It’s a good question, isn’t it?
My novel After Dark explores what would happen if we put the burden of responsibility for women’s safety in public spaces not on women themselves, but on men, with one simple change – a curfew, one that would require all men to stay at home after 7pm.
It would change things, there’s no doubt about that. What would a day of Curfew look like for the average family? We’ll call them the Smiths. Say they’ve been married for twenty years and they’ve got two teenage children, a boy and a girl.
It’s 6pm on an ordinary Thursday, the countdown to Curfew has begun, and Mr Smith is on his way home from work. Mrs Smith is still in the office. She’s in no rush to get home. One of her female colleagues is leaving, and someone has brought in a cake. All the men have already left the building. She texts Mr Smith to see if he’s made it home yet.
In the living room of the Smith’s family home, their son is playing an online video game with his friends, waiting for his online guitar lesson to start. All his evening activities have to be done online now. Their daughter is upstairs getting ready to go to her part time job. She’ll have a decent amount saved by the time she starts university. She wants to be a doctor, a big ambition, but a good option. Hospitals are always crying out for female staff who have the flexibility to work nights.
At 6:50pm, Mrs Smith finally has a reply from her husband. Just made it. She swallows down her anger. It’s not her job to make sure he’s back on time, but it still infuriates her when he takes those sorts of risks. She’s begins to make her own way home now. The roads are quiet, and it doesn’t take long. Mr Smith already has dinner in the oven. Their daughter is quickly down the stairs and out of the door with little more than a quick goodbye for her parents, who share a smile as she slams the door behind her.
Knowing she’ll be safe makes the other stuff worth it.
Shortly after, Mrs Smith decides she’ll go out too. She meets up with a friend at a local bar they both like, and they each have a glass of wine, served by a female bartender. There’s no queue for the toilet. Women wouldn’t stand for that now.
Leaving the bar, they see another of their female friends entering the gym across the road. They wave. A long time ago, the woman on her way to late-night spin class was trapped in a violent marriage and has struggled to shake her fear of men. Mrs Smith is glad to see her out and enjoying herself. A couple of policewomen walk past, stopping to chat to anyone who wants a minute of their time, but there’s no trouble.
Mrs Smith goes to the restaurant where her daughter works as a waitress. She has a coffee while she waits. She’s happy for her daughter to have a job here, knowing she won’t be jeered at by groups of drunk young men, or groped by a handsy dad when he thinks his wife isn’t looking.
At ten, her daughter’s shift ends. They walk home together, totally safe. As it should be.
After Dark by Jayne Cowie was published by Penguin on 12 May 2022