I generally see myself as a fairly independent, strong, and confident woman. But I struggled with something today that left me feeling frustrated at myself and furious at the world: I couldn’t convince myself to go out for a walk.
Sure, like anyone trying to get fit, there are times when I’m just too busy, too tired, or too lazy to motivate myself to do exercise. But none of those were reasons today: I had the afternoon free, I had plenty of energy, and I actually really wanted to go out and do something active, since I’d spent the whole day at home. Yet, I just couldn’t bring myself to walk out the front gate. I put on my exercise gear, then took it off again, three times; I paced between the sofa and front door for what seemed like an eternity; I picked up my phone and considered contacting people, but then put it down again.
All the while, my head was buzzing with questions and doubts: It’s going to be dark soon – is it too late for me to be out walking alone? But it will do me good to get some fresh air and watch the beautiful sunset, won’t it? Maybe I should cycle so then it’s harder for guys to grope me? But my bike light is broken – maybe it’s not safe to be riding in the dark? Maybe I should wear a baggier t-shirt so I don’t draw any unwanted attention to myself? But why shouldn’t I be able to just wear what makes me comfortable? Maybe I should wait for my boyfriend to come home and we can go together? But why should I need a man to escort me? Maybe I should call a female friend? But what if they get harassed or assaulted on their way to meet me?
Around and around I went and, eventually, it did get too dark.
I felt as if the issue was all in my head and, at the same time, so overwhelmingly bigger than me with its roots so firmly grounded in systemic inequality.
How, I wondered, could this shit still bother me? I’ve worked in the field of gender equality for almost a decade, so I’m mentally prepared; I’ve trained in kickboxing and kungfu, so I stand a decent chance of defending myself; I’m fluent enough in the local language here to coherently yell back or ask others for help; I’ve travelled alone around the world and have always managed to take care of myself. And yet some days it’s just all too much and I don’t have the mental energy to face the fight.
Just yesterday, some colleagues and I were discussing the barriers that stand in the way of women achieving goals, the challenges that make it an unequal playing field for women and men. Earlier today, I saw that The Equality Institute has created an image that perfectly sums this up. Sometimes these are really tangible obstacles – having babies, being paid less money than a man for the same work – and sometimes these obstacles are much more elusive – fear of what might happen, doubt of whether you’ll be able to handle the situation if something does happen, expectation that the authorities won’t take you seriously if you try to report it. Obstacles like that hold women back not just from relatively small things like going for a walk at sunset, but also from big things like applying for a promotion at work, studying a traditionally male-dominated field like engineering, or leaving an abusive relationship.
In the end, I wandered over to my neighbours’ kids’ trampoline and I jumped up and down, surrounded by a protective mesh trampoline barrier, next to an enormous wall topped with barbed wire, within a compound that has 24-hour guards. I tried to see the sunset over the wall but I couldn’t quite jump high enough.