Real things that have happened to me while minding my own business in public:
- The path curves as I repeat to myself, ‘you’re almost home, just keep this pace.’ Training has been going well and I’m feeling strong; strong but tired and it’s hot out. Cars zip past me on the nearby roadway. A slightly beaten up red VW of some kind slows, the windows roll down as the five, likely sweaty, 17 year olds crammed inside start to bark in my direction before driving off laughing.
- Leaving a bar in the Netherlands around 4 in the morning I stand in the narrow laneway waiting for my friends. It’s the kinda place that would be intimidating had this been Canada and not the norm in my home-away-from-home. It’s my last week and emotions are running high; I’ve been drinking for hours and standing seems like a lot of work. Laughing as my best friends come out of the bar, a man walks by and grabs my ass.
- It’s late on a Sunday evening. The gym is almost entirely empty except for the few of us who, for some reason, decided that 9pm was an appropriate time to get fit. I’m not on much of a mission tonight, sticking mostly to free weights. It’s off to do some barbell long rows but I can feel eyes watching me. I look around and lock eyes with a man that won’t stop staring. My usual defence of glaring back sternly directly into the onlooker’s eyes isn’t working. I look down, thankful I have a baseball cap on to break the gaze. I can’t help but thinking ‘I wish I were wearing more clothes.’
- I’m headed downtown to the art gallery after work to support a co-worker’s event. Its all for a good cause and there’ll be other people from work so its bound to be a good time. Parking is tight and I’m running late so I find the closest parkade. Before leaving my car I switch from my comfortable driving shoes to a pair of low heels. Stepping out of my car to walk alone through the parkade, an isolated staircase, and down two city blocks at night, my head turns to survey the nearby cars “keep your eyes peeled.”
For the record, the guy that grabbed my ass was surprised to discover that I wasn’t the kind of person to let that slide. When I quickly started after him, yelling “what the fuck do you think gives you the right to grab my ass? Who do you think you are?” He was both shocked and taken aback. He retreated rather quickly.
As for what I was wearing in the gym. It was nothing scandalous, simply a tank top and a pair of running tights. Absolutely nothing that I should be ashamed of. However, when that man stared me up and down I would have given anything to be wearing a potato sack.
The amount of times I get cat calls and honked at while out for a run is so normal that it doesn’t even surprise me anymore. I just keep my head straight and run on. It’s not even a threatening experience, they don’t slow down and try to get me in their vehicles, but it just feels wrong.
None of these experiences have been close calls where my safety was at risk, and no, none of these experiences have damaged me physically, but I think we need to be cognizant of the power imbalance that still exists in public spaces for men and women today.
Realistically, the chances I get attacked while out are rather low. Most violent actions perpetrated on women, sadly, is from people that they know, and most often by current and past lovers. And I know, implicitly, that your average man is not an attacker or even a creep. They are just like the good men I know and adore.
But, and here’s the big but, women have been taught to use fear to alter our behaviours because we’re so often blamed when bad things happen to us.
“She shouldn’t have been walking alone at night,” they’ll say, “she should have been wearing more clothes.”
I’m not the kind of lady that gives in to fear easily and I’m not going to let these kinds of things stop me from going places alone in public. I traveled around Europe alone, I wandered San Francisco’s streets solo at night, and I’ll still walk home from the bar alone, but I’m still troubled that when I do it I’m considered to be putting myself at risk.
All of the above mentioned stories are about the balance of power and how those men took some of my power and made me feel bad or guilty or weak. That is a problem. When it comes right down to it, they are still a threat to us, and they can easily steal my sense of freedom, personal safety, and make me want to alter my behaviours.
Understanding this I often try to be indignant to it. That’s just the kind of person I am. If you try to make me feel small, or like an object I will come at you (sometimes literally, especially when I’ve had to much to drink and I’m feeling bold). This often seems far too daunting though, I’d rather tuck my head down and wrap my arms around my body to escape the gaze.
But the point is, I shouldn’t have to flare up my chest and smear my face with war paint to feel safe in public. It should be implied.