Walking in Her Heels

From an early age, most women are taught to “trust your gut.” It’s a feeling that young girls can’t quite understand until they are a little older, until they feel the presence of a strange man walking behind them one night and their stomach starts to turn. That feeling will become one of theirbiggest weapons as they enter into womanhood and start to understand, truly, what it means to bea woman at night.

Sophomore Arlo Stebbing, although a man himself, decided to dress up as a nurse forHalloween. This particular costume was not an imitation of Meredith Grey’s scrubs, but instead was more risqué (and challenging).

“I walked in heels for most of the night,” Stebbing said. “I took them off several times, but I always put them back on against my better judgement.”

Although the costume was for comedy’s sake, Stebbing learned some valuable lessons about being a woman at night.

“The heels were different because they were incredibly uncomfortable, so they were the only [part of my costume] that made me reflect on the female experience…there’s an extra layer of humor whenever I see girls carrying their shoes. Now I’m like ‘I totally understand where you’re coming from, girlfriend,’” Stebbing said.

Friday and Saturday nights can be the most wearisome for females, whether they are on the Hendrix campus or out in the real world. Weekend nights bring certain expectations about what women should wear, namely tight skirts, less clothing and most importantly – heels. In the veryact of “getting ready for the night,” women also make themselves more vulnerable. Tight clothing can be restricting if a woman needed to run quickly away from someone. Heels make louder noises than regular shoes, and when paired with less clothing, can make a female more of a potential target.

Stebbing acknowledged that heels shouldn’t be considered a necessity for a late night out.

“To girls debating whether or not to wear heels, I would just think ‘How likely are you to, at the end of the night, be walking somewhere by yourself?” If that is likely, either don’t wear heels or bring another pair of shoes you can change into,” Stebbing said.

For Hendrix students, this is definitely true. We live in a relaxed culture where students can wear almost anything and not feel out of place. The same cannot be said for other campuses, cities or scenarios. What is true for Hendrix female students, however, is that oftentimes the scariest situations are not on party nights surrounded by friends but on weekday nights when everyone else is asleep.

Some students have to stay in labs especially late, or end up in the library until 3 a.m. Bonnie Nolan is one of those people.

Nolan, a senior, lives at Huntington but often finds herself stuck on the main part of campus at night. It’s not the main campus that scares her most, but the periphery; it’s walking to her apartment complex that gives her worries.

“Huntington is probably where I feel the most unsafe…just people hanging out in the parking lot…we get the police called to our apartment complex a lot,” Nolan said. When asked what she thinks Hendrix should do to make Huntington safer, she responded “I don’t know how much the school itself can do…I almost wonder if the Conway Police Department should be handling that better.”

Freshman Maddy Shaddox, although not living in an apartment, has similar fears about walking alone at night.

“As a theater and dance student, I have to walk across campus pretty late after practice on most nights and it doesn’t always feel safe. I have a metal rod attached to my keychain for self-defense purposes, but I’m not sure how well it would work if I was actually attacked,” Shaddox said.

The solution to these fears has been the escort service offered by Hendrix Public Safety. Jan Lee, one of the PSafe officers, notes that she might get around three calls for an escort service per night. In her opinion, there should be more.

“I don’t think [women] really think much about it until they get that feeling, or it’s really cold or it’s raining,” Lee said.

For many students, it canseem trivial to ask for a ride to the other side of our small campus when it’s really only a five minute walk away. Lee noted that it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

“If we’re driving you somewhere, you don’t have to worry about someone coming up and attacking you. We’re here, so you might as well use it – it can keep you safe,” Lee said.

Lee’s perspective as a college safety officer is a unique one, considering that she spent time in Afghanistan working on women’s safety. As a member of the armed forces, Lee helped start a family services program with the Afghani police department. The program was technically a family violence unit, but because of Sharia law that label was not used.

“It was so bad over there,” Lee said. “Women could not even come to the police station to make a complaint. They were turned away at the gate.”

Her time in Afghanistan taught her important lessons about culture and the extreme differences between America and other nations, although it did not really change her perspective on safety.

“It’s opened my eyes to different cultures, and knowing that when I meet a student from another country, their culture may be completely different than mine. But safety is safety…you do simple things to make sure you’re safe, and I did the same thing in Afghanistan [as I do here],” Lee said.

Safety, as a woman, means using what you have. What you wouldn’t necessarily consider a weapon at 3 a.m. on a Tuesday night is suddenly your greatest asset when you find yourself alone at 3 a.m. Saturday morning. Stebbing realized this fact in the moments when his feet could not bear the pain of walking in heels.

“So on the one hand, if you’re wearing heels you can’t run as fast as if you’re wearing shoes,” Stebbing said. “But, if you’ve already taken them off and you’re walking around barefoot, they’re a weapon. So, if you see your attacker approaching you do have something on them because, especially if you’re wearing stilettos, you could definitelyshove those through an eyeball right quick.”

“You use what you have, whether it’s your keys or glasses or heels,” Lee said. “Anything can become a weapon.”

One protection that many women on campus have begun carrying is pepper spray. It has become a common staple on the average female college student’s keychain. Pepper spray can be useful, but only if it is used correctly.

“If you have to dig around for your pepper spray, it doesn’t do you any good,” Lee said. “I’m not saying don’t have it, because it’s a good tool, but if it’s not in your hand or you have to fiddle with the cap to see how to mash the button, which you do with a lot of them…it’s not going to help you if somebody’s attacking you.”

Lee advised that some of the best things Hendrix students can do at night are to walk in pairs, always tell someone where you are going, and have your phone in your hand at all times.

Whether it’s at Hendrix or beyond, the experience of being a female at night is, on some level, universal. For women, going out is not just a “good time.” It’s systematic, even survivalist, and “trusting your gut” is a part of the female experience that, sadly, most women will carry with them their whole lives.

This story orginally appeared in the April print edition of The Profile

Art work credit: Nicola Bryan

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