It was last fall. I was visiting some of my friends at their college campus. The afternoon was beginning to creep to a close and I had a long drive home, and school the next morning. My friend Melanie* was nice enough to walk with me to my car, which was parked right on the edge of the campus. We talked and carried on casual conversation as we made our way back along the sidewalk. It was probably around two in the afternoon.
After a bit of walking, we found ourselves caught behind two guys walking along the same sidewalk as us. They were talking casually and we thought nothing of it. We continued talking and laughing. I began to notice one of the guys walking in front of us. He kept turning around to look at the two of us. I ignored it at first and just shrugged it off. He stopped eventually and his friend, caught of guard, stopped too. He smiled at Melanie and I, saying hello. Being trained to be the polite southern women that we are (she more than myself), we smiled sweetly back and greeted him before making a move to walk around them and continue on our way.
As we did this, some words were exchanged between him and his friend before they split their separate ways, the guy moving towards Melanie and I. He continued carrying a conversation with us. He asked very straight-forward questions. He wanted to know our names, if we had boyfriends, where we were from. He told us he jumped around college campuses to hit up parties. I told him I had a boyfriend. He continued to tell me that I was beautiful.
He wanted to hang out. Melanie and I were beginning to feel more uneasy than awkward at this point. I noticed her get out her phone and punch in a phone number, keeping the screen pulled up. I kept eyeing the police emergency buttons along the sidewalk. He followed us off campus, trying to keep up conversation as Melanie and I kept insisting that we had to go, we weren’t interested, and we didn’t have time to “hang.” We finally reached the parking lot where my car was parked. He was still talking to us as Melanie faltered by my car and I continued walking alongside him. I didn’t want him to know where I was parked.
We finally got him to go away and as soon as he turned around, we rushed back to my car, got in, and locked the doors. Melanie told me she had the campus police number pulled up on her phone. I told her I’d drive her back to her dorm.
I never told anyone about this encounter because it felt too personal; too personal because I felt victimized.
Looking back, I remember that some of my first thoughts regarding this encounter revolved around my appearance. What was I wearing? What did I look like? Why was he so attracted to me and my friend?
The matter of the fact is, this is a regular thing for women. Starting college myself this year, I made sure to purchase pepper spray and another key-chain accessory used to defend myself if necessary. My grandma constantly reminds me not to go out at night if I can help it. I’ve made a note of all the police emergency buttons on my campus in case of an emergency.
I find myself watching my back if I’m walking around and then sun is beginning to set. My heart rate picks up if I’m walking a path and I begin to jog if I hear any kind of rustle coming from a bush. I hear horror stories of women abducted while running, hiking, or simply walking back to their dorm. The thing is, though, they’re not just “stories.” They’re real-life.
Maybe I’ve watched too much Dateline, I think to myself. I try to talk myself out of my fear when, in the back of my mind, I know my fears are completely rational.
I went to a self defense class a couple of months ago in my hometown and something was said by the instructor that stuck in my mind. A very, very high percentage of women that are abducted and rescued reported having an initial feeling of fear in the back of their mind right before the kidnapping happened. Whether they were walking alone or a stranger approached them on the streets like in my case, they felt a premonition creep up the back of their necks and didn’t act on it.
In summary, if we–as women–don’t automatically defend ourselves as a reaction to our premonitions, we are putting ourselves in danger. If we act and our premonitions aren’t accurate, we risk being charged with assault. The choice is ours.
The fact that women are expected to take self defense classes, carry around pepper spray, or walk in groups when going out at night is astounding. Given some of these precautions also apply to men, the risk of being harmed or harassed stands at a much higher percentage for women.
I shouldn’t be fearful of taking an evening walk.
Driving home from Melanie’s college, I thought again about what I was wearing. What did I do to attract this young man’s attention? I really wasn’t wearing anything too outgoing. I hadn’t washed my hair in days so it was pulled back from my face. I also wasn’t wearing any makeup. I had worn an outfit that worked for my five hour drive home: leggings, a long-sleeved t-shirt and boots. In other words, I was pretty plain. So, why did my thoughts immediately go to what I was wearing?
Our society is so solely focused on women and their appearance that we’re subconsciously ignoring the more important problem: why do our daughters constantly feel like they’re in danger and why aren’t we doing anything about it?
*Name has been changed for privacy.
Image Courtesy of: hipsterracist.wordpress.com