Friend or foe? How men can be better allies to women
There are ways men can be better allies to women with some simple steps. It really isn’t complicated.
As some of you may know during the pandemic I started to embed a walking habit. I regularly go with friends to the forests in and around Brussels. They have been my sanity projects. But I also frequently walk on my own and have never felt uncomfortable.
Sunset and wine
A few Sundays ago I decided to go for a walk and watch the sunset in a café on the edge of the parkland and read my Kindle with a glass of wine. It was going to be pretty chilled. This dear Reader, explains why I was wearing a dress, unsuitable shoes and earrings. It was as much about the sunset as the exercise.
I know the routes well and wanted to do about a 6000 step walk. Remember the wine? At the last minute, my conscience got the better of me. I decided to extend to the 10K step route and took a path I thought looked familiar, although truthfully one forest path looks like another in the height of the summer. This was why I was a lousy Girl Guide. It was a glorious late afternoon and the forest was spectacular and peaceful. I felt great and oblivious to the fading light, carried on walking.
After a while, I realised I wasn’t sure where I was. I tried, but I couldn’t get a signal on my phone so kept on going, still pretty relaxed. By this time the sun had dropped even further and the shadows were lengthening. I was regretting my café attire.
I finally came to an open space and captured a fleeting bar (4G type). To my dismay I located myself. Put it like this I could have called an Uber to get back to my car. If I had been near a road. Which I wasn’t. Or had a sustainable signal. Which I didn’t.
I had no choice but to keep on walking and even though the café was long closed. I decided not to think about Sauvignon Blanc, but happy uplifting thoughts. Engrossed, communing with nature, a man drove past on a bike. So far, so normal. This is a forest after all. But then he stopped, turned around, and slowly rode back towards me, not saying anything. Just hovering, staring and waiting.
He was a big guy, quite scruffy looking in a non-MAMIL (middle-aged man in lycra) way. They normally tear along the paths at breakneck speed. It was actually super creepy and felt menacing. I know this was hardly K2 or Reese Witherspoon and wilderness hiking, but by my standards, I was far from anywhere. There was no one around and no phone signal. Anyone who knows me will tell you I am not usually a nervous type and given to drama, (really,) but I confess I did feel a little unnerved.
I slowed down and busied myself photographing shrubs in David Attenborough mode (as you do) given that the light was fading by the second. I got my keys out of my bag which I had read somewhere. Although what I was supposed to do with them I wasn’t exactly sure. Stab him in the eye with my front door key? Threaten him with my flip flops? I calculated I had €20 for the wine I would never now drink and about €1000 worth of hardware (a Kindle and an iPhone.) So not a bad target for a slow Sunday afternoon’s heist in the woods. For the first time in living memory, I felt vulnerable.
Take a look: Bystanding is a form of collusion so change from a bystander to an upstander.
Show you’re an ally
The man stayed put as I moved towards him. It’s actually quite hard to sustain an active “Life on Our Planet” interest in fauna and flora, and there are only so many close-ups you can take of a bush in the dark.
Then suddenly he came towards me at picking up speed as he went along as if his hair was on fire. I tightened my grip on my keys which were now beginning to hurt my hand. Should I call out to him? My inner dialogue weighed up my limited options. I could just give him everything. But then my Kindle was new, and I did need my phone. I could concede the €20. But then he had a €2000 bike, so maybe that last offer wouldn’t cut it.
As I was mulling over my choices…………. he cycled closer. I felt air movement.
Andt he went right on by.
A woman and child were riding over the hill.
First, I felt like the prize, hysterical, idiotic fool of all time. What was the matter with me? Sheeeesh….
Friend or foe
But then I thought secondly, men can be better allies. If you see a woman on her own please reassure her you mean no harm. This is a basic primal protocol. Now, someone would say a hardened criminal or psychopath would put someone at their ease and then slam them on the back of the head, run off with their bag or strangle them.
But all it needed was a smile and “waiting for my family.” This is a situation that I am sure most men would not even have given a second thought. But women are programmed to think about their personal security from childhood and I hadn’t felt like that for years.
Was he oblivious to my discomfort? Was it deliberate? Was he equally unsure what to do? I will never know.
Worth a read: Male allies need support – just not the same type
Three hours later I turned the key in my front door to my well-deserved glass of wine.
I know this is my more light hearted after the event reflection, but for many women this may have been a real situation when they were harmed, sexually assaulted, robbed, and let’s not forget…. didn’t make it home.
And don’t tell me not to walk on my own.
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