Keys Out and Guard Up: What Women Do to Stay Safe

Given the amount of discussion lately about gender politics, violence, and feminism (Elliot Rodger, #YesAllWomen, “Not all men!”), I’ve discovered a somewhat startling fact: men, in general, have no idea how many different things women do as a matter of course in the name of keeping safe. Like, no clue. So I polled the P-Mag writing team and some of my friends, and honestly, I’m flabbergasted at the staggering number of¬†different behaviors and actions we’ve incorporated into our everyday lives in order to feel safe.

Going Out

  • Never leaving your drink unattended
  • Going to the bathroom in pairs or groups
  • Telling your friends where you’ll be and who’ll you be with on a first date
  • Checking in with friends once you’re home from a date
  • Having a designated sober person, not for driving, but to keep an eye on everyone
  • Using valet so you don’t have to walk out to your car at night
  • Never giving out your phone number; always ask for theirs
  • Always using the buddy system; never go anywhere alone
  • Knowing where the exits are
  • Dancing in a protective circle to discourage groping

In the Car or Parking Lot

  • Keeping your keys in between your fingers as you walk
  • Checking under your car as you approach and in the backseat before you get in
  • Parking under a streetlight
  • Locking your car doors as soon as you get in
  • Walking quickly and alertly to your car
  • Calling to verify if it’s a real cop who pulled you over
  • Pulling over to a well-lit, preferably populated area
  • Driving past your house and to a police station if you feel like you’re being followed

Just Walking

  • Changing walking paths to avoid places you’ve been harassed before
  • Walking with 911 already dialed so you just have to hit “send”
  • Pretending to be on the phone while walking alone, but still keeping an ear out for someone behind you
  • Using main streets rather than alleyways
  • Wearing shoes you can run in
  • Walking on the opposite side of the street from alleys and places people could be hiding
  • Crossing the street/taking a different route if you feel like you’re being followed or see a sketchy situation ahead

Public Transportation

  • Taking cabs instead of the subway at night
  • Avoiding having an “open” seat next to you on public transportation
  • Putting earbuds in with no music so no one will approach you, but you can still hear if they do
  • Have a book or something with you to look busy so no one will approach you
  • Getting up and moving next to another woman if you get bad vibes off a man who sits next to you

At Work/School

  • Planning your work wardrobe in a way that won’t be seen as “asking for” harassment
  • Never walking out to your car alone
  • Making sure coworkers get to their car safely and that the car starts OK
  • Being given rape whistles at college orientation
  • Parking in different places so that no one can learn your routine

At Home

  • (For us Olds) Only listing your first initial in the phone book
  • Not going running at night, even in your own neighborhood
  • Not putting your full name on a call box or building directory
  • Not putting your address on your checks
  • Asking for ID before letting workmen into your house
  • Pretending not to be home alone when someone is at the door
  • Keeping the phone with you when someone is doing work at your house

And then Slay Belle dropped this one:

  • Teaching our daughters, sisters, and friends the exact same behaviors

And I’m sure that’s not even half of it. All in the name of staying safe; all so deeply ingrained that we do most of it by pure reflex.

7 replies on “Keys Out and Guard Up: What Women Do to Stay Safe”

I remember when I used to work the graveyard shift and my (male) manager couldn’t understand why none of the girls would venture outside of the office during break. We told him we weren’t trying to get attacked or killed. He told us that the place was gated, no one could get in. “Because its not like any of the men working here couldn’t be rapists.” He was shocked, then he told us we shouldn’t worry about the cameras. “Doesn’t bring you much comfort AFTER you’ve been attacked.” His response, “Man, being a girl SUCKS!”

Yes to all of the above. This last year, I took the bus to work nearly every day–3 hours round trip–and there were plenty of times that I felt extra nervous just having to interact with so many strange men. Fortunately, I never had anyone follow me home, but every day I was hyper-aware of my surroundings. It really sucks that these are all necessary behavior modifications, but it sucks even more how clueless most guys are about what we need to do to keep ourselves safe.

I hate how many of these things I’ve done, and I hate that my roommates in college were horrified that I didn’t already know about walking with my keys out. People were always freaked out that for three years I had to cut across the intramural field to get home, but I actually preferred that route because it was an open area without hiding places. It sucked senior year when they built a new rec center there, because then there were people around at night and I had to pay more attention.

And I thought of so many more. Like when I used to work in a mall and we’d have to use the buddy system to bring the trash out, or wearing a nametag with a different name on it in case you got a stalker. The fact that working in a mall almost guarantees you’ll get a stalker.

Yes! When I was in retail management, we had a code. If anyone ever asked for pencils, or used the word pencils in a sentence (note: we did not use them for ANY paperwork, did not sell them, and the only ones in the store were the stash to grab one from if the code was used [as a cover so the customer/stalker wouldn’t know what was going on]) it meant “I can’t say what’s happening over the phone, but please get a manager over here ASAP.” Fortunately, no-one had to actually use the code in the three months I was there. Unfortunately, it had to be put in place because people were being sketchy to my employees. But I do think having it in place and having a clear protocol helped make people feel safer.

There were times, of course, when we didn’t have to use it because we stopped something before it started (“Hi, that guy just came in.” “Okay, go ahead and work on stock in the back, I’ll let you know when he leaves.”)

Oh, having to have codes of any kind. Codes for “get me out of this conversation,” codes for “that creep is coming over here again,” codes for “rescue me from this guy dancing up on me,” codes for, “get me the hell out of here right now.” And it’s, like, universal girl code. You could go out with a dozen women you’d never met before, and you would all be able to read each other’s signals.

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