I try to do things to reduce my carbon footprint. I’m not amazingly successful at this, but I do try. Unfortunately, many of the small doable actions recommended are off limits to me as a woman attempting to navigate public spaces. I have been known to live close enough to work that I could walk or bike, but I often eschew that in favor of a car with all its fossil fuel consumption.
I don’t like driving everywhere, it’s neither economical nor good for the world. If I stopped and started biking, I could probably get some nice tax initiatives, not to mention the moral high ground. I love moral high ground. Unfortunately, I can’t necessarily abandon my car, because even as a white and cis woman who is middle-class, I don’t have the privilege to be always safe in public spaces. Biking is all fine and dandy in daylight, but there are many places I’m very much not comfortable doing that late at night. I find public transportation usually safe enough (if available), but then there are the spaces between the transportation and my destination, and those can be scary.
A lot of my problems with public spaces aren’t even about safety, necessarily, but about avoiding street harassment. When I lived in Houston, I was one block away from a grocery store. I don’t need that much in the way of groceries, so walking to and fro with bags was easily physically doable. I tried doing it, which is how I learned that I cannot walk one block without having people yell rude things at me and cars slow down beside me so that their drivers can blow me kisses.
Street harassment is a thing that I can’t just deal with; even if it’s only someone driving by and hooting at me and then going on his merry way, that’s enough to leave me upset and frustrated. Sufficiently so that I am much happier if I don’t even walk across the street to get my mail. I only check the mail on my way driving somewhere else so I can minimize the amount of time I am in public outside my anonymizing vehicle. I might have an easier time with community support for my complaints, but if I mention street harassment to more than a select few people, I am almost inevitably told it’s not a big deal or I get a list of all the things I should have done and said in response. This is assuming that people even acknowledge that I am telling the truth. I still vividly remember a gentleman of my acquaintance telling me, in tones of disbelief, that he had never experienced any harassment like I was describing.
I have never known the issue of comfort and safety in public spaces to arise during conversations of environmental responsibility, and this is an oversight. Most women experience street harassment at some point in their lives and a very common response from harassed women is to limit their time in public (citation). This means that a non-trivial percent of the populace feels quite literally unable to stop using personal fossil fuel powered vehicles for all their transportation needs.
Featured image is a photo I took of the sun through the smog near Beijing. Seriously, that’s how bad the smog gets.
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