I walked home scared Wednesday night. It was after dark and I was alone, but that’s nothing new. In the winter, the sun disappears by 4:30 p.m., which means walking home alone in the dark every day.

It wasn’t the darkness. It was the message.

Earlier that night, a friend and I were talking about a news story out of Seattle that spread world-wide about a woman who was murdered and dismembered by someone she met on an online dating site. The story trailed behind it the usual strings of clanking tin cans -- people commenting online about how she should have known better, horror stories of other women who had been attacked, raped or killed, and dozens of outlets doing the requisite “10 ways to stay safe” pieces.

The coverage made me think a lot about my male privilege, my friend said, which he described as that general freedom men have to move about in the world without the carried fear of being attacked, raped or murdered.

The truth is, to much lesser extent, I walked home scared on Monday night, too. As I left a restaurant, someone said, “Be careful. You shouldn’t walk home alone.” But it was warm and quiet and it felt great after a long day in the office to stretch my legs and be outside. It wasn’t until I reached my door – safe – that I felt the exhale and realized I hadn’t enjoyed the walk at all. I’d been guarded and ready and frightened with “be careful” ringing in my ears.

It wasn’t the darkness. It was the message.

I’m not naïve. I’ve been awash in crime stories for almost two decades as a journalist. As a life habit, I walk scanning corners and shadows and mapping out exit strategies.

But this week, I’ve been thinking about that extra weight we put on women, and by “we” I mean people like me -- the media. I mean all the outlets that shared the story of that woman in Seattle who was hacked to pieces by her date. There’s a reason people shared that story. There’s a reason why reporters who had no connection to Seattle or the situation wrote every gruesome detail. There’s a message, to women everywhere. It’s our worst fear. It’s the thing everyone has been warning us about since we were little girls.

I’ve traveled all over the world by myself, and each time before I boarded the plane to Africa, Asia, Europe, I sat through horror stories people always feel compelled to share.

Here’s the problem with horror stories. They make the world smaller for the people who hear them. It doesn’t make anyone safer or braver. It’s a way of controlling women’s movement – our own kind of cultural burka -- shared as an act of kindness.

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During those trips alone, a couple bad things happened. A drunken man grabbed my arm on an icy sidewalk in Mongolia and wouldn’t let go. And someone pinned me against a rock once at a deserted beach on the Mediterranean, and as he did, I thought, “They told me this would happen.” All I felt was shame, long after he let me go with only a couple scrapes, and I didn’t tell a soul for years because I didn’t want to hear the inevitable response: I should have known better. I should have stayed home or waited until someone was willing to go with me.

The problem is that if I’d stayed home, my life wouldn’t be nearly as interesting and beautiful as it has been.

This week, after walking home scared and after realizing how many times I have walked home scared in my life, I thought about the kind of information we choose to share – as journalists or just as individuals posting the latest piece of shock value on Facebook. And I’ve thought about how we, especially women, internalize all of it.

I believe it’s important to know about crime, so that we can protect ourselves. It’s scary out there.

But it’s also wonderful. It’s a warm night after months of cold ones and we all deserve to enjoy it.

Autumn Phillips is the executive editor of the Quad-City Times and qctimes.com. 563-383-2264; aphillips@qctimes.com; on Twitter @autumnedit.

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