Reading time: 4min.

by Mariah Feria

The power of walking

Ladies, a quick experiment for you to try next time you’re out. When you’re walking, see who moves out of the way for you – for example if you’re both on the same side of the pavement, about to collide with each other if one of you does not change their path.

It’s something most of us do instinctively, without a second thought. Of course, we don’t want the awkwardness of literally bashing into someone we could clearly avoid, right? However, since I was first told about this ‘test’ by a seminar leader of mine (in a gender studies class, all of us girls) I now take a mental note every time I’m outside, of those who move out of the way for me. Shockingly (or perhaps not, when you come to think about it), men will nearly NEVER alter their path of walking for you, a woman. However, other females play the classic ‘dancing game’, the awkward side-step where we both end up trying to go the same way, then both profusely apologising. Either that, or they have moved out of the way long before a collision could take place. They look ahead, and see their surroundings.

It’s been well documented and discussed that women indeed occupy space differently to men. It has even been argued that this is why so few women take up sports, in comparison to men. We are not meant to be open and free with our bodies, to stretch our arms and legs and throw/kick a ball. We cross our legs, protecting our modesty. We are ‘unladylike’ if we do not.

However, it seems that even the space we take up when walking is up for scrutiny, and that men literally have the greater right of way on the pavement. Recently, I collided with a young man because he was not looking at me, the person directly in front of him. I had nowhere else to move to on this busy street, and actually stood still whilst I waited for the inevitable to happen. He crashed into me.

Of course, when I told my boyfriend about this, about this ‘test’ I had been doing secretly inside my head, he argued ‘I always move out of the way’. But does he? How would he know, if he is not actively thinking about it? The areas where I conducted this experiment most was near my university, full of the highly educated and (you would hope) men who are more understanding and supportive when it comes to causes such as gender equality. Yet, I noted little difference – the men still rarely moved. In fact, instead of the collisions, I actually had men who kept eye contact with me, seeing I was coming towards them, yet rarely side-stepping, leaving me to change my path at the last minute.

Of course, there many more men (like my boyfriend) who would argue that they always move out of the way, are tactful and forgiving in their walking. Of course, they are also many women (elderly generations come to mind here) who also charge along the streets without a second glance at anyone around them. But the test generally doesn’t lie.

‘The power of walking’ is a great little example of how male privilege still exists in the smaller every day. We may be gaining equality in the workplace, home, and even politics. Yet out on the streets, amongst one another, our attitudes are seemingly still the same.