Being alone in a public space is heavily stigmatized. From the moment we step into elementary school and are told to be social we begin to understand that to be in a group offers protection, even if it’s just from a school bully. You never want to be by yourself because suddenly, you’re loner or the outsider. It means you are not capable of making friends and being “normal.” On a larger level it sends a message that you have people who care about you and are therefore a more difficult target to threaten.
Public spaces are group spaces. You run errands and it’s fine to go by yourself. But the moment you go to the movies, go out to eat, go to a sporting event, or any other public venue, social structure dictates that you have to have at least one person by your side. I know if I enter a party or a cafeteria by myself and sit alone I feel as if 100 eyes are on my back. Whispering voices in my head tell me: Everyone else has friends here. Why are you coming alone? The public space becomes hostile. Of course, in reality, people are more concerned with their own lives than watching for individuals to pity or threaten. But still, it’s a stigma to be alone.
However, being alone in public places can be one of the most empowering experiences. Although men undergo the same pressure to be in a group, the pressure does not come from the same cause of seeking protection. Women are not told to be independent like men are and so are doubly under the standard to move in a pack. Women are expected to be protected, either by men (society’s ideal) or by a group of women. So, for women, especially, I recommend taking a trip by yourself and experiencing a freedom most people don’t even realize they lack. This doesn’t need to be a road trip by yourself or something that makes you feel unsafe, but it should be something that makes you challenge your comfort zone.
Yesterday I went ice-skating. I didn’t ask anyone to come, just decided I wanted to ice skate and left. And it was a frightening experience, not because I felt I would be attacked, but because I was clearly operating against the norm. No one was on the ice when I arrived and no one but the man behind the desk was even in the ice rink building. I feared that when I asked for my skates he could turn me away for breaking the unwritten rule of “travel in a group.” But he didn’t and I spent my time ice-skating alone and it was wonderful.
I didn’t have to impress anyone. I didn’t have to compare myself to anyone. I didn’t have to consider when someone else wanted to leave. This was self-assurance and independence. All the protection we’re taught to look for by doing social activities in groups, I found in myself. The best satisfaction was knowing that my fears in being rejected for the audacity to go alone had no ground.
Going alone to public spaces is one of the best ways to build self-confidence and start to chip away at both gender norms and over all unquestioned norms of society.