He walks the wooded trail, she walks the well-lit road

Today on my bus ride home from work, I ran into a woman I recognized from a volunteer grocery delivery route I do monthly. We had never met before and did so today. It turns out we live near each other. During our conversation, I mentioned how grateful I am for the wonderful paths everywhere in our area to run on and to walk my new dog. She said that her husband loves walking on a wooded path near their home but that she sticks to the main roads because she doesn’t feel safe anywhere else (and she’s probably in her early 50s. When does the fear end?) Now that it’s dark when we get home from work (we both have over an hour commute each way), she said she only sticks to main roads that are well lit for her walks.

I’ve always been told not to go walking or running alone in the dark. I remember being so jealous of one of my high school cross country guy friends who used to go on moonlit runs down a bikepath near our house on the weekends. My male cross country coach was an ultra runner and used to do all night trail runs on Friday nights. Now that I have a dog and it’s winter, I have to go out in the dark in order to walk him. Sometimes I run with him up and down the street near my home where it’s well lit because it’s dark elsewhere but we both need the exercise; I can’t put him on the treadmill with me. I’m grateful that I feel safe enough to run anywhere in my area in daylight and it would be nice to feel safe enough to run anywhere in the dark. There are 3+ more months until daylight savings!

One chapter of the street harassment book I’m working on talks about the fear so many women have in public in different circumstances and contexts and the various ways we restrict our freedom in public because of it. Not going out alone in the dark is just one of a chapter-full.

Even though I know all this, I was still struck by the matter-of-fact way my new friend – who doesn’t know I work on street harassment issues – talked about the gender difference in safety. She doesn’t feel safe on the trails while her husband does and so she doesn’t go on them while he does. It seemed to me that for her, she sees that restriction as just life. And that’s true for so many of us. It’s so ingrained in us that we don’t even question how crazy unfair it is that just because we are female we’re unsafe (and/or told we’re unsafe) in public.

3 Responses to He walks the wooded trail, she walks the well-lit road

  1. Alan says:

    Life isn’t fair. Whether for short people, people of color, poor people, children of the very famous, or women — all conditions the individual hasn’t chosen — life is full of unfair aspects. I feel badly for all women who are worried about walking/being alone in places and activities that I simply take for granted. I hope this situation can change one day!

  2. b says:

    When I walk dogs in the dark, I always feel much safer. I somehow believe I will be left alone if I have non-human companions to scare off potential harassers.

  3. Phira says:

    I have a similar problem (which isn’t at all surprising): I have an hour long commute which requires that I walk for a mile to get to the train, and to get home. When it started getting dark out early, I started taking the bus to get from the train to as close to home as possible.

    It doesn’t help that the road into my apartment complex is not at all lighted; once the road comes into the heart of the complex, near the office, the entire place is almost as bright as day, but it’s still unnerving every evening to have to walk practically in the dark to get to my apartment. And if I want to go running, I have to go in the dark, and I’m rarely in a well-lit area.

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