I haven’t participated in the #MeToo movement but that doesn’t mean I’m not part of it. From “dick pics” to inappropriate workplace comments to being followed, I’ve been there. I’ve felt unsafe, unvalued, violated, and vulnerable.
I didn’t realize how much I’ve adjusted my life because of men until recently. A friend posted the below passage on Facebook from the Macho Paradox by Jackson Katz and I’ve thought about it quite a few times since.
“I draw a line down the middle of a chalkboard, sketching a male symbol on one side and a female symbol on the other. Then I ask just the men: What steps do you guys take, on a daily basis, to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted? At first there is a kind of awkward silence as the men try to figure out if they’ve been asked a trick question. The silence gives way to a smattering of nervous laughter. Occasionally, a young a guy will raise his hand and say, ‘I stay out of prison.’ This is typically followed by another moment of laughter, before someone finally raises his hand and soberly states, ‘Nothing. I don’t think about it.’ Then I ask women the same question. What steps do you take on a daily basis to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted? Women throughout the audience immediately start raising their hands. As the men sit in stunned silence, the women recount safety precautions they take as part of their daily routine. Here are some of their answers: Hold my keys as a potential weapon. Look in the back seat of the car before getting in. Carry a cell phone. Don’t go jogging at night. Lock all the windows when I sleep, even on hot summer nights. Be careful not to drink too much. Don’t put my drink down and come back to it; make sure I see it being poured. Own a big dog. Carry Mace or pepper spray. Have an unlisted phone number. Have a man’s voice on my answering machine. Park in well-lit areas. Don’t use parking garages. Don’t get on elevators with only one man, or with a group of men. Vary my route home from work. Watch what I wear. Don’t use highway rest areas. Use a home alarm system. Don’t wear headphones when jogging. Avoid forests or wooded areas, even in the daytime. Don’t take a first-floor apartment. Go out in groups. Own a firearm. Meet men on first dates in public places. Make sure to have a car or cab fare. Don’t make eye contact with men on the street. Make assertive eye contact with men on the street.”
I’ve done a lot of the things women mention in the quote, plus a million more. The other night I went to the mall and as I was leaving there was a man standing outside the entrance. It was dark and I was alone. I instinctively walked a few extra steps, around a large pillar, and down the middle of the parking lot where it was well lit, just because he was there.
Just because he was there.
I wasn’t afraid. I was aware and I adjusted my behavior. I do it all the time.
A number of years ago I had an apartment in a city neighborhood. It was in a nice area with a locked, well-lit lobby, and I loved it there. One night, I went to dinner with a girlfriend and as we walked back to the building there was a tall man standing in front of the door. I dreaded this scenario. It would be awkward and rude not to let him in but we had a buzzer system and a locked lobby for a reason.
Of course I made the situation more awkward by saying something to him like, “Ugh, are you going to make me let you in? Don’t murder anyone okay?” (You would have loved me at 23!) I don’t remember exactly what I said but it was something unfortunate like that.
To which he replied with a clearly bothered expression on his face, “Gosh, don’t be so morbid, jeez.” Against my better judgment, I let him in.
The next morning there was a sign in the elevator from management that an attempted rape had happened in the lobby THAT NIGHT. I almost passed out until I read the description of the attempted rapist and it was the opposite of the man I had let in the building. A man had followed a woman down the street, grabbed the door from her as she opened it, and attacked her. I felt relieved that I wasn’t responsible, then terrified because a woman was almost raped in my lobby.
A woman was almost raped in my lobby.
Hey stranger standing in front of the door – women have to be morbid. We have to think like that because things happen to us. The hypothetical scenarios we play out and practice for in our heads ACTUALLY HAPPEN.
If I encountered this same situation today I would probably handle it a little differently. I like to think I would say something mature and polite like, “Hey, I’m sorry I can’t let you in. We have a strict policy to keep our residents safe. Please wait for your friend to buzz you in.” In reality I likely would have scrolled through Twitter on my phone for a few minutes to stall until he was gone.
