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Scheherazade in Blue Jeans
freelance alchemist
This is what we do. 
13th-Feb-2010 10:14 am
Illyana/soulsword
So this thing happened two weeks ago. It did not scan to me as a big deal, which should tell you something right there. I had honestly put it totally out of my mind until one of my male colleagues at BARCC (D.) and I were talking about the different ways in which men and women navigate the world, and he was sorta stunned that this happened and got handled as decisively as it did.

So two weeks ago. Saturday evening. I have some time to kill in Harvard Square between leaving an out-of-town friend and going to another friend's birthday dinner. I shop a little, I have a pomegranate soda, I wander bookstores; it's nice out, so I walk around a bit.

And as I'm walking, I become aware that there is a man-sized presence following me very closely, in my blind spot.

I check in a store window - yep, that's a man all right, very close. I zig and zag a bit, casually; I make some turns that are not on the main drag, just enough that anyone who's not actively following me would not be, y'know, still following me. But he is. All the while right up close in my blind spot, even when I speed up a bit.

So I make a sharp turn down a well-lit, decently-trafficked side street, and he follows -

and I stop dead, pivot so he won't run into me, look up and meet his eyes and say, firmly, "exCUSE me."

He startles, looks away, and scurries off.

D. called that brave; Mark, last night, called it me being a superhero. I don't feel that it's superheroic. It's just what you have to do. It's basic situational awareness and risk evaluation. I became aware that I was being followed, I verified, I chose to confront in a safe area.

"Nine times out of ten, direct confrontation will throw a creep off enough that he'll just scarper," I told Mark.
Mark said, "But you're not afraid of that 10% chance."
I said, "I know I can live through it."

Not said, because I was already medicated last night, but said now - of course I'm afraid of that 10% chance. But I'm going to bet on the 90% chance. Because if I don't do something, I'm just scampering through the streets, heart pounding, waiting for this guy to feel safe enough to make his move and hoping that if I scream someone will help. No. I'm going to bet on that 90% chance that if I show him I'm not easy prey, he's not going to pursue me. It's not an unreasonable bet. And I'll hedge it by doing it where there are other people, where there is light, where there are open stores and restaurants, where the risk of getting caught is tremendous for him.

And the thing is, this is what women have to do. We have to remain far more aware of our surroundings than men do. We learn how to check for a tail. We learn how to end a situation before it gets too dicy, if we're lucky. There is a certain amount of paranoia involved in being a woman - especially a small woman - walking around a city at night, especially on the back roads.

Which doesn't mean I won't do it.

Because if I avoided every situation in which assault was possible, I'd be locked in my bathroom my whole life.

Hell, if I avoided every situation in which I have been assaulted? Bathroom. My whole life.

What we do is deal with risk and go on living.

What I said to D., simply, was "And I am still not afraid of men."

Specific creepy dudes who tail me in my blind spot? Yeah. (Remember, the rape when I was 20 was a stranger who grabbed me in a familiar part of town.) But men in general? No.

Because you can't go through life afraid of half the population when, frankly, most of them haven't done a thing to harm you, and wouldn't.

I put this out of my mind because it's not a big deal, and it's not a big deal because I was assertive. But one must understand - this is what we do, we women, especially survivors. This constant assessment, this "if he grabs me, I stomp on his instep, I elbow him in the gut" or "I twist out of his grasp, I run for the movie theater, the Starbucks, the restaurant" or "I scream fire" or whatever. This is what we do as we are walking down the street. This is part of our lives. So much a part that I, for one, just don't think about it - until the situation arises and my response is automatic.

And still I will not fear men.
Comments 
13th-Feb-2010 03:30 pm (UTC)
I explained this repeatedly to my ex-husband when I told him I still wanted to go running in the morning. This is what we do, and this is how it's handled. And no, I'm not going to stop running and doing things on my own because of the chance of something happening.

It's that last part he didn't get. Knowing there was a chance, his response was for me not to put myself in harms way at all. Which meant, effectively, not going for my morning runs.

