“A sustainable city, ultimately, is one in which women feel safe. But we should not feel safe because, as my teenage self did, we can pretend we are alone when the streets are silent and empty. We should be able to feel safe because we can believe that the other people who inhabit those streets are not only not trying to hurt us, but also are working to create an environment in which women are not seen as prey. Everyone in a community is responsible for changing the kind of thinking that would lead a man to see an unconscious body, or a girlfriend who is clearly saying “stop,” or a friend who has had too much to drink, as a fair sexual partner.”
The first two paragraphs were the norm of my college years. Very late, pitch black, totally alone and completely comfortable in it. The same town is now routinely plagued with assaults reports punctuated by the occasional Take Back the Night march that still leaves women afraid to go out late. Even though the stats on partner assault remain as high as they always were.
In Japan, too, I made a point to skip the trains and go on foot or bike to many destinations, so I could actually see the city I lived in. I tried to stay in sight of the trains so I could know where I was going–since this was before the age of smartphones and people would literally flee if they saw a foreigner approaching with a question on her lips–and I walked through baseball diamonds carpeted with wet leaves, twisty little paths through back gardens, sleeping campuses, monolithic apartment buildings–all without incident. It was on a train, surrounded by witnesses who saw what was happening to me and did nothing, raised not a hand or a voice, that turned out to be dangerous.
“So while we often see cities and streets as threats to our well-being, the real threat — a culture that teaches us that women’s bodies are for consumption, even when those women are friends and wives and girlfriends — is far more insidious.”