Why are we most aware of our womanhood when we are afraid?

All women are taught fear – we’re raised on it

In recent weeks, my university life has been flooded with horror stories. Weekly I walk roads where I’ve heard a girl my age was attacked. I think of her with sympathy and I think with gratitude that it wasn’t me. But mostly I’m afraid, all too aware of the proximity and reality of crimes I’m programmed to fear from infancy, so much so that they almost fade to fairy-tale; until it happens in the street down from your cosy little Endcliffe flat.

On a walk home from Spoons, in the dark, last week the girls I live with and I talked about the subject as we fast walked through well-lit streets, phones in hand, staying close. It was then that it hit me how much of a shared experience fear is within femininity. All of us had a story to tell of roaming hands forcing us out, but anxiety of possibility kept us in. It’s the dilemma, the threefold issue of being a girl, a young woman, on a night out.

Back home, this is when your mum would be giving you the speech, the weekly reminder to “not put your drink down, don’t go anywhere alone, look out for each other, be aware.” I once even got the speech off a female taxi driver; it’s innate, unrehearsed yet always performed.  For us girls, we must be reminded of the rules. Whereas my male companions normally receive only a “look after yourself, have fun”.

You arrive, and you fall into duality. We will never relax. Regardless of how many Cheeky Vimtos I’ve downed in Leadmill, my drunk state could never persuade me to take my eyes off that bartender, or put that glass down. A portion of my brain always remains sober when it comes to it, it’s the portion with the voice of my mother, the knowledge of periods and the true girl code; ‘how to try to not be raped’. And I can hear these thoughts echo around the women in the room.

A common scenario: Someone comes too close, a hand you don’t know touches your arm, your hip, your ass. You give your friend the look, and go to the toilets, the safe haven of fluorescent lights. You decide to leave.

Your options are then either take a taxi home alone, walk back with a group of friends, or stay.

That’s the dilemma. Three big question marks, choose your door.

So you might take the taxi home alone. I’m a fresher, would I realise if we went the wrong way? How could I stop them? Do I sit in the front or the back, does it look like I don’t trust them if I sit in the back? But if I sit in the front, I’m easier to get to. It’ll be fine, I’ll text my friends when I’m home, but what was the number plate again? Please don’t talk to me.

Maybe you’ll walk home in a group of people instead. It’ll be fine, there’s guys with us, it’s practically day light, it’s Broomhill. Everyone’s walking back this way, it’ll be fine – I’ll just tell my mum we got a taxi and oh god of course I’d never do this on my own.

Sometimes that’s not feasible though, so you stay. Can we change rooms, that guys freaking me out? Back on back, arm graze, breath on my neck, no air, I want to leave, why do people get so close? Who even wears a leather jacket to a club? Can we change rooms? Why does this always happen to me? Do I look easy? Is it how I dance, how I dress? Is it my fault? No.

The dilemma of being a girl at night is “it’ll be fine, it’ll be fine, as long as my phones got charge, I’ve got my keys and I’m never alone.”

However, a friend reminded me of a point so often brushed under the carpet. Men are scared tooIt would be wrong to assume that males are completely void of anxiety at night and have internalised no level of fear. But the argument that those levels of fear are similar, or at all comparable in indoctrination or ideal, is unfathomable. As articulated by my friend, men fear violence, the worry of a fight or an altercation that in 90 per cent of cases could’ve been avoided. Whereas girls, we not only fear violence (physical and sexual), but deceit, manipulation.

We learn gradually that our attackers, most likely, will not jump out of the trees but will walk us home holding our hand, drape their arm over our shoulder in a CityTaxi. The spectrum of threat is so broadened it all blurs to an ingrained constant state of subtle vigilance. I like you, you seem kind, I like how you dance but I’ll follow you to the bar, never leave you with my drink.

I know not all men are rapists, women are not walking target boards, and the world is less scary than we imagine in our privileged lives. Yet all women are taught fear, we’re raised on it. The sisterhood of scared girls coming home at night, we make shallow conversation in the taxi back and live out our unspoken promise to always have a third eye watching the other. We hold hands as we walk, fingers laced together in a prayer than our daughters need never walk so fast. The shared experience and the shared hope that when the sisterhood is a motherhood, the dilemma is of outfits and the speech goes only “be there for each other, you look beautiful, be young.”