I love to walk home alone late at night if I’ve been out dancing, or socializing. I enjoy the silence, and time to reflect. I think about my writing, my life, my goals, what I want and how to get there. I tune into nature: crickets, cicadas, birds. I count stars, identify constellations, and like the solitary feeling of being independent. My home is only about a twenty minute walk from our downtown area, so it’s more than manageable, especially when trying to catch an Uber or Lyft seems near impossible. When the moon is full, I enjoy bathing in her rays and catching glimpses of the shadows she casts from the trees and homes I pass on my journey.
I went out dancing the other night, and found myself walking home late as usual. After a bit, I could hear footsteps behind me, on the opposite side of the street, but really thought nothing of it. Sometimes, other people feel the same urge as me to travel on foot. As I continued, the steps became louder, and echoed a faster rhythm. When I was almost at the intersection of a larger road and less than five minutes from home, I heard those footsteps begin to clap closer, crossing the street between us, and I looked back to see a man who began to yell to capture my attention, “Hey, hey!”
In general, I am not frightened by much. I grew up in a city where I learned to be street smart, and frankly, was blessed by some unseen force looking over me at times that delivered me from precarious situations that could have ended badly. But something in this guy’s tone just hit me in my gut, and I felt myself get instantly defensive. I started walking faster, and his steps increased as well. He began a light jog, and I could not outpace him, finally coming to the road where I had to rely on a street sign to cross. He sidled up near me and said, “Hey, can I walk with you?” in a very slurred, alcohol induced pattern. I turned to him, square in the eye, and forcefully said, “NO.” He backed away slowly, a little stunned, it seemed, by the force of my words, then finally crossed back to his side of the road.
He and I walked in a parallel direction for the next few moments in silence, my hands shaking slightly in my jacket. I felt relieved that it only took one word to move him along, but I hated that I had to deal with it in the first place.
Reflecting on this the next day, I realized that I felt a depth of sadness at the fact that I have been conditioned to fear men so quickly and easily. That seeing a man on the street at night, when I am alone and vulnerable, issues a deep-seated alarm that I shouldn’t trust him, instantly. I thought about all the times I have spoken to my older daughter about ways to avoid placing herself in uncertain situations, and counted how many of them involved how to keep men at a distance. Pretty much all of them.
And then I felt a huge wave of anger that I even feel this in the first place, that our culture allows for women to be accountable for the actions of others at every turn. If things had ended differently, had some form of assault been attempted, how many would have whispered, “Well, you know, she was walking home ALONE, and it was very late,” or “She should have known better and waited for an Uber.”
NO. I should be allowed to walk wherever the fuck I want to and not have to feel that my body and spirit could come under attack from someone who feels the need to exert their own power by denigrating others. By men who feel that the only way to get what they think they need is to take it from others at a weaker moment.
I don’t want to live in a world where I feel it’s necessary to teach my daughters that men can’t be trusted. I know so many wonderful men who defy that stereotype, and who understand how to treat women with respect and admiration. I have a son who respects women immensely, and I hate the fact that there are girls, such as my own, being taught to fear him. But for each of those, there is a ratio of more men who just don’t seem to fucking get it.
Men, you have to help us out. Talk to other men. Have some conversations. Explain why certain behavior toward women isn’t acceptable. Explain why women deserve better, and how they better themselves by respecting us. For all I know, that guy that approached me was genuinely concerned that I was walking alone, and just wanted to help. But until we live in a culture where men hold women in the esteem they deserve, I’ll just have to continue to assume the worst, and teach my daughters the same. And that’s not okay.
Reflections of a woman spawned in a cement cocoon...