Recently I went shopping at my local Tesco, a sleeping two year old in the buggy, and on the way home I was followed. At first I wasn’t sure. I was distracted by balancing the bags of shopping hanging fron the buggy and the sleeping child, and merely felt creeped.
We passed him as we crossed the road from the supermarket onto the path home. As I passed by him I heard him grunt something, then make a strange moaning sound. I assumed I’d bumped him and quickly apologised, then kept walking. He stayed behind me and the strange noises continued, but I just concentrated on what I was doing.
Then I realised he was still there. I had been walking for a good five minutes and he was still about eight feet behind me, still making noises. Occasionally talking under his breath, mostly grunting. I looked over my shoulder, he met my eyes, I kept walking.
He stayed exactly the same distance behind me for some time until I sped up. For a while he kept pace but, fortunately, he began to fall back but for quite some time I could still hear him making noises.
When I got to the turning up my road I waited and looked behind me. He had followed me so far I didn’t want him knowing the street I lived on. But he didn’t come, or at least I didn’t see him, so I hurried home. I got us inside and locked the door and felt like crying.
I don’t feel vulnerable most of the time, I live in a nice place with a gentle man and have loving and supportive people around me. But equally so I have the weight of knowing what men can be like when they’re not gentle always weighing on my shoulders. I know that, despite everything, I am not always safe. And not only am I not always safe, I am with my baby girl.
That man may not have been following me, I could have been paranoid or been over reacting. He might just have been walking at the same pace as me, and he might have just been going in the same direction down the same streets. His noises and mutterings might have been due to an illness or maybe he was talking on a phone I couldn’t see. But that’s sort of beside the point. The point is, in that moment, at that time, I felt threatened.
It is a cruel reality that a woman walking alone is more vulnerable than a man walking alone. There is no doubt that men are attacked, men are raped, and that women are capable of violence against men. But it is also a reality that women are far more likely to be victims at the hands of men than men at the hands of women. Whether I was over reacting to feel threatened at that time I don’t know, but I felt it. I felt unsafe.
It sucks, quite frankly, that that is the world we live in, the world where women are constantly reminded that there is danger all around and even a walk home from the supermarket carries risk. It makes me angry. It upsets me. Who that man was, I don’t know, and I don’t know why he followed me. But he did, and in that simple act he caused me fear that I didn’t need, didn’t want, and didn’t ask for. I simply walked past him.