Up All Night With Paranoia and Playtex

A lone female walks through the city’s downtown pondering the power of her fist and gender politics

I have a confession to make. I’m scared to walk at night alone.

After growing up in downtown Winnipeg I know the rules of awareness and self-protection as well as I know where to buy the cheapest tampons in West Broadway (the Rexall on Portage Ave. and Maryland St.). 

Don’t wear headphones. Make sure you can easily hear all of your surroundings. Walk confidently but trust your instincts when your gut tells you to cross the street or turn around. Stay in well-lit areas. Try to wear shoes you can move easily in and avoid being loaded down with bags and purses that limit your ability to react. Lastly, know what you would do in a worst-case scenario, and have a few self-defence moves under your belt.

I consider myself a feminist and as much as I practice safe methods for walking alone at night, I can’t help but feel a stubborn frustration that I shouldn’t have to fear venturing out at night. I should be able to walk at night freely without gripping either my phone or my keys or having to question the motives of every friendly toque-wearer I happen to share the sidewalk with. I feel a constant struggle between adult preparedness and teenage angst for independence.

The other night, I was presented with the unavoidable task of braving the cold and stomping the 15-minute trek from the edge of West Broadway to Assiniboine Ave. 

A dinner of kielbasa, mustard and ripple chips (yup, social time), and the accompanying five Standards had me feeling exhilarated and brave. Armed with clunky-heeled boots, a massive parka and a slight sneer, I’m ready to face all of the evil potentially hiding behind each dumpster.

With The Stooges in my head and my muscles remembering the motions of the knee-to-groin and forearm-to-throat, I slip into the night. Mustering a hazy sense of sharp alertness, I expect outlandish cardboard cut-outs to pop out of the bushes forcing me to react like Marge Simpson in cop training mode.

In the first part of my walk I feel strong, as if I’m claiming the sidewalk as my own beneath my slippy boots. But as I approach Mostyn Place the air gets more desolate. With lit up windows and humanity behind me, I carefully venture down the empty street, one which most of my friends have been mugged on.

Gripping my keys and heightening every sensor in my body, I contemplate the reasons I feel this way, and what can be done about it. I wonder if my brothers ever felt this trepidation, and if attackers would cease if they knew about the rust-splotched cotton that faced them.

Reaching the door to my building brings euphoric relief. I had triumphed! One more night feeling perhaps foolishly empowered, but empowered none the less.

Published in Volume 69, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 4, 2015)

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