Walking home alone

1IMG_5822At the end of one of my first nights out in Budapest, I was standing in front of a Ruin bar somewhere in the Jewish Quarter with two other students: a Hungarian, another international and I. We were the remaining three of a large group of students who met for the first time that evening. When saying goodbye to the two of them, my newly won Hungarian acquaintance was surprised: “You can not walk home alone. It is way too dangerous for women to be alone in the streets during the night.”

So we started to walk together towards Blaha Lujza tér. When it dawned on me that I lived in the opposite direction and that we would first drop off the other student at her place, I declined the offer and got on the bus in the direction of Astoria. Still, the statement of the Hungarian still ran through my mind and on my way home I asked myself: Should I be scared?

I walk alone at night. I’ve been doing so for most nights since I’m allowed to go out. I walk alone because I’m too stingy to pay for a taxi, because I don’t mind walking and because the headaches might be less servere the next day with some fresh air right before I go to sleep. I walk without pepper spray, a pocket knife or pretending to have big brother on the phone. I walk only with the upperbody strengh of a semi-athletic 170cm tall woman and Google Maps navigation.

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Especially in the new environment, but also in my hometown, I sometimes have to check my phone to arrive at my destination. Yes, that’s how I fulfill the stereotype of the woman with no sense of direction. And it sucks, if I do not find the bus stop at one of the major intersections or when I take the wrong turn right in front of my house. But making a detour is not scary for me. Scary and uncomfortable is walking with someone whose intentions I cannot clearly assess, with whom I might not be on the same page and who may want something in return at my doorstep.

This does not mean that any man who offers a woman to bring her home, or simply does it without asking, has wrongful intentions. And it does not mean that being a woman alone in the dark is not dangerous. And although I feel safe most of the time walking home alone, what I actually want to say is: No matter which option we choose, it is impossible for a woman to ever truly be safe. Being a woman means being told from infancy to fear the unknown. However, statistically many more females are molested by family members, neighbors or work colleagues than by strangers at night on the street. Of course I could be attacked walking home alone, but I am not more vulnerable than I am in many well-known spaces.

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