When I am walking alone at night I have a little trick that makes me feel safer. I pretend that my final destination is some place off in the distance that I can visibly see. As I start to near that point, I can feel myself becoming calm. I recently asked my readers some questions about walking alone at night. This sense of fear seems to be something that is felt uniquely by people who frequently feel unsafe because of their bodies. Whether you’re small, or a woman, or trans, or stick out in some other way, you have likely felt like a bit of a target for simply existing. That sense of fear may be amplified when you’re alone at night.
Here are the things I found most interesting in reading your responses (26 thoughtful responses in total), not all responses are included:
Phrasing based on Gender
In my last, most innocuous question, I asked if the reader had any other thoughts about safety or preparedness when walking home alone at night.
Everyone who identified as female used I statements.
- I wished I’d asked for company
- I think I could probably take more precautions in my safety.
- Generally I plan events so I don’t have to be out at night.
- I hate that I have to think so much about it.
- I should wear something reflective.
- Sometimes I wish I had something to defend myself with.
- I still look over my shoulder in the parking garage of work, check my car, I won’t go into a dark area at night alone,
- I try to avoid going out at night,especially to isolated places or high crime areas.
- I avoid it as much as possible and drive anywhere I can after dark.
Everyone who identified as male used You/One statements
- If one is in an area that actually IS unsafe or troubled, I would recommend walking in groups of three or more.
- Streetlights are your friend.
- The best thing you can do is make yourself a less likely target by appaearing alert and confident.
- Always plan your route based on your feeling about where you’re traveling though.
The one exception to the above were women who listed that they took some kind of class or training in self-defense. Both the men and the women who had taken some kind of self-defense course used language in their response that indicated they understood a little bit about fear and the fear response. They seemed to write more about preparing for a potential fight rather than avoiding danger by not going out at night. For them it was more about planning for safety than a sense of safety.
What makes people feel less nervous at night?
- I feel better with well lit streets,
- Often times, I’ll call a friend or my dad and chat while walking and it makes me feel a lot better.
- I feel less nervous when I am wearing pants and good shoes.
- I try to walk down roads with high traffic/ open businesses.
- Having another person with me significantly reduces my stress level.
- Clear crosswalks, decent lights, women my age, people speaking Spanish.
- Remembering I can outrun lots of threats puts me at ease.
- Having my dog with me and my pepper spray in my hand makes me less nervous.
Here people do what is within their power to help decrease the odds of running into trouble. I spent a lot of time wondering if these things improved odds of safety or if they were just ways to increase that sense of security. What do you think?
What makes women feel more nervous at night?
- I tend to feel more nervous if I’m in an area I’m unfamiliar with.
- I do not like to be talked to by strangers, and especially feel nervous when I’m the only person walking.
- People who have been drinking or are clearly high on something other than weed put me on edge.
- If my phone runs out of battery.
- Being in an unfamiliar area makes me a bit more nervous,
- Only feel more nervous when someone appears seemingly out of nowhere.
- Strange sounds make me nervous.
- The smell of beer, young white men, rich looking white people.
- Any men anywhere near me make me much more nervous.
- When it’s really quiet I get more nervous.
What are women thinking about when they’re walking alone at night?
This is the second question I found most interesting. It seems fairly universal that when women are walking alone at night they are hyper-vigilant. They are aware of every sound, they are aware of every person, they are aware of where they are, what time it is, how easy they are to attack. To be an ally to women and to others who may be at risk, cross to the other side of the street so you’re not following them at night. Do not engage in conversation with someone even if you’re attempting to be helpful.
- My mind typically wanders, though I am ALWAYS scanning my surroundings.
- I am usually always terrified. I am always keeping a close eye on everyone around me and looking behind me occasionally.
- If I am alone I am more alert.
- Getting to my destination safely. Where is the light? What path is most visible? Where is my view limited? Is someone hiding behind that obstacle? Where is my escape if someone threatens me. What would I use first to defend myself? How easy can I get to my gun? Eyes up, head on a swivel. Look confident, make eye contact. If someone approaches, I try to make sure I have a few yards between us. It gives me enough time to hear something and prepare of they come at me.
- I’m usually afraid, I check behind me every few minutes, and I try to get past groups of people really quickly if there are any. I used to make a mad dash from my car to my front door when I lived in the suburbs, and now that I’m in the city I just try to get into my building as quickly as possible.
- I’m almost always alert and scared. I walk quickly, call someone/pretend to talk on the phone if they don’t answer, and usually have my car keys between my fingers to stab if I’m attacked.
- I try to look around often. I grew up with my mom telling me to “be aware of your surroundings”. So I try to glance around to see if anyone else is walking near me. I always have a general sense of feeling save, until I see someone else walking in the vicinity then I get a little panicked.
- I don’t listen to music at night so that I can hear everything around me. I scan around me with my eyes, and try to stay in lit places. Depending on the circumstance I walk down the middle of the street rather than on the sidewalk, because I feel like there is less chance of someone jumping out of the bushes.
- If cars around me are making bad decisions (I’m a regular pedestrian), how slow someone ahead of me is walking, if I can pass them.
- I like how peaceful it is to walk alone at night, but I am constantly hyperaware of any other people around. Like I almost feel guilty when I enjoy it because it’s “not safe” and I shouldn’t? But I can only enjoy brief moments of the night because I have to be constantly on the lookout for threats.
- Is there anyone on my side of the street? Is there a safe place I can cross if I need to? Is the area that I’m traveling going to be well lit? Do I have a flashlight? Is my bag heavy enough to defend myself with/if I carry my bag this way will I be less likely to be grabbed? If my hair is in a ponytail will that make it more accessible to grab me by?
- Feel uncomfortable, nervous. Very aware of my surroundings.
- Head up, eyes forward, scan for threats, did I tell someone where I was and what I am doing
- I am very wary and usually I am somewhat paranoid when people come close ,or approach me.
- I am constantly aware of everything around me. The people, how dark it is, how close I am to my destination.
For contrast, the male responses are below.
- I try to be aware of my surroundings, both the good and the bad.
- I live in a generally peaceful community, so I generally perceive camaraderie, or more often, quiet and calm, around me.
- I feel a sense that there is uncertainty or potentially some fear, but the fact that I am not a typical target puts me at ease…
- I’m always on low-level alert. I naturally tend to look at the ground as I walk, so I fight that tendency and keep my eyes up and check the cardinal compass points (even straight behind me) every little while. This comes from years of self-defense training, so it’s ingrained at this point. I don’t wear headphones or earbuds at night (during the day I might have one bud in one ear), and I don’t take my phone out of my pocket for any reason.
- It’s a free-wheeling stream of consciousness, but I’m typically more alert at night.
I wish that I had received more male responses. Your insight to this provided such valuable contrast. I found myself imagining a world in which I could walk and just enjoying my surroundings without being broken out of that enjoyment (and frequently) to re-evaluate my safety. It was also interesting to learn that men do have a low level alert system that sounded in many ways like the same system women have.
Finally almost everyone who submitted a response indicated at some point that they had pretended to be more brave, more strong, more confident, or more aggressive in some way than they actually are in order to feel safer or actually make themselves less of a target.
Didn’t get an opportunity to participate? Leave your thoughts on walking alone at night in the comments below.