A while ago, my friend brought my attention to a powerful and poignant article published in Vice, written by Megan Koester. Koester’s article was brave and honest. In her essay, she briefly retells her experience of getting assaulted on the street while walking alone at night. She says she doesn’t feel afraid walking alone now; she refuses to let her attacker win.
I am of two minds when I think about this issue—about walking alone, and the concept of safety, and what it means for women. One part of me says, Hell no, I will not be afraid. I will not spend half my life looking over my shoulder. The other part says, Elizabeth, for now, you have to.
I feel torn when considering this struggle in terms of winning and losing. I want to feel like we’ve won but I know we aren’t there yet. I am angry just thinking about the fact that women have to over-think where we go, and at what time, and what we're wearing. I know that none of these things should matter. I desperately want for it not to matter. However, the awful truth is that we face a reality that is far from what we deserve: we have not yet won this fight. We are not safe.
Being small in stature and not physically strong, I know, for certain, that I could not defend myself if someone were to force theirself on me. I believe that I would fight back and try to escape—that I’d do whatever I could—but odds are it wouldn’t be enough.
Safety is more or less an illusion for me, and for most women. Being strong, or fast, or trained in self-defense is never a guarantee. The ability to overtake an attacker is not the same as being free from the threat of physical harm.
It is incredible how Koester has coped with the violence perpetrated against her. We need to celebrate this strength: that we are able to move on, and that we can cope and live our lives. We must to do this. We cannot become paralyzed and forfeit our power to push back and speak out—to help ourselves and to help each other.
We have personal victories, and we have our lives, and we still walk alone. I can’t argue that this isn’t a win. This is what makes the struggle easier—slowly, yes, but surely.
But we, the feminist movement—those of us who walk alone at night, or who ride the bus after work, or want to get drunk at a big party in college—we haven’t won yet. Truthfully, it is dangerous to say that we’ve won and they —the perpetrators, those who would do us harm—have lost. We can’t know for sure that we will be fine on our walk home. We can’t do whatever we want and know for sure that it will be okay.
I hate this. (And I’m sure that if you’re reading this you hate it, too.) It’s not right. The world shouldn’t be this way. The shitty reality is that we have to watch our backs. We have to be aware and vigilant in a way most men will never need to be.
I want, in my lifetime, to see the day when none of this will be an issue. When we’re free and truly safe. But until that day, while we’re still living outside the ideal, we need to remember that we are still fighting—and though we may not be safe, we are still powerful.
We have agency and the capacity to create change. We will make ourselves safe. We will demand it and create it until it is ours.
Elizabeth King is a freelance writer and nonprofit coordinator living in Chicago, IL. She is an ardent feminist, and a proud graduate of DePaul University's Philosophy program.
Say hello on Twitter @ekingc or on Instagram @mr.sweatpants.