LAST week my partner was in hospital in Melbourne and I was staying in an apartment within five minutes’ walk so I could be with him through the day.
At night after visiting hours ended at 8pm I would walk back to my digs. It was on these walks that I found how very long five minutes could be. Very much aware of my surroundings, I held my umbrella and keys in my hands ready to defend myself. Every man on the street made me uneasy. They may have simply been on their way home from work to their own families but I still saw them as a threat.
When we are told it’s not all men, it’s said as though this is new information to us. You think it’s absurd when we discuss men as though they are a scourge against us. We know the majority of men do the right thing. That they find the actions of the few that aren’t as abhorrent as we do.
But when the news cycle finishes, you can go back to your comfy life and not have to give it another thought.
You can congratulate yourself on being a good guy and think that, because you are, everything is okay. But when you go out at night and you are walking towards a woman who is on her way somewhere, how does she know you’re one of the good ones?
She probably spotted you way before you saw her. We have to be aware like that.
Seeing who’s approaching, listening out behind her should anyone be walking behind her, and whether their footsteps remain a distance away or if they are getting louder, because if they are she’ll decide to walk a bit faster.
She sussed out your identifying features, the colour of your clothes, style of shoes, just in case she ever needs to recall it.
The whole time she has been keeping track of whether anyone else is around. Who could be a witness if something happened, whether anyone is on the other side of the road because avoidance is better than taking a chance, but if someone is also over there, she’ll just chance it and keep walking towards you. She grips her handbag a little tighter into her side, adjusts herself so she appears confident, but not at all interested.
She does all of this, and you are one of the good guys. You are just one person she passed on her walk, though. This whole process, the alertness, the guardedness, the calculated decisions, the hypersensitivity, this is done with every man she passes the entire journey. Just in case. Because not all men are good.
How do we come back from this? How do we rebuild the trust for all the good men we know. It starts with conversations with little boys, fathers with sons, big brothers with little ones. Let these conversations continue and there will be hope for the next generation.
PS. Some years ago as I was walking in the city with my son Glen in the middle of the day he warned me not to make eye contact with men as it would be asking for trouble. In the country we walk along the street and smile at passers by. Our smiles are usually returned and multiplied. There is still a lot of good in the world.