Opinion | Equality won’t be accomplished until every woman can feel safe

By Ellen Barczak, Columnist

Being a woman is scary. Men, I’ve found, are often privileged in their unawareness of the constant safety concerns women experience.

I once heard someone say men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women, on the other hand, are afraid men will kill them. 

We live in a world in which women have the freedom, technically, to do everything men can do. In reality, however, women are often limited by parameters concerning physical safety, and, consequently, there are many things women “can’t,” or won’t, do. 

Women can’t walk around alone at night without some kind of self-defense device, such as pepper spray. Women can’t travel alone, especially in certain countries where women do not share legal freedoms with men. 

Women have to be careful to not anger men when rejecting them for fear of physical retaliation. Women have to share their location with their friends before going on a date in case something goes terribly wrong.

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Women lock their cars as soon as they get in and often check the backseat before leaving. They avoid renting first-floor apartments, avoid giving men their last names for fear of stalking and never wear headphones when going on runs.

We, women, have many more considerations to make in our lives about safety than men. And, what’s worse, many men may not realize their actions, while harmless in nature, may be perceived as threatening to women.

Guys, when you’re walking at night behind a woman, give her space. When you get into an elevator with a woman, don’t stare at her (I can’t believe I have to say that, but trust me, it happens). The little things men may not notice can make huge differences in women’s lives.

My favorite band, Vampire Weekend, had a concert in North Chicago this summer. I couldn’t attend since my friends were working in different states and unable to make it. A male friend of mine was mighty confused when I told him I didn’t go as I had no one to accompany me. He said he’s gone to concerts alone before, no problem.

I would have had to take the Metra to Chicago, then CTA to Northerly Island, then attend the concert among strangers, alone. As a five-foot tall female who weighs 100 pounds soaking wet, I have a target on my back in terms of susceptibility to physical assault, even when I’m not alone. 

When I was in junior high, someone told me I should stop wearing ponytails because attackers can easily grab them. I was 12. 

The thing is, women shouldn’t have to tailor their lives to the potential harm men could cause them. The social constructs we’ve created place the burden of safety and prudence not on the actions of the threatening party but on the party threatened.

The University, I believe, does indeed try to foster an environment in which everyone feels safe and comfortable, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability status, you name it. I myself usually feel comfortable when going about my daily business.

Feeling safe and secure just when the sun is shining and people are going to class isn’t enough, though. Walking home from the library at 1 a.m. from a late-night study session shouldn’t inspire fear in anyone’s hearts, regardless of who they are. Going out to the bars shouldn’t be considered “risky” for women dressed however they feel comfortable.

If I ever have a daughter, I hope she doesn’t have to carry pepper spray with her like I do when walking alone at night. I hope the progress women have made in the world continues to the point where women can feel as safe as men do at all times. Until then, true gender equality will not exist.

Ellen is a junior in LAS.

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