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Moving Through the World as a Woman

September 13, 2007

The special considerations women tend to make as a matter of habit as they move through the world have been on my mind lately, as they’ve been on Aunt B’s. You see, on some evenings I ride the city bus home from work, taking a walk up a steep hill with no sidewalks or street lights to get to my house.

Last week, as I walked up the hill from the bus stop, two young men in a junky car buzzed me and one screamed out his open window just about a foot away from me. Not a “Hey, baby” yell – just pure primal yelling, intended to frighten. I got to the house as quickly as I could after that, not sure if they would turn around and harass me further. I skipped checking the mail on the way in just in case.

What I’ve been thinking about is this issue of safety, and how two idiots in a car didn’t kick off my apprehension about the simple act of riding the bus home, they simply added to it. I’ve noticed that on days when I’m planning to ride the bus, I don’t wear skirts. I wear shoes I could conceivably run in, not heeled shoes I might trip in. I try to pace myself up the hill to balance wanting to get home quickly against having some energy left should something happen.

I remember the first time I realized that boys don’t grow up being told to glance under and in their cars before getting inside. I read an article in a recent “Risk” issue of Bitch magazine that addressed how fear-mongering spam (Your lipstick/antiperspirant/cooking devices will kill you!) tends to address topics that disproportionately affect women.

I don’t have any real conclusion to this post, I just get a little tired of feeling that numerous extra precautions are needed simply because I have boobs and a vagina. I’m tired of “just in case.”

12 Comments leave one →
  1. September 13, 2007 1:13 pm

    I’ve had thoughts like these when I’m getting ready to go out for the night. Checklist: Can I run in these shoes? Is my clothing too provocative? Can someone grab me by this hairstyle? How about my purse – and did I put some kind of defensive weapon into it?
    All this, in tandem with the other refrain that goes Does my hair look okay? Are these clothes flattering to my figure? Are these shoes too oldladyish?
    It’s messed up.
    I think in the future, I may be linking to your health info from my other blog:

  2. September 13, 2007 1:44 pm

    Cool, I’ll have to check that out.

  3. September 13, 2007 7:07 pm

    I grew up and still live in a small town, and am not sure if that’s part of why I’ve never thought of any of this kind of stuff. I regularly walk around at night alone, and always have. And really, women are less likely to be the victims of random violence than men are. You’re much more likely to be raped by the guy you kinda know who drives you home from the bar than you are if you walked home alone. I realize that the fear women feel when they’re alone in public at night is real, and they’re constantly told they should be, so it’s not exactly crazy, but it’s still pretty much based on a lie.

  4. September 13, 2007 8:30 pm

    Sara, I think what you’re saying is probably true, but I agree with you that it’s very hard to escape that conditioning. I think my personal experiences of knowing a few people who were violently attacked by strangers colors my perspective and affects my willingness to stop thinking about these things. Thanks for your comment.

  5. September 13, 2007 9:37 pm

    I don’t know, Sara… one of my colleagues was mugged recently, and although she was not sexually assaulted, the names her attackers used left no doubt about why she was targeted. I also know from the way men on the street talk to me that they think I’m an easy target because I’m a woman.
    I don’t know any statistics or anything about whether men or women are more likely to be attacked by strangers, and I’m not sure how useful I’d find them anyway… but regardless, I don’t think it’s fair to characterize that female fear of attack as a lie.

  6. Donna Locke permalink
    September 13, 2007 10:43 pm

    That primal screaming out car windows never stops no matter how old the target the gets, I can tell you, and I’m way older than you.

    I used to run at night, and many years ago, I was running down my country road, with not another soul or a car in sight, when a strange car suddenly passed me, slowed, and, just ahead, turned around to come back. But being female, I was way ahead of him/them mentally and had already darted off the road and hidden behind a huge tree trunk, which I moved slowly around as the car’s occupant(s) passed and returned several times, looking for me, before giving up and driving away.

    Trust your instincts, girls. Your gut feelings.

  7. September 14, 2007 7:25 am

    Tanglethis, that’s a good point. Those guys most likely would *not* have screamed at a man that way just to frighten him.

    Donna, that’s exactly what I was afraid of, their coming back.

  8. September 14, 2007 8:49 pm

    Great post, Rachel.
    I can remember reading from Camille Paglia’s book about as a woman she would think out where she was going to camp.
    She realized that men didn’t do that and it sort of pissed her off.
    I have to say, that stuck with me.

    Women do have to think the security issues out about things. It is what it is.

    Incidentally, Donna, good comment.

  9. missedconceptions permalink
    September 14, 2007 11:37 pm

    I was going to e-mail you to see if you read Bitch magazine. It seemed like you would enjoy it. My husband got me hooked on it years ago.

    Would you ever consider turning around and screaming back? That is what I would do in my mind, but I am not sure if I could really do it.

  10. September 15, 2007 7:53 am

    MC, I would. 🙂 The husband tries to convince me not to do such things, like responding with certain, uh, gestures, because he’s convinced that it makes it more likely that the person will continue to harass or respond more violently. I don’t know if that’s true or not, and anyway, the impulse is strong. I did have a man in a truck, who received such a gesture after very nearly sideswiping me on the interstate, then follow me and deliberately keep swinging his truck at my car. Scary. Not sure the anecdote proves his point though.

    A former coworker brought me an issue of Bitch when I was recovering from thyroid surgery, and I hadn’t read it before then. Best recovery present ever. 🙂

    ‘Coma, thanks.

  11. September 15, 2007 3:18 pm

    It’s funny ’cause that fear women grow up with seems to be pretty universal. I didn’t grow up in the United States, but in Central America, and it’s actually worse there, if you can believe it. There’s a lot of sheltering of girls, and it’s mainly because of this… And I think it’s mainly because in society, as a whole (planet-wide) there’s this perception that women/females are either sheltered and “good” or out-on-the-street and “bad.”

    I didn’t make the rules, but if I don’t play by them, bad things could happen.

    (That was some good advice, Donna.)


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