Two of my male friends were recently talking about all of the ways they adjust their behavior when they find themselves walking behind a woman—a woman who is alone—at night. They’re acutely aware of the fact that she’s probably uncomfortable having a strange man behind her. They’re good guys—they have no bad intentions—but they know that she doesn’t know that, and they don’t want her to feel afraid. Full disclosure: they also complained a bit and said, “Look at all this stuff we have to do to make women comfortable, because of bad things other men have done—we’re good dudes!” They’re right but, as “good dudes” they have a responsibility to go out of their way—yes out of their way—to make women who are alone feel safe. If you’re a man out there thinking it’s an inconvenience that you have to change your behavior to make women feel safe, just imagine how “inconvenient” it is for us to feel afraid all of the time. Men, here are ways to make a woman walking alone feel safe.
Do: Slow down
If you’re not in a hurry, just slow down. Walking at the same pace as her can make her feel like you’re following her. Slow down a bit, so she understands you aren’t trying to keep up with her.
Don’t: Say this
You may think yelling, “I’m not a murderer!” will make her feel at ease. But do you think murderers yell, “I am a murderer?” Anything along the lines of “I’m not going to hurt you” or “You’re safe with me” will only frighten her more.
Do: Say something
Do, if it feels natural, say something. If she acknowledges you for a moment, say anything like, “How’s it going?” or “Hi there.” You do this because someone who walks behind a woman and says nothing, for blocks, even after making eye contact, is very scary. Saying a short sentence humanizes you in her eyes.
Don’t: Speed up
Maybe you think the best plan of action is to just speed up and pass her, so then you’re not even behind her anymore. But as you speed up, she thinks you’re just gaining on her and may grab her mace.
Do: Cross the street
Crossing the street—to the opposite side of her—is an easy way to put distance between the two of you, without having to slow down when you’re in a hurry.
Don’t whistle. Please, for goodness sake, don’t whistle. If you have a habit of unconsciously whistling while you walk, you need to get a handle on that. Do you know how creepy it is when a strange man walks behind us at night and whistles? That’s how scary movies start. It’s one of the many creepy things men do they don’t know they do.
Do: Talk on the phone
Talking on the phone also humanizes you, and tells the woman that you’re a normal member of society who has people to call on the phone. If you’ve been meaning to call your mom or sister to catch up, now’s the time.
Don’t: Hide your hands
Be conscious of your hands. If they’re shoved deep in your pockets, it can make women walking alone very nervous. They don’t know what’s in your pockets.
Do: Have a dog
This may be a stretch but, we certainly feel more at ease when a strange man walking behind us is walking a dog. It changes the whole dynamic.
Don’t: Chat her up
While it’s fine to say a quick, “Good evening” when she looks at you, don’t walk next to her and start a whole conversation. This is actually very alarming to us. At best we think you’re hitting on us and being annoying and at worst we think you’re trying to disarm us before you attack us.
Do: Just pause if you can
If you really aren’t in a hurry, then just stop walking for a few minutes. Stand to the side, and send a text or check an email on your phone. Let the woman get ahead of you by a few blocks so she feels safer.
Don’t: Keep a hood on
This may seem like profiling but, it actually can make us feel very nervous when strange individuals we don’t know walk behind us wearing hoods. We can’t see their faces, which means neither could anyone else if they attacked us. Take your hood off when walking behind a woman, to show you aren’t trying to hide your identity.
Do: Smile and say “Hi” if she looks back
If she looks at you, smile and nod. Relax. People who are up to no good look nervous when others make eye contact with them. So don’t look nervous.
Don’t: Walk amongst the shadows
If part of the sidewalk is illuminated by streetlamps and part of it is not, stay beneath the light. Someone lurking beneath the shadows will obviously frighten us.
Do: Ask, “What if this were my sister/friend?/Gf?”
If taking any of these precautions annoys you, just ask yourself this, “If this were my sister, best female friend, girlfriend, or mother, how would I want a man walking behind her to behave?”