How to make women feel safer

Here are some tips for men to help women feel more comfortable when in public.

How to make women feel safer

If you are a woman, you will know about the mental checklist we all do regarding our safety. The amount of ‘advice’ we get can be overwhelming, and a lot of them unnecessary. 

Here are just a handful of examples:

  • Don’t wear an outfit that is too revealing

  • Don’t walk alone at night

  • Always send someone your location when you’re out

  • Keep your keys in your hand 

  • If you live alone, put a dirty pair of men's boots by the front door

The list goes on, and now, now it’s the men's turn. I have written a mental checklist for men to keep in mind because we should be helping women feel safer, instead of constantly having to prepare them for the worst.

1: Keep your distance

If you are walking closely behind a woman, please stop. You could walk past her, slow down, or even cross the street. Any of those things would be better than walking directly behind her. It may not cross your mind, but we are hyper-aware of how close you are to us. Alarm bells instantly start ringing, and a million different things come into our heads: “Is he far enough away that I could run to safety?” “Could I fight back if I have to?” “Where can I go that’s more public?” Knowing this, I hope that if you didn’t do so already, you want to make it blatantly obvious that you’re avoiding coming close to us. If you’re exercising, verbal cues are also appreciated, for example, “cycling past on your right”.  

2: Don’t stare

Hasn’t anyone ever told you that it’s rude to stare? By “stare”, I do not mean people momentarily looking at someone in public. I’m talking about the awkward, far too long stares that cause women more anxiety than you’d think. Staring is particularly uncomfortable as we are aware that you know what we look like, what we are wearing that day, and where we are, but we have no idea what your reason is for doing it. Worries such as “is he taking notes?” and “is he about to kidnap me?” come strongly into mind, amongst many others. Irrespective of your reason for doing so, you need to stop staring! Just carry on with your day, look at your phone, or anywhere else that isn’t deep into our souls from across the street. 

3: Keep your hands to yourself

Some people are touchy-feely; we know that. But you cannot use that as a shield to hide behind when a woman expresses that she is not comfortable with you touching her. You could be trying to be friendly, but if we don’t know you, we do not know that's ‘just how you are’. A friendly touch on the lower back could be seen as an invasion of a woman’s space and of her body, so please refrain. Should you want to go the extra mile, make it obvious that you’re avoiding touching them, as that shows you can respect us and our bodies and that you thought about our feelings beforehand. 

4: Don’t be a passive-bystander

If you’re with a group of friends and one makes a sexist ‘joke’ or catcalls a woman, don’t stay silent. Tell them to knock it off, and don’t encourage them. Or if you see a man harassing a woman or trying to touch her, physically putting yourself between them and staying with the woman until he leaves is appreciated. If you have just witnessed a woman being harassed, ask if she’s okay, if there’s anyone to call, say that you saw what happened, and are happy to be a witness if she wants to report the incident to the authorities. Take her lead, give her space, and most importantly, be supportive.

5: Offer to walk to your female friends and family members' places

We are much less likely to be targeted just by having another man with us. Please keep in mind that more often than not, women are assaulted by people known to them, so don’t be surprised if they don’t appear to be 100% relaxed around you either. The choice is either: walk home alone and risk strangers approaching, or walk home with a man that is hopefully decent enough to not expect anything afterwards. Please do not think that you are owed something in return just because you have walked her home.

6: Take the hint

If, for example, you ask us to join you for a drink and we say no, we mean no. That “no” does not mean “keep asking” or “don’t leave” or “I’m playing hard to get”. If a woman communicates that she is not interested in you, take that as your cue to walk away because we may consider what you think is persistence as harassment. Don’t offer her another drink, or try to get her away from her friends so you can dance with her, or anything else that follows suit. Unless you’re given extremely clear signals that she is comfortable for you to flirt with her, don’t. 

7: Keep your comments to yourself

We really do not want or need to know your opinions on our appearance. Whether your comments are ‘complimentary’ or not, we do not want to know. We don’t want you to shout that you think our skirts are too short, that we’re wearing too much makeup, or even that you think we look attractive. Generally, you don’t see women hanging out of vehicles shouting obscenities at pedestrians, so why do men feel the need to do it? It’s beyond unnecessary and just creeps us out. If you’re trying to attract a woman, this is not a good idea. It’s plain and simple: keep it to yourself.

8: Remember that our caution isn’t personal

“It’s not all men” is one of the most irritating things to hear as a woman discussing how men make us feel uncomfortable. We are fully aware that not literally every man on the planet exhibits these kinds of behaviour, but there are a lot of them. So if you see us speed up when you’re walking behind us, avoid any kind of contact, or point-blank ignore you, don’t take it personally. We just don’t know you well enough to relax. If there weren’t a lot of men that behaved in these ways, we would not be saying “men”, but the simple fact that 97% of women have experienced sexual harassment proves that there are a LOT of them that do. So next time you want to say “not all men”, take a moment to think about why you’re more upset about that than about the number of women that have been sexually harassed. 

We are tired of running multiple scenarios in our heads and of having to prepare ourselves physically and mentally for the worst. We are tired of hearing that yet another woman has been violated. We are tired of questioning ourselves, wondering if we’re being ‘over dramatic’ because you can’t show us respect. We are tired. So please, if you’re a man reading this, try to keep these things in mind when you’re out and about, and let us simply get on with our day, as we will continue to do for you.

Header Image Credit: Lucy Evans

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