on breakdowns and “being vigilant”

Image via Flickr user Jeff Karpala.

In the past 11 days, I have received 3 campus safety alerts about women being assaulted on the streets of the campus where I work.  This news article from the local paper mentions two of them.  Women, walking down the street, attacked from behind.

Now, maybe I’m a little jumpier than some people because I have been a victim before, but it was with this news in my mind that I had to walk alone, in the dark, after my class last night.  Jon had taken the car to work yesterday morning, because it was pouring rain.  The hospital is three quarters of a mile from my office, and I walk there at least once a week after work to volunteer, so we figured it would be no big deal for me to get the car after class last night.  I hadn’t anticipated how much darker it is at 7 pm than 5.

Things running through my mind as I walked that .7 mi: walk fast, look around you, make sure your cell phone is in an outer pocket in case you need it, bag closed so as not to tempt robbers, don’t stop, stay out of the shadows, maybe you should hold your keys in case you need to use them as a weapon, why oh why don’t you have some pepper spray.

I was so relieved to reach the hospital and the brightly lit garage. Thankfully Jon had parked very close to the elevator. I got into the car, heart still pounding, and locked the doors. I am supposed to get free parking because I’m a hospital volunteer, but my badge is expired. The volunteer office told me not to worry about it, because no one ever really looks at our badges anyway.  Unfortunately, the parking attendant was on some sort of a power trip, and was concerned I might be a med student, using an out of date badge in order to park for free.  She decided to charge me $20, and she didn’t care that I showed her my work ID, to prove I was not a med student. I started crying.  She told me to stop, sarcastically asked if I needed a hug. I tearfully tried to come up with an explanation, told her it had been a long day.  I felt stupid for crying over $20, it’s not like it was a speeding ticket.

Later I realized why I got so upset over the $20 parking fee.  Because I thought I had reached the safe zone, only to be treated badly, and this triggered all my anxiety and anger and fear to just come rolling out in tears.  It took me a while after I got home to calm down.

And what, according to that news article, am I supposed to be doing with the news of these attacks? “We’re telling everyone to be aware of their surroundings and to be vigilant.”

It’s enough to make me want to cry all over again.

Not only does this comment suggest that somehow, those two women who were attacked were victimized because they were somehow not “vigilant,” it completely ignores the reality of being female in public. When am I not effing vigilant? Society has done a great job of teaching me that just by being a woman, I’m at risk, there are places I can’t go, times I shouldn’t be out, things I shouldn’t wear, zones where I am not safe, reasons for me to be constantly looking over my shoulder.  I’m vigilant all the time, and it gets to be exhausting. I can’t afford not to be vigilant, but even when I am, and something happens to me, you can bet your sweet bippy that someone’s going to say I should have been vigilant.

Public safety says they’ve expanded their patrols and offer on campus escorts, but the escort wouldn’t do me much good when I’m walking to somewhere off campus.  My boss, who teaches the night I have class and the night I volunteer, told me that from now on if I need to get to the hospital, he will drive me.  I really appreciate the offer, and will probably take him up on it, but at the same time, I’m so frustrated to need a man with me in order to be safe.

So I’m going to buy some pepper spray.  And I’m going to ask campus safety if, in light of these attacks, they could maybe offer a self defense course.  And if they can’t, I’ll probably take one elsewhere.  And yeah, I’ll be vigilant, just like always. Damn lot of good that will do me though.

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thanks for proving my point

Come to think of it, using THIS sort of mace would probably be more satisfying.  Image via Flicr user hyku.
Come to think of it, using THIS sort of mace would probably be more satisfying. Image via Flicr user hyku.

