IN HER SHOES: What it's like to be alone, in the dark, and a girl
Trina Busby, English teacher, did not approve of the joking signs some of her senior students were making, referring to their rivals’ (Spanish Fort High School) player being charged with first-degree rape. “No means no,” the posters said, making light of a slogan meant to reveal the darkness behind a highly personal crime.
“You cannot make posters [saying that] and hold them up at the football game,” she said. “It’s just… In poor taste. Don’t do it... It’s like re-victimizing the victim.”
The fear that women face on a day-to-day basis is not trivial. It’s not imaginary or contrived.
In a former issue of The Northridge Reporter, the female staff was invited to partake in a self defense class following an article on an assault of a teenage girl at Munny Sokol Park.
It was there that instructor Michael Holt revealed a gruesome story of a high school softball player, a story of a simple stop at a gas station that went terribly awry after an assault.
Two years later, and for the foreseeable future, the issue still persists, as female students and faculty approach daily tasks, empty parking lots and nightly runs with a heightened sense of caution.
Terry Milsaps, junior, runs in Sokol Park regularly. Her father, a former police officer, warns her to always carry pepper spray with her for protection.
“[My dad] saw way more [in Tuscaloosa] than you would think, like rape cases and stuff,” she said.
Although Tuscaloosa could be considered a relatively safe town, Milsaps said she does not feel comfortable walking down the Strip, a popular street on campus, at night.
And it’s not just her, she said, recounting a time when she was walking behind two girls, “their keys clutched in between their fingers,” with their father on the phone for the duration of the walk back to their car.
While she takes care to avoid alleyways and shortcuts through neighborhoods, Milsaps noted that boys her age don’t have to feel the same.
“It’s okay for guys to do it though, because they don’t have any real threats to worry about,” she said.
Young men may be oblivious to the everyday anxieties of their female counterparts, but somewhere along the way, they learn to caution their daughters of the risks of staying out alone.
Megan Liljenquist, science teacher, grew up being warned about the dangers that surround women of all ages.
“My parents were always like, ‘You can’t do that, you’re a girl..’ and you know, ‘You have to be cautious because guys can overpower you,’” she said.
This sentiment was carried over by her husband, who feels the need to keep his wife safe on her nightly runs, cautioning her to carry pepper spray or bring their dog along for protection.
“My husband wouldn’t do that for himself,” she said. “If he was gonna go for a run, he’d typically just be like ‘Oh I’m just gonna go’ and didn’t take pepper spray, didn’t take anything like that.”
Burdened by the reality of being a woman alone in the dark, Liljenquist does not have the luxury of exercising when she wants to.
“I’m too scared to venture out…” she said. “...It just kinda creeps me out.”
Like Liljenquist, Milsaps has cause to be afraid.
Walking along the streets of Asheville, North Carolina, with twenty of her fellow camp counselors, Milsaps recalled “the creepiest thing anyone has ever said to [her].”
“One man literally called us a buffet,” she said. “He was like, ‘Oh I can pick whatever I want!’”
Similar comments have kept senior Kathryn Versace from feeling safe, even while running daily errands.
“What’s for dinner?” a man snidely asked her while peeking into her grocery basket.
While some may dismiss comments like these, shrugging them off as harmless, they make women more wary of their environment, prompting them to avoid more unwanted attention.
“If I’m walking down the street, I always cling to one side of the sidewalk,” Versace said. “I don’t really want to interact or like bump into someone.”
After two of her female neighbors were followed home by a “sketchy van,” junior Liza Thornell said she, too, is forced to take precautions when alone in public.
“If I can’t park by the door, I just don’t go,” she said. “The movie theatre? Nuh uh.”
Thornell said she typically relies on her friends to join her in nightly errands, a notion seconded by senior Ragan Ferguson.
“Whenever I get off work late at night, I either get somebody to walk out with me or, like, I check underneath my car cause I’m always scared that somebody’s gonna be hiding,” she said.
The precautions these girls take are not merely habit, they’ve become second nature.
Even more so for junior Lakesha Dailey, who spent her childhood learning to grow up fast.
“I used to live in the projects,” she said. “Yeah, I was scared.”
At ten years old, a young Dailey would hurriedly walk down the streets of Birmingham from cheer practice to home, evening after evening.
“I didn’t have my cousins with me, I used to just walk fast and hurry up and get my stuff. And,” she sighed, “I’d walk home... safely.”
She would then call her mother, who worked late and insisted on hearing of a safe return.
“[Now], I don’t really think about being scared or anything, it’s just there,” Dailey said after she listed off what has so quickly become common knowledge to her:
“Make sure you’re not walking home in a little tank top, or leggings, or something like that.”
“Make sure you’re looking out for who’s behind you.”
“Make sure that you’re walking fast, like you’re not lollygagging.”
“Make sure you see who’s riding up beside you in the road, that you don’t see the same car twice because more than likely they’re circling you, looking at you.”
“Make sure you walk fast if you see a car cruisin by.”
For women, they don’t just to have to “make sure” they follow these unwritten guidelines, they simply must.