Monday, October 8, 2012

Walking Home

I've been more conscious than usual lately of the steps that I take to avoid assault. While walking to my car recently around 9:00pm I passed a man on the sidewalk. I was careful not to make eye contact with him. I watched his shadow as he passed me so I would have some warning if he made any sudden moves. After a few seconds I glanced behind me to make sure he hadn't changed direction and started following me. Did this man warrant this level of concern and apprehension? Probably not. All he did was be a man that I encountered while I was alone, walking to my car at night.

When I made it to the parking garage there was a group of young men, hanging out by their cars. It seemed like they were listening to music and taking advantage of the extra space to work on a dance routine. I'm not totally sure, because being in an enclosed space at night with a group of strange men scared me enough to make a beeline for my car without looking up or otherwise drawing attention to myself. Again, these guys probably didn't deserve my mistrust. But as a woman I was acutely aware that if they decided to do something inappropriate there was precious little I could do to stop them...and they'd most likely get away with it. The best thing I could do was to not give them time to think about it.

I've been talking with a few of my guy friends about respecting women's space and their choices, and this concept can be kind of hard to get across. Guys just don't experience the kind of fear that women do, for the most part. The fear of assault doesn't follow them wherever they go. You try and tell a guy something like 'don't walk up to a woman who is alone at night or in an enclosed space unless you know her' and it hurts their feelings. They get all defensive, like you're accusing them of being a rapist. What I'm really trying to do is get across to them that women will be put on edge by that behavior...regardless of your intentions and through no fault of your own, as I have demonstrated.

The point is how your behavior makes other women feel. Of course you didn't realize what you were doing, these aren't feelings or concerns men generally have. But when I tell you about it, you are officially informed. You then have to choose if you are going to modify your behavior based on this information, or double-down and insist that my feelings are wrong. That assuming all men are rapists is sexist or that gender isn't relevant to these situations because men get assaulted and raped too. I'm not denying that reality. I am telling you how women actually feel everyday, and asking you to be aware of it.