After a jogger was sexually assaulted in Shepton Mallet last year, the local running club advised women to travel in packs. Extroverts hate running with other people; we don’t like company without chat, and talking while running is a literal waste of breath. Introverts hate running with other people, because they are other people. Avon and Somerset police, meanwhile, have recommended that runners don’t listen to music and vary their routes. (Everybody hates running without music and most hate changing their routes.) It’s fine, ladies, the police seem to say. We have got your back. You can still do that thing you enjoy, you just have to make yourself safer by enjoying it less.
In the 90s, the What Women Want survey drew on the largest sample since the Hite report on sexuality in the 70s. It had the same methodological problems – it wasn’t a probability sample and women were self-selecting, simply choosing to fill in a postcard or not. And it wasn’t as sexy as the Hite report; women, given infinite choice to talk about utopia, talked a lot about the sunlit uplands of being able to go places without being attacked. When the survey was conducted again a couple of years ago, nothing had changed: young women who you would expect to demand better youth services were instead asking for street lighting; professionals whom might, in another world, be worrying about boardrooms were talking about safety as a tax, cabs because it’s late, gyms because the park was too dicey.
There has been no shortage, in these intervening decades, of people telling women to take greater responsibility for themselves, but it doesn’t help. You can stay as safe as you like – you can stay indoors and be incredibly safe – but it would just be some other woman under the bus. The pro tips really need to go in the other direction.