My mistake was in placating him. But yeah. This is the reality of being female anywhere - maybe some places more than others. Our girlness has to include vigilance, composure, and not a little bravery.
13th-Feb-2010 03:32 pm (UTC)
I've done the same thing, more than once, and it's amazingly effective. For example, I was walking along a street in the college town where I grew up, walking back to my car after a ride fell through, when a pair of guys started following me in a white van. It was dark, there was no one around, and they were going at walking speed on Route 1 just behind me, laughing loudly. So after a little while, when it was clear they weren't looking for a house number or going to go away again, I stopped, spun around to look at them, and shouted, "Hey! Wouldn't YOU like to be able to walk along around without a couple of creeps following you? HUH?" And they drove away like their tail feathers had been singed.

I don't think predators are used to prey talking. I think once they objectify you to the point where they're thinking about dragging you into a freaking white van, they're actually surprised that you're still a thinking, talking human being who doesn't fit into the role they've cast you in.
13th-Feb-2010 03:32 pm (UTC)
The other day, walking through a not-that-well-lit area between the end of the bus route and the nearest station, I became aware of someone just uncomfortably close enough behind me to make that assessment conscious. 'if he crosses the road when I do, I'll go into the reception of that office block up ahead and explain to the security guard the situation' etc. (He didn't.)

That mental planning is always there, especially at night. I find myself assessing things like how useful my bag would be as a weight or what the most useful defensive object I can quickly get at is--usually my keys--or how near the next brightly-lit public space is.

And, yes, absolutely. This isn't about man fear generally.
13th-Feb-2010 03:36 pm (UTC)
Yes. Yes.

When I lived in NYC, the street harassment was constant. Eventually I just snapped, and took to shouting at anyone who harassed me. It's worth noting here that I'm a trained singer and can project to very large rooms without really raising my voice. When I decide to actually get loud? EVERYONE knows about it.

Every time, the perps would stop in their tracks, look astonished, and then scurry off.

But yes. The awareness, the constant assessment, it's there. Amy asked me the other day why I won't wear coats with hoods; I told her it's because I can't handle having my hearing and peripheral vision impaired. I need to know what's around me, what's coming up behind me.
13th-Feb-2010 03:39 pm (UTC)
Yep. If I have my iPod earbuds in at night, the music is generally not on; it's an "I am not approachable for conversation" signal.
13th-Feb-2010 03:52 pm (UTC)
I've learned (especially with random guys on the street) to either ignore them or confront them directly. I was a bus one night and there was a teenage girl who as clearly terrified of this much older man. He just kept talking to her and leaning in really close, and she couldn't have been more than 14 so I don't think she had the coping skills yet for 40 year old creep you know? I told him to leave her alone and he got huffy with me, but I just kept a running patter of "Your attentions are unwelcome and you're scaring that child. Get away from her" going until he was ashamed enough to move to the front of the bus. We talked after he moved away, and sure enough it was her first time alone on the bus at night. I ran down the standard safety stuff (including not cringing and being assertive) before she got off. I hated having to do it because clearly her mind had not been there yet. But she had to join the club, and I'd rather she join that way than any other. My husband got it when I was telling the story later, but I can tell that he gets it because I talk about it and not because he ever thought about it before my first nightmare.
13th-Feb-2010 04:18 pm (UTC)
You are awesome - but then, you already knew that.
(Deleted comment)
13th-Feb-2010 05:08 pm (UTC) - Re: here via a link
Oh yeah. If we say we're ready to protect ourselves, some men always get offended.

"I'll aim for the perp's eye with this crochet hook" always gets me a horrified reaction.
13th-Feb-2010 03:58 pm (UTC)
This is why I love living in Glasgow - my guard is still up, but the only time I've felt someone in my blind spot recently and checked a window to comfirm that it was a fairly bulky skin head type, he immediately clocked my discomfort and said "Don't be intimidated, I'm just popping into that house across the road." And if someone shouts in the street, people WILL come out to check if they need help.

