I want to sit on a beach and savour the last of the sunset, without worrying about walking home in the dark. I want to go camping… and not be anxious about my safety the entire time. I want to go for an early morning run minus the discomfort of looking over my shoulder every other minute. I want to go to a bar and have drinks alone, without the uneasiness of a man trying to intimidate or insult me if I reject his unwelcome advances. I want to take myself on a staycation at a cute little guest house... and actually rest, instead of checking the doors all night or making sure there are burglar bars before I even consider booking.
It’s almost inexhaustible… the list of ordinary things that many women cannot enjoy without at least some lingering fear. For many of us, these fears are often rooted in real-life traumatic experiences or haunting stories we’ve heard from friends, family and the media. These disturbing memories and stories remain imprinted on our brains and etched across our subconcious. They remind us that simply because we are women, many of the spaces that are inherently meant to be safe, really aren’t. Like my bedroom, where I sat watching TV on a quiet Sunday afternoon when an intruder marched in and attempted to assault me. Or the street in my community that I grew up walking along… which hasn’t felt safe ever since that same man accosted me well over a decade ago and tried to drag me away. Or the apartment my best friend and I lived in which got broken into one night.
It is exhausting- and extremely limiting- to live in fear, to not feel comfortable enjoying even the simplest things in life. It is also extremely unfair. That’s why places that actually feel safe are so important to me as a woman. Places where for a brief second I can almost ignore the various threats that surround me on a daily basis.
There aren’t many locations that come to mind when I try to think of such spaces. The one that does immediately leap into my brain is a quaint little seaside bar in a northern town on my island. I’m well aware that a bar is the last place many people would consider ‘safe’ for a woman. But when I think of a safe space, I think of a place I can go to as a woman, where I don’t feel like my guard has to be all the way up the entire time. I think of that little bar where collective laughter constantly floats through the hazy smoke that lazily wafts across overhead. I think of how the music is always at the right volume… never too loud that it makes me anxious. I have spent many late nights and even more sunny afternoons at that bar. My friends and I slowly sip our drinks and engage in riveting conversations with the owner. Our riotous laughter drowns out the music and the proud proprietor often smiles as he observes us. It is a quiet smile of amusement that occasionally teases a comfortable smile out of my own lips. It is not the type of leering smile that automatically makes me adjust my shirt to ward off an accompanying intrusive stare. His smile is far removed from the salivating smiles my friends and I are almost always assaulted with at bars. His is the type of smile that puts you at ease.
In all the days of all the years that my friends and I have enjoyed that space, the owner has never once interrupted us with a suggestive comment or gesture. I have never noticed his eyes roam south of our laughing faces. He engages wholeheartedly when we invite him into conversations, but he never overstays his welcome. In the presence of other men, he does not exaggerate his familiarity with us in a display of male ego. Instead, he politely and respectfully cautions the male patrons who inevitably make us uncomfortable when they insist on interrupting our conversations to demand our attention. The absence of any uncomfortable advances from him have made me even more aware of just how rare it is to not be bothered by men the minute you leave your house as a woman. I appreciate that he does not abuse the familiarity that we have developed. It usually doesn’t take most men very long to use such familiarity as an excuse to overstep boundaries. Almost as it was preprogrammed, they will one day utter an offhand remark that’s really a means of testing your reaction… a way of allowing them to gauge just how much they can toe the line of impropriety and supposedly get away with it.
The owner of the bar not engaging in such behaviour may seem like a little thing. It may easily go unnoticed by many. But these are the little things that have made me feel safe at that bar over the years. And as insignificant as they may seem to some, I do not have the privilege of taking them for granted.
That’s because I know all too well what it’s like to constantly have my guard up… in public spaces and in the perceived privacy of my own home. I know what it’s like to constantly check my doors and windows all night… to keep my hand over my drinks at clubs… to always be hyper aware of my surroundings… I know what it’s like to live with fear as my constant companion and wear uneasiness as it it were a second skin...one so tight that it threatens to suffocate me. So I look forward to the days where I can venture to that peaceful bar and shed that skin at the head of the street, leaving fear right there with it.
Written by Amanie Mathurin