Editor Siobhán Cronin shares some of her own dark experiences and hopes others will feel emboldened by the current conversation
THE past few weeks have seen thousands of Irish women telling their stories as the country appears to have had something of an ‘awakening’ in the aftermath of the horrific Ashling Murphy murder.
What has surprised women, however, is how so many of these stories seem to be a surprise to men.
Did they really never know that we spend our days like stealth ninjas, surveying every angle of whatever ‘scene’ we are entering for vulnerable spots or exits – be it walking down a quiet street or road, entering a quiet subway or underpass, or entering a bus or a taxi if we are a lone woman, or sometimes simply entering a room full of men?
At night the security checks double, and we must add a weapon into the mix if we are travelling alone in an isolated place – a set of keys tightly clenched in our fists, a handy umbrella, or access to a nasty spray of some sort – oh and don’t forget to check all car doors are locked if we are driving alone in a built-up area.
If we are walking alone and hear footsteps, we grab the phone and conduct fake conversations so any would-be attacker will think twice before making a move.
Then there’s the obligatory What’s App messages to friends or family to let them know where we are going and when we will be back – like a teenager reassuring their parents before a night on the town.
Only as women, we never grow out of it. I had never really thought of any of these activities as unusual until the conversation started and men expressed real shock at the extent of our ingrained nervousness.
Every time women hear a news report of another woman challenged, attacked or – god forbid – murdered, our instant reaction is ‘there for the grace of God ….’
And not because women are unjustifiably nervous – but because almost every one of us has felt fear at some point – on various scales.
When I recounted some of the instances of fear or sexual intimidation I have felt in my three decades-plus as an adult woman, my own husband was genuinely shocked.
What probably upset him even more than the revelations was my reaction – without realising, I trotted out the roll call of horrible experiences like I was listing off ingredients for a menu.
So, there was … the two separate times a man masturbated while I was alone beside them at a late night bus stop … the man who took out a large knife while I sat behind him on a quiet Luas carriage … the countless times I felt I had heard footsteps behind me while walking home on poorly lit streets … the time a man urinated on the top deck of a bus behind me when there was no-one else upstairs … and the time I had to, literally, open the door of a moving car to make my exit from a particularly unsavoury character I met while hitching around Ireland when I was 19.
When I was retelling this last episode I started to shoulder some of the blame by saying ‘Well, I was hitching on my own …’ and then I stopped, realising that my choice to hitch a ride as a young adult should not be seen as an invitation to sexually intimidate me.
And while that was a particularly unpleasant journey – the driver started to ‘rub’ himself when I said I was studying journalism, and starting talking about certain tabloid newspapers he liked – I have to say that it was another man who rescued me from that very uncomfortable experience.
When I exited the car as the driver slowed at a junction, this nasty old pervert pulled over to the side and watched while I attempted to hitch my way back to safety and silently prayed for another vehicle to appear – so I practically threw myself in front of a creamery lorry coming along the road, flagged him down, and climbed aboard, not caring if I was going from the frying pan into the fire.
I needn’t have worried – my knight in shining steel couldn’t have been nicer.
Seeing I was a bit ‘shook’, he asked no questions but drove me directly to my destination and I am pretty sure my friend’s house was not exactly on his usual delivery route. It instilled in me the reassuring belief that for every nasty character, there are no doubt thousands more appalled by that kind of behaviour.
But it doesn’t dull the fear that there are enough of the unpleasant types around for women to be on constant ‘alert’ whether out and about, or even, sometimes, in their own homes.
I thank my lucky stars every day that my experiences are not more serious, as unfortunately some of my friends’ have been.
I am glad the conversation has finally started. And I hope more women feel emboldened by the current outrage to come forward and tell their personal stories.
We must stop normalising everything on the spectrum between intimidation and violence, and while women should take no blame for the behaviour, we must take some blame for constantly excusing it, downplaying it, or failing to see it for what it really is – simply unacceptable