There are still attacks, and I still need to be wary - but people look out for each other and you can be reasonably certain someone will come to your aid rather than ignore you.
13th-Feb-2010 04:01 pm (UTC)
My experience overseas gave me a taste of what this was like. Not only were there safety concerns (as white guys are always rich and also easy to spot), but twice I was followed by guys who did have a sexual interest and didn't take no for an answer.

It's unnerving, and I have deep empathy for people who have to live with it every day. Naturally, the women in my Peace Corps group had it even worse.

And no, I never listened to my iPod while I was walking. Not only was it too dangerous because of the loss of being able to hear, but it was a clear signal that I had some expensive toy.

Edited at 2010-02-13 04:01 pm (UTC)
13th-Feb-2010 04:05 pm (UTC)
Good for you! *high-fives you*

This is stuff we should teach all young women, from day one. (My mother always told me to yell "fire" if I were in serious danger, because saying "help" doesn't always do it.)
13th-Feb-2010 06:38 pm (UTC)
An educator I know recommends yelling a series of different things, including "fire" and "thief" and "call 9-1-1" and "rape" and anything else you can think of. Because yeah, just "help" won't, sadly, always bring attention.
13th-Feb-2010 04:13 pm (UTC)
There is a lot of awesome, both in the post and in the comments.
13th-Feb-2010 04:17 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it's sad that we have to consider these things and good when we can challenge it.
One of my dog walking routes cuts ten minutes off the trip from one neighborhood to the next, but it's along a pretty deserted grassy path. There are houses around, but the path is not lit and is kind of spooky.
In the winter it's just guys cutting through (and me with my TERRIFYING tiny fluffy dog) but I've noticed this week now that it's lighter at night I'm seeing other women using the path.
It sucks that they feel forced to go round the long way from November to February.

Edited at 2010-02-13 04:21 pm (UTC)
13th-Feb-2010 04:17 pm (UTC)
May I link to this?

I only walk around with distractors (a phone call, if possible) when I *know* the area, and know whether it's relatively safe or know the places to go if it's not.

I don't think I'd have the courage to confront him. But it's why I try to keep my nails as long as they'll grow, and it's why, even though I often want to, I don't go out alone very much. I'm really glad that you, and others like you, do have the courage to. Because your courage is part of what has kept me safe, when I had to.

Someday, I'll have the courage to do it myself.
13th-Feb-2010 04:18 pm (UTC)
For the longest time I reacted to a certain *type* of man. The ones who looked like him, the ones who reminded me of the incident.

But I've noticed over the years, I feel like I've developed an extra sense that allows me to spot the predator in the *normal* looking guys.

Everyone is having a good time, talking, laughing, being normal and I'm sitting there contemplating the knowledge that I will NEVER allow myself to be alone with this one, and how can I get this information to my girlfriends.....

And usually, they don't pan out to be rapists, but they do turn out to be asshats that I wouldn't trust with a bowl of Jello, much less my own person.

Survival skill? Perhaps. This post brought it to mind. Just my $.02

14th-Feb-2010 09:02 am (UTC)
That's fascinating to hear from someone, because I've had similar experiences - people who just rub me the wrong way sometimes, instantaneously. I usually try to figure out from there whether they mean me harm or are just innately a type of person that I read as dangerous for social reasons; often I don't even register the ones who are genuinely dangerous, because I have left the room so quickly and automatically. I've also had men who I later learned were predators avoid *me*.

I also manage to be randomly unattracted to people who seem perfectly attractive but (I later learn) are bad relationship partners.

I don't know if this sense is foolproof - there's really no proving that except by disproving, and I'd rather not have that experience - but it's really a useful thing to have.
13th-Feb-2010 04:25 pm (UTC)
Yes - women have to be hyper-vigilant. We don't get a choice.
15th-Feb-2010 08:01 pm (UTC)
I hate that this is true. It doesn't mean I treat the world and its inhabitants as if it weren't true, though.
13th-Feb-2010 04:30 pm (UTC)
D. called that brave; Mark, last night, called it me being a superhero. I don't feel that it's superheroic.

