Some people question why women might feel the need to be cautious when approached. In the news today, where there is a sense of entitlement, there are real victims in California whose families have now lost them. Others face recovery and pain ahead. For many, our scars and experiences aren’t physical or visible. They might come in the form of triggers, anxiety, or even just a specific action. Reading the #YesAllWomen hashtag tonight, it’s just sad exactly how common this all is. It runs deep, across cultures, and it’s unclear exactly when it ends.
I’ve been followed by men who either later tried to ask me out (after following me around a store or for a few blocks) or who simply followed with unknown intentions. One night in 2012, I was followed by a tall man who asked me out. I turned him down, but he kept following me. He might have been a bit intoxicated. I walked faster, he continued to try to to talk to me, until I had to duck into a 7-Eleven. My pursuer then went into the store himself. Circled around. Waited. I kept to the other side of the store, listening to the innings tick away on the Yankees game on the radio. I kept him in my sight as I walked around, poured a drink, waved fingertips over chip bags. He didn’t even seem to pretend to try and buy anything. He just kind of waited, then when the clerk asked him a question, he mumbled something I couldn’t hear. I thought about asking the clerks to call the cops if this lasted much longer. Eventually, he left. I bought a drink after a few minutes, giving him time for what I hoped was him giving up and walking off into the night. I was terrified to leave because it was dark, I lived alone, and who knew if he would be waiting for me just around the wall when I left the store for the five minute walk home. Maybe he would follow me to my home. Then what? Luckily, he was truly gone.
During high school report card days, they’d make us gather in the schoolyard. The entire student body, which was approaching 2000 people when I graduated. Every report card day someone, cowardly enough to remain shielded by the crowd, grabbed my ass. The first time, it seemed accidental. It was very confusing. Then it happened the next time too. I looked around but couldn’t be sure of anything. Then again, at each report card cattle call. It happened again in the stairwell once or twice too. Similar things happened in general admission concerts, while squeezed up on the floor. It’s open season. The rapper Iggy Azalea recently said she quit crowdsurfing, has security barriers, and also wears more clothing on stage at her own concerts because men in the crowd would try to finger her. They would even declare their intentions online. Sometimes TO her. Sexual assault, entitlement, the right to women’s bodies. None of this is okay. And yet, it has lasted, culturally, for quite some time. High school wasn’t yesterday. I’m neither the first nor the last.
Years ago someone I had been friends with posted my number in places with messages. I saw some of the graffiti later and recognized the handwriting. I had recordings of him harassing me via phone and other means. I went to the cops. They refused to do anything.
Traveling alone to the subway to head to a New Year’s party when someone tried to grab me. Due to that and several events over that night, I had a panic attack.
On occasions, when having to come home late at night, I would make sure to buy a fresh Snapple before making the trip. I didn’t drink more than a sip or two. The bottles are glass, and when full, they are decently heavy and shaped to fit well in the hand. It is extremely sad and says something that I’ve ever come up with this, let alone done it at least a dozen times.
I don’t live my life afraid. I’m not a victim. Most women who have had these things happen, we just go through life. These events I’ve just written about don’t enter my thoughts too often. But whenever someone questions women’s (cis, trans, able-bodied or not) caution when being approached, letting down men nicely or indirectly, not wanting to go home with him right off, not wanting to have contact, or give our numbers, questions if we cross the street at night, or look behind us what seems like a few times too many, remember that these incidents aren’t isolated.