I wouldn’t let him in though. Not again. Not today. We have a buzzer system and a locked lobby for a reason. To keep us safe.
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This is real talk! I spend most of my life on the defense, always aware of who’s around me and consciously avoiding situations that make me uncomfortable. It’s awful! But I’ve had enough bad experiences to make it necessary.
Great post on a important topic!
I love real talk, I’m terrible at small talk! It is awful Heather but so unfortunately necessary. I hope the ongoing conversation we are having today will make a difference in the future.
I’m on constant alert, especially when I’m running. My husband even wants me to carry a gun for protection, just in case 🙁 The thing is, I don’t know if I would ever have the guts to use it…I’d probably use my instincts and run.
I hate that we even need to take precautions like this.
(Sorry for posting twice — but I just saw Erinn’s comment and wanted to share something as a fellow runner!)
Did you see Runner’s World’s article last year called “Running While Female”? If not, you should check it out — it should still be online. It’s a great piece on the things that women experience while running (I wrote about an experience of my own on my blog inspired by the article; even as a middle-aged gal, I get harassed pretty regularly while out running, which is the most frustrating thing ever, as running is supposed to mean freedom.)
You can post as much as you want Theresa! I haven’t seen that article but I’ll search for it. I often go to a local trail and while I don’t get harassed there I find myself feeling nervous when I get to wooded areas along the trail. I can’t even run without fear of being attacked? I try to just be aware but the underlying anxiety that pops up is hard to ignore.
I’ve read that article! And, as a fellow runner, I certainly plan my runs based on safety. I have a beautiful 6 mile trail that I don’t run when I’m alone after one scary time.
I love that your husband worries about you and wants to protect you while you’re running. I also hate that he has to. I would be terrified to run with a gun! I’m such a klutz, it just would not be a good idea for so many reasons.
It’s really insane when you think of how many things you do to stay on alert and be precaution when you don’t even realise you’re doing it. Even still, though, sometimes you can take all the precautions and measures in the world and even that won’t save you, which is the sad thing.
We live in a crazy world and you’ve got to look out for yourself.
Great post and thought provoking.
It’s true, anything can happen even when you’re prepared. I try not to live in fear but rather to be aware and make smart choices.
That Jackson Katz excerpt speaks volumes. Especially since they are often things we do without being consciously aware of them. I can remember coming home one night and finding an ex-boyfriend in my apartment lobby. He had locked himself out of his house and needed a place to wait out of the cold until his roommate was done class. We had ended things on good terms but it still felt unsettling to me. I told him he could keep waiting where he was and went in alone. While he could have followed me in, he didn’t. I doubt he had anything in mind, but I didn’t want to take that risk. I think that was the last time we ever talked after that but I have no regrets. Spidey senses have to be trusted and the news coming out today confirms that.
Absolutely. I’ve been trying to notice when I make adjustments because I don’t feel safe or even just out of habit. Always trust your gut (or your Spidey senses!)
What a thoughtful piece. It’s stunning how much women do daily, constantly and often unconsciously, to stay alert, aware, and protected. We change where we live, where we go, what we wear, what we do, who we talk to, how we move through the world. And still it continues. What frustrates me, though, is that we have to live our lives based in fear; even when there isn’t a tangible threat in front of us, we have to be constantly on guard. It makes it hard to trust and to live freely in the world. (And, of course, if something DOES happened, we’re blamed for not doing enough, for asking for it, or for overreacting to some situation.)
I am hoping that #metoo will help men think about the ways that they contribute to and/or benefit from all of this. Until we change a perception of masculinity that teaches boys — who become men — that harassment or assault in any form is unacceptable, this will continue, no matter how many precautions we women take.
This is a great post – we really do have to stay alert and be thinking about our safety at all times. It’s exhausting at times. I hope we see a day we don’t have to do that anymore.