This reminds me of a post I've been meaning to make for a while. I was on the last train home, and the only people in the carriage were me, a straight couple, and three drunk men and the girl they were sexually harrassing and assaulting. (I won't go into details for fear of triggering.) I confronted them, they got off at the next stop. And afterwards people talked about this as heroic. As someone who's lived "as a woman" for a large portion of my life, I was just - it's not heroic. It's just human decency. The fact that we live in a world where confronting abusers - whether of yourself or of someone else - is heroic says so much about what society tolerates in how women are treated.

But one must understand - this is what we do, we women, especially survivors. This constant assessment, this "if he grabs me, I stomp on his instep, I elbow him in the gut" or "I twist out of his grasp, I run for the movie theater, the Starbucks, the restaurant" or "I scream fire" or whatever. This is what we do as we are walking down the street. This is part of our lives. So much a part that I, for one, just don't think about it - until the situation arises and my response is automatic.

This is also the case for those of us who're members of visible minorities. I explained to my girlfriend, when we were first together, why I was constantly twitchy and surveying people when we were together, wary when I held her hand, kissed her etc - because of a lifetime of being in same-sex relationships in homophobic places.

Likewise, as a visibly queer guy (and one considerably below the average male height, for obv reasons) and previously as someone who appeared to be a visibly queer butch women, when I walk on my own I'm doing exactly that - that constant assessment. Of every person, every situation. Is there anything I can use to help defend myself, is there anywhere safe I can go, what gives me the most option of surviving. Because I've always lived like that, because I have to.
(Deleted comment)
13th-Feb-2010 04:30 pm (UTC)
Thank you for not letting fear become a poison.

I know a bit of how hard-won this knowledge is for you. I think of the vigilance I've needed in big cities, and wonder A) if I'm vigilant enough and B) how much more vigilant others must be. I'm lucky with one thing in my personality: I try to look around and see almost everything, so I'm a little more aware of my surroundings by default. And I'm a little more likely to be aware of someone being creepy.

I need to be better about seeing if others are being creepy to others. Use my vigilance to, I hope, help others. To "have the back" of someone who might need it. Because while it's good to be vigilant and careful, and not be afraid to go places, it helps to be able to use that vigilance and care to help others. It's a part of being excellent to each other, so we can party on, dudes. Which sounds flippant, but that's a worthy goal. And you're helping towards that. The creeps aren't.

May we all be better to each other.

Let me know if this is making not-enough-sense.
13th-Feb-2010 04:48 pm (UTC)
Damn. We must be chanelling something in the air, today.
13th-Feb-2010 04:51 pm (UTC)
You can ride my wavelength anytime.
13th-Feb-2010 04:59 pm (UTC)
This is totally awesome - both your post and the comments.
13th-Feb-2010 05:12 pm (UTC)
And still I will not fear men.

Yes, this. Nor despise them.
13th-Feb-2010 05:19 pm (UTC)
I envy your assertiveness.
13th-Feb-2010 05:19 pm (UTC)
I remember a few years ago I was walking down the street with my mom in NYC and some random guy reached out and felt me up as he walked past. Not accidental, this was hand out and grope. And I instinctively threw my weight at him to throw him off balance and kicked in the back of his knee. He went down and I kept walking as I shouted "Asshole!" over my shoulder. My mom was HORRIFIED I would fight back but I told her that the moment I saw his body language I knew a) he was going to touch me, b) I couldn't avoid it, c) I was (*&*#$ sick of men thinking it was open-season on my body, and d) there was a cop at the end of the block. Ones learns to adapt... Not my first retaliatory assault but I'm 5'3" and busty and animals must learn. Still love men, still love aggression, just don't like the non-humans.
13th-Feb-2010 05:29 pm (UTC)
*shudder* When I read something like this, I feel like apologizing for my gender, but as you say, it's not all men.