This is just a quick follow-up to yesterday’s post about men who approach women in public places.  I had a lovely day on the bus today.  This morning, the bus was very crowded.  I had to wedge in between two people in one of the few remaining empty spaces, and the space was really about half the size of a “seat.”  And yet, perhaps because it was such a gorgeous golden morning, everyone on the bus was in a good mood.  At least everyone in the first half of the bus with the two long rows of seats that face each other.  We were all chatting, one lady talking about her upcoming two weeks of vacation, another about her daughter’s first birthday, another guy about his sister’s birthday party this weekend.  I got off the bus with a smile and a spring in my step.  Even this afternoon, the bus arrived on time (something it rarely seems to do on Fridays), it wasn’t crowded, I chatted with the 2-weeks vacation lady about her plans and our busy Fridays.

And then I got off the bus.

As I was crossing an intersection, a car slowed down as it got close to me.  It was an Acura, full of “bro” looking dudes.  They were hanging out the windows of the car, waving their arms, screaming loudly at me.  It seriously startled me.  I jumped and recoiled.  I think I half expected them to throw something at me.  I have no idea what they were screaming.  It shook me up.

I have no idea why this happens to me so often.  I have no idea why these men do things like this, though my theory is that they get off on intimidating women on the street.  I think I’m going to get some mace or pepper spray for my keychain.

wish i could pass this out like candy

Shapely Prose has a particularly wonderful guest post up by someone with the handle Starling on the subject of men who approach women in public.  You should go read it right now. It’s seriously so good I wish I could print out about 50 copies to carry in my bus-riding-tote and hand to every man I see on the bus.  I’ve written about my experiences being harassed both waiting for and riding public transportation.  Sometimes I wish I could wear a t-shirt with the words PLEASE LEAVE ME ALONE emblazoned across the chest, but it’s probably not work appropriate.

One particularly wonderful thing about this post is the way it makes clear something I’m not sure male friends or even my husband fully understand: as a female in public, I’m constantly evaluating the threat level from others.  Starling puts it this way:

The first thing you need to understand is that women are dealing with a set of challenges and concerns that are strange to you, a man. To begin with, we would rather not be killed or otherwise violently assaulted.“But wait! I don’t want that, either!”

Well, no. But do you think about it all the time? Is preventing violent assault or murder part of your daily routine, rather than merely something you do when you venture into war zones? Because, for women, it is.

Starling notes that this may sound crazy, but she sites the statistical likelihood that 1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime as a major cause for concern. She also notes that based on rape statistics, 1 in 60 men is a rapist, and they don’t all look like creeps. She puts it much funnier:

These rapes are not all committed by Phillip Garrido, Brian David Mitchell, or other members of the Brotherhood of Scary Hair and Homemade Religion.

In fact, most rapists don’t look like mug shots of serial killers. They look like normal guys. Maybe even like friends, or boyfriends, or coworkers, or just someone you chat with in line at the grocery store. They look like “nice guys.” And so, women in public are on their guard, looking for signs that the guy approaching them in public might be approaching them in order to do them harm, and at the same time, women are sending out signs that let those who approach them know when to back off, if the approach-er is paying attention. Continue reading “wish i could pass this out like candy”

not quite what i expected

These are the shoes I was wearing.
These are the shoes I was wearing.

I’ve blogged fairly extensively about my less-than-stellar experiences on and waiting for the bus.  I’ve been harassed, stared at, honked at, and whistled at, and made uncomfortable.  I’ve been chatted up by mentally ill homeless people and stuck sitting next to smelly guys day after day.  I’ve even been given a phone number by a man who apparently found the back of my head alluring, as he’d been sitting behind me the entire ride.  But I think I may have just had my strangest experience thus far.

I was standing at my stop, sweating in the full sun and trying to keep the wind generated by cars whizzing by from blowing my skirt up, wondering if I should just get out the umbrella to give myself some shade.  That’s when a car with two typical South Carolina preppy, fraternity types stopped at the light nearby.  When one rolled down his window, I was expecting more bus stop lewd/rudeness.

But instead I heard:

Hey! I like your shoes!

I was so taken aback all I could say was, “Thanks!”