Stranger danger is specific for seasoned women but this generation is paralysed by the threat of unknown men.

It's amazing what happens at book club. It's where I learned I am a lot more like my Mum than I realised.

It's where I discovered that my enjoyment of a party is directly proportional to the amount of cherry tomatoes present. It's also where I get to talk to a lot of older women about sex. Because, let's be honest, who actually read the book?

What with it being International Women's Day last weekend, we inevitably talked about feminism. One thing led to another and soon a breadstick was thrust at my nose.

"Verity," said the breadstick, "what do you think about one-night stands? Should you take them back to yours? Or go to theirs?"


I gave the answer that everyone under 30 gives: take them back to yours. Cherry tomatoes flew! Hummus was sprayed on the walls! "Whaaaaaaaat?" came the hysterical laughter, "No! No! No! You always go back to theirs - then you can leave whenever you want!"

I stared. I was partly mesmerised by a string of dangling hummus. I also partly admired their wordly swagger. But mostly I was amazed because no one my age would ever have said that.

It's a frequent topic of conversation among my 20-something girlfriends. And the answer is invariably: you must always take him back to yours. "Because," as my friend said deadly seriously, "you could be attacked. You'll need your flatmates around to help."

For my older friends, the principal concern over a one-night stand is whether you'll get good sex from it. For my younger friends, they're worried if you'll survive it.

I've been wrestling with it this week in the flurry of commentary over International Women's Day, sexism and feminism. Because the conversation reminded me of the thing I hate most about being a young woman right now. It's that lots, and I mean lots, of young women are very afraid of men.

The one-night stand example is a perfect expression of this. What is a one-night stand - except a night of awkwardness and forgotten socks?

It's a great insight into how women think of men they don't know. The guy is obviously a stranger, and our attitude to this stranger reflects our attitude to all strange men.

And what you see in us young things is a helluva lot of fear. This isn't perhaps revolutionary. Women have always been afraid of creeps - they've been walking home with their keys through their fingers for decades.


But from what I've been told, older women seem to only really be afraid of men at night when they are on their own. Stranger danger is specific and contextual.

However, our fear of strange dudes is across time and context. I know a lot of girls my age who are afraid of men, even in the daytime when surrounded by people. Go on any website that caters to young women and you'll find articles about how girls feel uncomfortable getting into lifts with lone men. Or ask your teenage daughter if she'd take a taxi on her own. (I once had a blazing row over this. My friends insisted I was naive for taking cabs alone; "don't you know how many girls get raped?!")

We're the girls who carry pepper spray, wear date-rape nail polish and worry that we should be learning self- defence.

For a large number of us, unknown men carry a predatory and aggressive shadow. It's not confined to lone shufflers in parks; it hangs over men you meet in lifts, taxis, gyms ... in everyday life. No, we don't frisk every dude on Queen St for a concealed bayonet. But yes, we're twitchy.

The response of my older friends suggests they're not as afraid. They're probably more comfortable in their instinctive ability to spot a creep.

And, from what I've heard from them, they don't have the same level of hyper-sexualised cynicism towards men that we young things do.

We've grown up with pornography. We think it's normal for all guys to watch it, which also means we think that all guys want the aggressive sex they see in it.

Bro/alpha culture is splattered all over the internet, arguing things like, "men who are friends with women are failures - they're too weak to convince her to have sex with him".

It's things like this, and apps like Tinder, that reinforce the image of men as aggressive balls of basic instincts. It's dehumanising. It strips away any civilisation from our image of The Average Dude. It makes him frightening. It also means we're less sure of our instincts for creepiness.

The problem is that life involves lots of strange men so life for young women involves lots of fear. And, having just celebrated International Women's Day, I want to know why after 50 years of feminism, young women are more afraid now than they ever were.