As a large black man I am used to people showing fear, especially women. I don't mind too much seeing someone cross the street to get out of my path or grip their purses tighter or move it to the other shoulder if I'm near. Parking decks at night are the worst and I've felt sorry for some young women when they see me walking near their car or *gasp* they have to get on elevator with me. And very often if I'm not paying attention and just walking along some woman will startle me by talking and making eye contact, and I know she's just trying to be safe. And sometimes if one's too close and has that deer-in-headlights look I'll try to adjust my body language and look harmless and smile and might even say hello just to kill tension.

But I fear that one day I'll just be walking along and get pepper-sprayed by some absolutely terrified person convinced I'm about to attack. So...I'm glad you don't fear men.
13th-Feb-2010 05:32 pm (UTC)
I gotta say, in NYC the nicest guys I've met were large black men since they are constantly trying to defend vs. the media image, so usually when I go to sketchy neighborhoods at night, if I run into guys there they offer to escort me safely while giving me the "short white girls shouldn't be here alone!!!!" talk. It is very endearing (and I'm only in those places if I must be since I am not dumb either).
13th-Feb-2010 05:41 pm (UTC)
I still remember an incident where I was in a bookstore and a man was creeping me out, and I said to him, "I prefer to be left alone." And just held his eye until he walked off. The friend I was with was STUNNED that I would do that.

It's not being a superhero. All women need to know how to do this. I'm stunned by the massive numbers of them that don't... and the numbers of predators who know that. There are times when fearful acquiescence can save your life, but too much of it puts you at terrible risk.

At one point in time it was expected that women needed to be protected at all times by the men in their family unit. We've escaped some of that, but the fact is, women still need protecting sometimes. We can't take over the role of protecting ourselves unless occasional aggression is encouraged, and societal training hasn't caught up to this fact yet. Aggression in women is still mostly seen as acceptable only when it's "cute"; saucy or childish remarks aimed at a target who presents no threat. As opposed to useful aggression: the blunt, unmistakable offer of violent resistance to someone threatening your safety.

I usually say I have a constructive fear of men, but reading what you refer to as the "constant assessment", that's actually the same thing I'm referring to.
13th-Feb-2010 05:43 pm (UTC)
One of the things about the statistics here. It is a 90% chance EVERY time you encounter the situation. Because it was 90% this time it doesn't mean that next time it will be 80% because you already hit one of times it's not the 10%. Every encounter it's 90%.

I will also point out that you did it right. You did not turn to encounter him on a dark street with no one around. You were situationally aware, you chose a good location and weren't timid when you faced him.

The 10% is something to be scared of but doing what you did, you're most likely driving it to the 90% side. That and the fact that the 10% normally happens when the things are in the attackers favor, you took that power away, which is after all, what it's all about.
13th-Feb-2010 06:13 pm (UTC)
Yes! I have the hardest time getting the men in my life to understand this concept, my husband in particular. While visiting San Fransisco we were walking down a deserted street in a sketchy part of town. There was one guy walking across the street from us in the opposite direction. He kept looking at us with little side glances but without turning his head. When he got past us, he turned, and started matching our pace, just slightly behind. My husband was completely oblivious to all this, more concerned with being lost in a bad neighborhood than actually being aware of what makes it a bad neighborhood.

He did notice my stance and posture change, right as the guy started crossing the street to us. I turned and just belted out "WHAT!?" the guy looked surprised to be caught and threw his hands up, turned and left. My husband was mortified! I argued that mortified was better than mugged.

He's a 6'5" 250lb guy. It does not occur to him that he is ever really at risk, and because of this he always gives people the benefit of the doubt. I do not have that luxury.
13th-Feb-2010 10:09 pm (UTC)
For some reason, this particular story is what reminds me of Halloween 2003, when I was drunk and separated from my group and became conscious of a couple of undergrad-type guys following me. I turned around and shouted "GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME!" and they did.

When I repeat this story, people often take it as being about "oh, haha, you were drunk and overreacting." They don't get that actually, no, I did not have the luxury of giving those guys the benefit of the doubt, and I still consider it a wholly appropriate response.
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