Why Women Are Morbid Sometimes

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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39 Comments on "Why Women Are Morbid Sometimes"

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Heather

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!

Erinn

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.

Theresa

(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.)

Robin Kramer

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.

Lindsay

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.

Cara
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… Read more »
Theresa
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… Read more »
Beth

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.

Britt @ Tiny Ambitions

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!

Shann Eva

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.

Jessica Bradshaw
Jessica Bradshaw

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!

ShootingStarsMag

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.

-Lauren

Charlotte
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… Read more »
San

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.

Lisa | Simple Life Experiment

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.

Hannah
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… Read more »
Sandhya
Sandhya

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?

Eliza
Eliza

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.

gkgirl

i am so glad you shared this.

Beth
Beth
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… Read more »
Amy

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.

Libby
Libby
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.… Read more »
Beth
Beth

So, so true. And there are so, so many stories.

Travis
Hey Courtney, 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… Read more »