|Photo of train tracks with a several switches or points.|
This may be a metaphorical representation of the complexity
of the psychological journey we must make, or it may just be
a random pic I found on Google image search.
And then, around the time we moved into our current house, a woman reported being sexually assaulted in the (much shorter and lighter) subway to the platform of Closest Train Station (CTS). Around a week later she retracted her complaint. I remember thinking that I would feel so much safer if I could just believe she was a lying slut that made it all up for attention, when in fact all kinds of possibilities kept racing through my mind. Maybe the police treated her like crap. Maybe she was threatened. Maybe her family felt it reflected badly on them and put pressure on her to keep it quiet. Maybe she made up an assault by a stranger to cover up and assault by someone known to her. Maybe she just wanted to stop talking about it.
Fast forward a few months, and we're living about 25 minutes walk from CTS. The bus is much closer and it works well for commuting, but during summer I often prefer the train; the walk is pretty, a train pass is cheaper and when the train works it's a lot quicker. But I have a choice of a train or a bus pass (there's no suitable combined option) and the single bus fare home is expensive (and this sometimes applies year round anyway as trains sometimes run later than the buses). Walking home from the station is no problem if I go straight home from work, but I often don't. Later in the evening I have a couple of options:
The first is to take the train to CTS and then switch to a bus which takes me almost to my house. It costs a little extra but not too much. In theory the bus connects with the train. To be fair, in practice it usually does, but if it doesn't there's the risk that I'll have to (a) wait an hour (that's assuming it's not the last bus, which it often is) (b) walk - and it's really pushing the boundaries of what I can walk whilst carrying a bag or (c) call a taxi, which aside from the expense, can often take a while to arrive. Meanwhile, there's a large open space where the bus stop is which I've already experienced verbal sexual harassment just walking across - waiting there for any period of time does not sound like an enjoyable experience.
The second is to get off the train at SCTS and walk home. Most of the walk is along a reasonably busy road with lots of open space. It's not a problem. But for the first section I have two options. The first - and slightly shorter - one is through a semi industrial area. At night it tends to be most abandoned with the odd passing car. There are effectively no houses. The other is through a largely residential area, where you can usually expect a few people to be wandering around. It's an area of mostly state housing and has a strong reputation for being a neighbourhood with significant gang connections. It's the latter that I feel safer in; I always feel safer when there are people around. But I walk through the deserted semi industrial area, the one that makes my heart race and I'm clutching my hands against my bag strap as I keep thinking I see people jump out of shadows. It's an utterly horrible experience, even though it only lasts five minutes.
And I've only just realised why I make that choice. It's because, if I were attacked (and I don't think that's particularly likely) I believe I would get far more criticism for taking the long way round through a gang neighbourhood at night.
The point of this post is not my public transport woes (though a rant post complete with phone camera photos of Annoying Loud Music Playing Woman is certainly tempting). This is just a subsection of equivalent stories I could tell - I haven't gone into details of how creepy my workplace feels at night, the spate of (attempted) assaults in my city or that a bunch of schoolkids at the bus stop last night seriously beat up another - I only saw the end of it, as someone intervened, but an acquaintance who'd witnessed it was pale and literally shaking.
It's that most of my fears are not of assault. They're fears of the fear of assault, of how unpleasant being scared is, and they're fears of what would happen to me if I were to be assaulted. It's that knowing - through feminist reading or bitter experience - that the streets at dark are not the dangerous place, is not enough for women to be able to fucking get home from the train station at 10pm without it being a fear inducing drama. And that's not just because - even if its incidence is disproportionately cited - stranger rape does happen. It's because we do face street harassment all the fucking time. It's because we've been trained to be afraid - and most worryingly we've been trained to be afraid of people from particular racial and socioeconomic groups. And it's that - if anything does happen - we know we're going to be faced with shit and have every decision we made scrutinised.
I wish being able to relate my actual fears to real possibilities, and know why my fears are problematic, was enough. It's not.