Log in

No account? Create an account
Scheherazade in Blue Jeans
freelance alchemist
This is what we do. 
13th-Feb-2010 10:14 am
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.
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.
(Deleted comment)
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)
Page 1 of 3
<<[1] [2] [3] >>
This page was loaded Sep 23rd 2019, 2:53 am GMT.