Yes, All Women
Tonight was a really nice night; a perfect temperature as I walk the dog before heading to bed. My Saturday was productive and not the usual horizontal Netflix binge I've been known to indulge in. Today was one spent with friends. First at brunch, and then a very pleasant and delicious dinner with my best friend. She's getting married in a month, and her parents invited me to have supper with them and their pastor. It was delicious, and good conversation provided that extra relish that makes a dinner party just so much more pleasant.
I'm buoyant as I watch Chico trot ahead of me in the gloaming. We approach the park and I hear the shouts and exclamations from the basketball court, the tapping of the ball hitting the pavement and the jungle of the chain link fence.
A car slows down next to me.
"You gonna walk me next?" A face leers out of the driver's window and the car creeps along keeping pace with me.
I don't respond, though I can feel my nostrils flare with indignity.
"You can walk me next, I got a leash for you."
Normally, when I don't say anything, they just drive off. But tonight he doesn't seem to get the hint and he's about to say something else when I cut him off.
"You're disgusting," I say. And I feel empowered by it, strong. He jerks back in his seat, surprised.
He speeds up and takes the immediate next left turn and I instantly interpret this as him circling around to respond.
My fierceness evaporates. I'm scared. What will the consequence be for talking back? I strongly believe that if I continue walking in the same direction he will be waiting for me, he will enforce how he is stronger than me and able to enact his will over mine. I turn around and drag my dog with me, on the lookout the whole time for that car. It's white, 2 door, and for some reason, I think it's an Asian make; Nissan or something. I imagine how I will give an accurate and helpful description to the police.
I make it home safely, no repeat encounters with the white car, and I think to myself how I should've kept my mouth shut; how lucky I am; how it could've been so much worse.
But a voice in my head holds on to the same indignation: In what way was I lucky? That I was only harassed while walking my dog? That I wasn't raped in a public space for asserting myself? That I had to change my plans out of fear for my safety?
Other women are not as lucky. Other women do talk back and do face consequences for it, and find themselves being told that it was their fault: it was the dress, or that they were alone, or that it was dark, or that they should've kept quiet. And then they're told that they're lucky to be alive, that it could've been so much worse. Sometimes they tell themselves these things because they cannot find someone else to tell what happened.
Since I was 18 my pulse quickens when a car slows down as I'm walking. My senses of observation sharpen and I search for doorways, or lights, other people who will protect me and make it impossible for someone to hurt me. Then I feel silly when the car goes on to make a turn. My awareness heightens as a man walks behind me for more than 2 blocks, and I tense waiting for the comment about my ass, or how fine the dress makes me look. I have to present a stone facade so it will just bounce off and I won't have to absorb any of it.
There are dresses, skirts, pants, and tops that I have decided I can't wear because they draw too much attention and I end up feeling dirty, tainted, and ashamed.
For a woman, this is luck. This is good fortune.
Nothing has happened to me, but I am still hemmed in as though wolves prowl around a fence. To maintain my good fortune, I must not let them catch wind of me.
I've pointed out to my husband how walking alone at night comes with an extra sense of thrill for women. He shrugged and said, "it's risky for anyone." But I want to know how many cars slow down to make sexually solicitous comments as he walks the dog? How many women follow him at just an uncomfortable distance as he walks to the bank at lunch time? Are there any articles of clothing that he feels he just can't wear because they make him too noticeable? And what was he afraid would happen as he walked from the bar to his car and another lone figure walked towards him?