Getting into and out of my street is going to take ten minutes by itself”
    “And it’s already late”
    “I don’t want you to be too tired for tomorrow morning”
    “Or too tired to be able to get home safely tonight”
    then please recognise these for what they are — statements of increasing panic about the final drop off. We don’t want to have to fight off your unwanted advances on the doorstep. But we also (mainly) don’t want to show you our house/address in case you’re a stalker. Now yes, the road is narrow and difficult to get in and out of, so out of politeness I would usually say so to any friend who is driving me for the first time, but not seven+ times like I did here, like I would for a first few dates until I felt comfortable to let you in. Also on a first date I don’t think I would even get in your car in case you took me somewhere else instead of home. (Taxis aren’t much better but they do often have cctv these days.) So please take the hint. Don’t be so keen to take me home to protect me from other weirdos that I start marking your card for a weirdo too.

      • Doug

        I actually read that last part and wondered why not take the direct approach, and say what you mean. Any man worth pursuing a relationship with would understand, and if they didn’t then they orobably are not the sort you want to continue dating. I have some other thoughts regarding that line. If you are really and truly afraid or even uncomfortable, do not play word games. Have the man let you out in a well lit location more than just a few blocks from your home, and call someone you trust. It isn’t hard to follow in the dark without being seen. I have to confess that I would probably be tempted to do so just to make sure you got home safely, and you would never know. It wouldnt be any harder for someone with ill intent to do so.
        I imagine that would ruffle some feathers if I got caught, but I would prefer that to you being hurt.

        • Chris

          Doug, i agree. Being direct is much better.

    • Chris

      I think Sheila should do a whole post on these types of “hints” of which you speak. Sometimes it seems like as men and women, we are speaking totally different languages and need an interpreter.

    • Boone

      Unmowngrass, Now, I’ve out of the dating world for a little over thirty years now. I was raised to understand that I was responsible for my date’s (or any other woman that happened to be with me) safety from the time that I picked her up until I took her home. It was a responsibility that I accepted gladly and without reservation. If my date had started with any of the Instructions that you mentioned to be let out before I got her home my first thought would be that she’s cheating on somebody. There’s either a husband or a live in boyfriend at home that she doesn’t want me to run into. If she’s honest and tells me that she just doesn’t know me well enough to let me find out where she lives I would try to reassure her that my intentions were honourable and then let her out if she insisted. I may or may not call her again depending on the vibe that I get.
      I have taught several ladies to fight and to shoot as referenced in my other post on this topic. I would make the same offer to you under the described circumstances.

      • KM

        As a woman who has been on the dating market within the last 5 years, I can assure you that the hints happen because we don’t want to deal with a man-tantrum. Some men simply won’t believe us when we say we don’t feel safe. That in and of itself can feel very unsafe.
        I prefer to start with hints or excuses until I have assessed a man’s character to the point that I know if I am direct, he won’t be pushy, angry, or aggressive.
        I didn’t let my boyfriend know where I lived for months. He was kind, patient, and understanding. He waited for me to feel comfortable. When I told him directly why, he respected my reasons and didn’t try to talk me out of my perspective.
        I wish more men were like him.

  15. Lisa

    Thank you for this very thoughtful post. It isn’t easy to explore areas where we have been oblivious to the needs of others. Women need to do this, too, out of concern for men in the world. Thank you for writing about this from a man’s perspective.
    When catcalling is being discussed, it’s inevitable that men will say, “I don’t understand, I’d love to walk down the street and have women whistle at me and make a few off-color comments!” To which I reply, “It doesn’t bother me either when other women whistle at me. It bothers me when MEN whistle at me. Imagine yourself, as a man, walking down a desolate street alone, You’re alone, it’s night, and a group of large, muscular men start whistling at you, talking loudly about how they’d like a piece of you. Are you loving it? Or are you hoping you can get out of there before they start following you and actually trying to get a piece of you?”
    Perspective means a lot.

  16. Anon

    Reading these comments, I think some of the men here are maybe misunderstanding the whole ‘scary world’ idea. It doesn’t mean that as women, we are wandering round in a constant state of terror. What it means is that we are very aware that we are vulnerable to attack, and so taking steps to keep ourselves safe becomes second nature.
    I never park anywhere without making sure it’s a safe location, and if I’m going to be returning to the car at night, that it is under or near a streetlight. I never unlock my car door without first doing a quick scan of the area, to make sure no one is lurking nearby. When walking anywhere, I automatically pick the busiest route, and keep constantly alert. This doesn’t mean that I’m living in a constant state of terror – it’s just an automatic part of daily life – a bit like driving, where you don’t consciously think about all the individual steps like gear changes, steering, checking mirrors – you just drive!
    As to the comments that fear is largely irrational – I’ve twice been hit/knocked down, three times had to run away from drunk men who have been chasing me and shouting about having sex with me, been groped half a dozen times by men in crowded shops/streets, and followed/pestered for my phone number/my address/a date more times than I can remember – all by total strangers. I’ve been fortunate. Some of my friends have had much worse. So no, I don’t think my concerns about my safety are ‘irrational’.
    We have a culture where many people blame female assault victims for being assaulted. “She shouldn’t have been on that path/walking alone/dressed like that/out so late”. As long as we have this kind of culture, assaults on women will continue to be common – and sensible women will continue to take what precautions they can against becoming the next statistic. I for one am very grateful for every man who, like Keith, is aware of the daily risks women face and does his best to reduce those risks for us. Thank you!

    • Meghan

      There’s an interesting quote on the topic of how we frame and discuss violence against women that I think fits well with your last paragraph: “We talk about how many women were raped last year, not about how many MEN raped women…We talk about how many girls in a school district were harassed last year, not about how many BOYS harassed girls…We talk about how many teenage girls got pregnant in the state of VA last year, rather than how many men and teenage boys got girls pregnant…So you can see how the use of this passive voice has a political affect. It shifts the focus (and blame) off men and boys, and onto girls and women.” – Jackson Katz, Violence Against Women: It’s a Men’s Issue TED Talk

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        So interesting, Meghan! I think the other thing that does is it makes all of these things into “women’s issues” that therefore men can dismiss or not care about. When really they’re men’s issues, too.


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