Me too Beth, me too.
YEP! When #metoo started blowing up, I started sharing some of the milder stories I had about having my personal space violated. It blew his mind that stuff like that happened in schools, workplaces, grocery stores etc. We just moved to a bigger city and I can’t walk anywhere alone. I did once and had to literally run to cross the street because some guy was trying to get my attention. I had no idea what he wanted, but my gut instinct was to get as far away as possible. Thanks for sharing such an important discussion!
I wonder how much men adjust their lives like we do? It seems like not at all. I remember going for a walk with my headphones on in a city neighborhood. I saw a guy riding his bike towards me so I cut through an empty parking lot just to get out of his way. A few seconds later he was next to me on this bike and asked for my number. Even when I adjusted my path to avoid him he still followed me.
I’m always on alert, even if it’s not a conscious choice. My mom has drilled it into me, plus just watching or listening to the news, you realize the World is such a scary place. I really never thought about how men don’t have to do any of these things. I hope this spotlight on sexual assult will be the beginning of some much needed change. Great post.
This is so powerful. I love the line in the sand analogy. It’s hard to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It’s also hard to think about all of the little things you do each day to stay safe because they are so second nature. Thank you for sharing!
Great post, and I totally get what you mean. I’ve been adjusting my behavior since I was young. Back in middle school I was walking to my friend’s house and this older guy was walking behind me. It was broad daylight – middle of the afternoon- but I still moved to the side and stopped walking until he was ahead of me before starting up again.
Thank you for sharing this, and yes… it’s crazy how adjusting our behavior becomes part of the norm. It’s not even something I think about anymore, but of course–I’ve done many of the things mentioned in that meeting by those woman. I can relate. I thin we all can. You know, a very interesting thing is happening in our culture and in our country and I see it’s making a lot of people uncomfortable, but that’s when change seeps in. It’s a good awkward. I also probably would have handled the random man in the lobby situation similarly in my 20s. Good lord, when I think back on some of the things I did back then… but you know, you live / you learn. It sounds like we both learned from our experiences and life in general. Thanks so much for sharing this <3
Yes! I will have an awkward conversation as many times as I need to. It’s a good awkward. We need to be uncomfortable as a culture. Bring on the change and let’s not stop talking about this, especially when it’s uncomfortable.
It’s so so sad that this is our reality, that we hardly even consciously think about the things we do (have to do!) to protect ourselves.
It’s so true and it is sad! I didn’t realize how much I was adjusting my daily life until I read this quote.
Thanks for sharing this story, Courtney – very interesting post. I’m surprised by also not surprised by your anecdote because while it’s shocking, I have definitely felt unsafe as well. A couple of years back I had rape threats yelled at me by a group of teenage boys after telling them off for making fun of a tourist who couldn’t speak English. It’s a scary world we live in and I think being a bit morbid is better than being unprepared for what is out there.
That is scary Lisa! I try to find the balance of being aware vs. being scared or morbid but sometimes it helps me feel prepared if I think the worst.
Oh how I hope this conversation continues and real change happens.
Wow, this is so powerful. When I think back to how I used to behave when I was younger (think along the lines of your comment at 23, but way worse) I am shocked by how many really bad situations I could have ended up in, but didn’t thanks to pure luck. As I have gotten older I have unconsciously turned into the exact opposite of how I used to be, because I no longer want to call attention to myself. Blending in and getting from point A to point B is all I want now. Morbid is definitely the word, and for good reason.
Oh yes, my youth is full of foolish decisions that could have led to some terrible situations but thankfully did not.
I don’t love the word morbid and I’m not sure I should have used it in the title of this post but it’s true. It’s what that man said to me back then and it’s the way I find myself thinking today, unfortunately.
