For the first time in my life I found myself nervous at home in my own city. I don’t ever recall feeling threatened or on guard before. Lately however, with all the news of women being raped when found alone in public places, with friends at a party, or even on a bus with a male friend, something must’ve seeped into my bones and made me utterly aware of my surroundings this afternoon and the potential danger I was in.
I recently started working in a suburb of Manhattan but had the opportunity to attend a conference back in the Big Apple where I had been commuting to for the last seven years. Familiar with the subway system, I didn’t think about twice hopping onboard the 6 train downtown. I’d done it a million times before. As New Yorkers, we all have a favorite subway line (or at least one we take a whole lot more than all the others) and mine is the 6. So, like any other day, I hopped on the 6 and started browsing through my phone for the latest news, scrolling through Instagram and Pinterest, when I took a moment to pick my head up. I looked around at the sparse train car to realise that I was the only woman. There were about seven men in the car of varying races and ages. Some were dressed in business suits, others in plain street clothes and as always in NYC, the token crazy and possibly homeless person having conversations with anyone who will listen.
It took me a moment to really understand the situation I was in. A single woman, sitting in a subway car with many men, all of whom could over power me if they wanted to no matter how hard I might’ve struck them with my laptop bag. I had a slight moment of panic when I did a double take just to make sure that there really were no other women in the car with me; but as I peered this way and that my uneasiness was confirmed. I was alone.
I grabbed my bags up close to me,hugging them tight to my chest. I was aware of every man’s movement in the train car and made sure to stay close to the door in case I needed to make my escape. The train pulled into the next stop, one stop too early for me and I had a choice to make. Should I jump out of the car and get the next train or, should I stay and just keep my head down so as not to attract too much attention. Well all this decision making made me realise something; this is my city. This is my train. This is my body and I’ll be damned if I let anyone make me feel scared to be a woman. I cleared my head, took another look around the car and realised, none of these men were paying the least bit of attention to me. They all had places to be and worries of their own. When I finally stopped to really look at the situation I felt silly. All the faces were staring down at their own phones and devices and they all seemed kind. Not one of them seemed to show the slightest bit of interest in me. Even the crazy homeless man sat in his corner and didn’t meet my eyes. He was probably more scared than I was now that I think about it.
I started to feel fortunate that I’ve grown up in a part of the world where women are encouraged to be strong and independent. Where rape, though an issue throughout the world, is far less common in my city. I live in a place where victims are empowered and not degraded for something that happened to them.
All of this thinking happened in a flash and the decision was clear; II didn’t need to leave my train car. I could ride this subway to my destination without fear and I would do so. I sat up a little taller and went back to my own business. As my stop approached I stood to leave and one of the men on the car stepped aside with his hand out kindly gesturing for me to leave first with a smile. I thanked him and smiled back reminding myself, once again, that not all men are evil. Not all women are vulnerable. Not all situations, when you find yourself alone, should make you feel afraid. I’m thankful for that knowledge and hope that one day all women can feel this way. No one should be afraid to be alone in their own neighbourhood. It pays to be aware of your surroundings, but we shouldn’t have to be afraid. We shouldn’t feel the need to be on guard. We shouldn’t have to worry that every man is out to get us.
I hope one day all women can feel as empowered as I did by my self-realisation. I hope they’re not shrinking away in their lonely subway cars and I hope that there are other kind men out there offering a hand and a smile. It’s just as much a man’s job to change the stigma as it is for a woman to be confident that it is changing. I don’t know when women will feel that they can be safe in any situation or if there ever will be a time where the strong don’t take advantage of the seemingly weak, I can only tell my story of strength and of the kind man who only wanted to be a gentleman and hope that the next woman who reads this, who finds themselves surrounded by only men, knows that she is strong and doesn’t have to be afraid.