February 13th, 2010

Illyana/soulsword

This is what we do.

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.