A couple months ago, I had to review a concert taking place in Kerrytown that would force me to go through the heart of Ann Arbor. It started at 7 p.m., which, being in winter, seemed like the dead of night. Not finding anyone to accompany me and knowing all too well the dangers of walking alone at night, I Ubered there and back — about a $20 excursion. But I didn’t even think twice about it. My safety came first, and I had been warned too many times about what could happen so I didn’t risk it.
Instances like this happen all the time. Whether it’s splurging on an Uber, taking an extra 15 minutes to establish a plan for going out, double checking for pepper spray before a day in town — these types of time-consuming and expensive situations are things girls deal with every day. Being a girl is taxing. Everything we have to think about before going out, all the preparation we do, all the extra time and money we have to spend to keep ourselves safe — it’s taxing emotionally and to our bank accounts.
There are the typical economic systems of oppression that women face, such as the Glass Ceiling, which is the barrier preventing women from rising up in the industry and the economy. This leads to women making 80.7 cents to the male dollar (which is only the average wage — women of color often make much less) and a substantial wage gap. There’s also the Pink Tax, the fact that female consumers pay more just simply for being women. It’s been proven that women are charged more for products and services like dry cleaning, personal care products and vehicle maintenance. Tampons and pads are charged sales tax because they are considered “luxury items.” In these occasions, women are paying more than men 42 percent of the time, and about $1,351 per year in extra costs. But the economy isn’t even close to the only issue for women.
Women are forced to be constantly vigilant about our safety. Even if nothing has ever happened to us personally, we know from stories and others’ experiences why we need to be cautious. I have a friend who went to an all-girls high school, and at her graduation, the school gave every single student pink pepper spray as a parting gift. This reflects the reality of a college campus — or anywhere, for that matter — that girls need a way to defend themselves, and that they feel unsafe.
Before going out, I’m always making plans with friends to solidify who I’m going with and who I’m staying with, who I’m walking home with. We try to go in groups, hopefully with at least a couple guys we trust, but even then, we never fail to bring pepper spray. If anyone decides to drink, she has to watch as it’s being poured and handed to her. Frat parties can be more terrifying than fun as we try to walk the tightrope of hanging out with friends and worrying about potential threats to our safety.
Even for just a 10-minute walk home at night, I have to be prepared. Walking from Central Campus back to my dorm isn’t worth Ubering, but it’s still nerve-wracking. My mom once chastised me for having pepper spray in my backpack, because that’s not easily accessible enough. And she’s right. If something happened, I wouldn’t have time to rummage through whichever pocket it’s in and pull it out fast enough to defend myself. Now I keep it in my coat pocket with my hand wrapped around it.
These cautionary steps that women take every day don’t even cross most guys’ minds. In an experiment performed by social researcher Jackson Katz, he asked men and women what they do on a daily basis to protect themselves from sexual assault. The men’s response: “Nothing. I don’t think about it.” Women, on the other hand, listed more than 30 precautions they take to avoid assault and keep themselves safe.
Staying safe on campus is something that is stressed from the very first college visit. We’re told about the Safe Rides, “blue light” emergency telephones and the Division of Public Safety and Security. The University of Michigan does what it can to keep its students safe. But it can only do so much. There is still so much left up to girls to do to keep ourselves safe.
And you know what? We really shouldn’t have to worry about this. We should be able to walk home from a concert without pepper spray in our hand. We should be able to go out without fear of being raped. We should be able to live our lives freely without constant vigilance. But because society has deemed these goals not at the top of its priority list, we do not have the luxury of putting our guard down. Until we fix the inherent flaws in our economic and social systems, I will always Uber at night and carry pepper spray.
Dana Pierangeli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org