This is an amazing point. I remember when I first realized this in late adolescence — that my mental landscape would forever be circumscribed by my need to be vigilant about my safety — and how angry I was that I could never achieve true mental freedom. For those of you who have daughters, how do you talk to them about this? How do you underline the need for safety while empowering them to live in the world?
Sandhya, I came to this conscious realization only recently. Years ago I probably knew I was making adjustments for my own safety but never fully acknowledged them or understood why.
I asked my Twitter community your question about, “How do you underline the need for safety while empowering [your daughters] to live in the world?” I will make sure I share all the insights I have!
Many times when I’ve been out alone, I’ve typed 911 into my cellphone and held my finger ready to press the call button because I felt unsafe. Thinking about this, and all the ways I’ve had to adjust my life, bring tears to my eyes. Thanks for this post.
Me too Eliza! I actually forgot about that one. I haven’t done that in awhile but I used to have 911 ready when I walked home at night.
i am so glad you shared this.
Just last night I was at a party and I was standing with my husband and a mutual male friend. The topic of sexual violence against women came up and I told a story of being groped in the street by a stranger only to stand there shocked, unable to move, letting some random dude touch my breasts. About a year later I was going down the subway steps and an elderly man reached up my skirt and grabbed my crotch, but this time I reacted quickly and punched the man, though it didn’t really do anything and he just kept walking. My friend was seriously shocked, and so I went on to recount all the random men I have encountered masterbating in public, and just how run of the mill those sort of encounters are over the course of a woman’s life. It is shocking how normal it becomes to you. I didn’t mention that I once had a drink spiked by a restaurant coworker and woke up to being raped in his bed. I didn’t mention that my sister was raped by several “friends” when she got way too drunk at a party as a teenager, or that a dear friend’s girlfriend and her friend were kidnapped at gunpoint last year by 2 strangers and raped, beaten, and robbed over several hours. I didn’t mention that my 8th grade Spanish teacher was raped and murdered by a police officer in the early 90s when she got pulled over for driving with headphones on. I didn’t mention those things but I think about them a lot. Thanks for a poignant article.
Beth – i’m Glad you mentioned them now. I’m sick of the safety and security of women and children being something we think about in terms of ‘other’ people and not our people – our wives, friends, Spanish teachers. Your post was heard to read in all the important ways.
Beth, thank you for being so brave and vulnerable. You are not alone. Thank you for sharing these stories.
It’s sad that every day, we as women must take steps to proactively protect ourselves from potential violence. I do it because: my sister was raped by the guy whose kids she was babysitting; some guy at my office used to unzip his pants and take his penis out while he was at work; a college professor of mine came to my dorm room and assaulted me; a coworker “liked me so much” he used to park in my driveway with a rifle…I could go on. What’s sad is that my stories aren’t any different from any other woman’s stories. We’ve all been through it.
So, so true. And there are so, so many stories.
I’m so sorry those things happened to you Libby. There are so many stories. Thanks for giving voice to some of them today.
Good topic. And I’m so sorry that happened in your lobby. It truly makes me pissed that men act this way. I know some women are the predators, but majority are men. Just monsters. It’s the reason why 27 million people are held captive in sex trafficking. These days I try to go everywhere with my wife. It’s just crazy times we live in. My cousin almost got trafficked the other day. I could talk about this for days. I volunteered in Southeast Asia to help with human trafficking and rape. Unfortunately this is going to be a problem for many generations, but if we can continue to talk about it and take action to spread awareness and protect ourselves it’ll slowly become a safer world. Know that I’ll always stand in your corner in this subject. Some men actually do support you women in this. Stay safe. Sending you and your building my prayers.
I stay out of social situations where women will be using their sexuality to leverage social power. Is being forced to accept a lap dance “sexual assault.” Yes, but it is not literal rape. There is also covert social bullying which is largely realized through sexualized social power differentials.
Men tend to rely on brute force because they are about 2x as strong as average. Most of what make men different is the result of sexual selection over many thousands of years.