Walking home from a gig, late on a balmy evening in the West End of Glasgow, light rain was falling as I and others plodded our way along Great Western Road, disappearing and emerging from lamp light to lamp light. Most people were heading in the opposite direction to me.
It’s a nice part of the world, a mix of affluence and well to do university students, all branching off into different areas along Great Western Road, a long straight busy street. It feels, to me, safe. But as I walked I noticed something.
Every single woman I walked past did the same thing, I didn’t notice if they did it a few steps away from me or just walked this way all the time but, of the 10 or so who I passed, all of them were walking with their head slightly bowed and their body slightly turned away from me.
Some were on mobile phones, and one was accompanied by a large Alsatian walking happily beside her, the lead slack (which suggests a very well trained dog, and well trained dogs are loyal and protective) yet she too felt the need to turn away, to hide and cower as she walked past, to make herself as small as possible. Trying to be invisible.
I’m a big guy, I’m aware of my size and I did everything I could to not be intimidating. I mimicked their behaviour and turned away, I deliberately looked away to the other side of the road so they could see I wasn’t looking at them. I tried to figure out if it was better for me to walk on the inside of the pavement, away from the road, or nearer the edge. I stuck with the former thinking that the open road would be an ‘escape’ where as the hedges and fences away from the road would be a trap?
And then I realised just how fucking horrible it is that I have to think this way. That this is what men have done to women.
Perhaps it was the recent ‘how to talk to a woman when she’s on the phone’ thing that was doing the rounds, but the body language of all the women I passed was striking in their similarity.
It’s saddening and horrifying. How many of these women were conscious of what they were doing? How many were doing it because they saw me approaching? How many were doing it because that’s ‘just what women have to do’? How many were doing it because they have been shamed into thinking that, if something were to happen, it would somehow be their fault?
As I’ve said before, these are the thoughts of a cisgender, upper middle-class white male. I am afforded all of the privileges that society has to offer. It’s up to me, to all men like me, to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with allies and help change this.
It starts with the smallest consideration of the words you use everyday, even things you may think are trivial – “Hey guys” when the people you are addressing includes women (or perhaps people who are trans or non-binary gendered) – it starts by challenging your friends when they are using their privilege to the detriment of others, it starts by calling out behaviours that you know aren’t acceptable regardless of who is using them.
It’s not easy. I will try my very best, and the memory of my walk home will stay with me for a long time.
Men, we’ve had it too easy for too long, we have to be the ones that change.