Getting a taxi home at 5.30am after finishing a shift at work should be an uneventful journey. There’s barely any people or traffic, so on Sunday when my taxi stopped at a red light about two kilometres from my home, I was surprised that another taxi pulled up beside us.
It was a taxi carrying a loud and apparently drunken group of men in their 20s or 30s. They started yelling at my driver to wind down the back window, where I was sitting. I told him not to, and he didn’t.
Notice how these ‘men’ were yelling this request at my driver and not me, as if he held some sort of Jane Austen-era authority over me.
But that didn’t stop this howling pack. They kept yelling at me, so I flipped them the bird.
They screamed that I was an ugly bitch.
As my taxi drove towards my house, I felt the all-too-familiar swell of adrenaline mixed with panic – they were following us.
Instead of thinking about how much I couldn’t wait to collapse into bed and go to sleep, my head was full of all the possible scenarios – they were toying with me, but maybe they were planning on grabbing me once I was out of the taxi. They might force their way into my house, or drag me into their taxi.
My taxi arrived at my house, and so did the other taxi. It stopped behind us. I didn’t know what to do – should I tell my driver to keep driving or do I make a run for my front door?
And then they drove off, laughing and screaming.
Maybe they thought they were being funny; maybe they didn’t realise they were scaring me. Maybe.
Or maybe they knew exactly what they, a group of men, were doing and simply didn’t give a s–t about it. They were having a good time, and that’s all that mattered.
For some people reading this, I know their response will be, “Oh, it was nothing, just a couple of blokes having a laugh.”
Other people will think how minor it was, that there are so many bigger problems in the world to worry about.
But what they don’t realise is this wasn’t just one incident.
No – almost every woman will have a folder of experiences of dozens, maybe hundreds of times, when they have been subjected to a man whose actions control their own.
The fear, angst and the anxiety pile up, creating a scar that you carry with you, and that scar directly feeds your body’s adrenaline.
It wasn’t just one incident, it was the latest in a long line of times when my safety wasn’t my choice, but dependent on what a man, or group of men, decided to do.
It’s about the pack of men in the car screaming, “Nice boobs!” as you’re walking home from work.
The man walking behind you just a little too close, so you pick up the pace.
And the guy at the bar who offers to buy you a drink and when you decline, calls you a slut.
All of these incidents can end just there, frightening but leaving you physically unharmed. They can also turn, quickly, into threats, stalking, physical or sexual attacks.
And when these incidents happen, women never know which of the two outcomes is going to happen.
I want every woman, especially women of colour, indigenous women and women who live with disability, who are more vulnerable to such experiences, to say it out loud every time one of these ‘minor’ experiences happen, to tell their friends, post it on social media, and don’t feel the pressure to excuse it or brush it aside.
It may have been ‘just one incident’, but for the woman involved, it’s never, ever just one.
Alana Schetzer is a freelance journalist, editor and academic. She is a co-founder of Women in Media and is a 2017 Dart Centre Fellow.