Last night I was walking home from the gym. Our apartment complex is pretty big, with sprawling grounds and winding sidewalk paths throughout (wow, that made it sound way nicer than it is). I had my headphones in one ear, just one, and was finishing up an episode of This American Life.
As I came to a fork in the path, I glanced over and saw a young guy, walking down the opposite fork, in the same direction as me. He was a young twenty something, tall, generic looking, wearing a black t-shirt and jeans.
Instantly, I was fearful. I took my headphone out and sped up my pace, cell phone in hand ready to call, ready to scream. This person had done nothing to make me think that he would hurt me in any way. Except that he was a man.
And how weird is it? Because I’ve grown up female, my natural instinct when alone at night is to be fearful. To feel small and weak and attackable.
I’ve joked before with N about feeling very attackable. It sounds silly when I say it like that but truthfully, it’s how I feel. Perhaps I should be more trusting of people but any time I’ve been alone after dark, I’ve been fearful of every male I’ve encountered. I often wonder if every woman feels like this. From what I understand from my friends and loved ones, they do.
I’ve never been attacked. In fact, I’d venture to say that no man has ever even made me feel uncomfortable. I spent hours (days) of my life in frat houses in college and never once did any guy act inappropriately towards me. But I’m in the minority and I know that.
So I guess I just wonder, what must it be like for men to live their lives not being afraid of strangers simply because of their gender? I’ve seen N walk in from the gym wearing both headphones, completely oblivious, something I’d never do. Taking away hearing takes away an awareness that, when walking alone, I feel like I need. I constantly look around, check behind me, and am completely alert. Almost ready for something to happen. Sometimes I feel like men take that feeling of safety for granted.
I’m not really sure what we can do about this issue as a whole. I’m fairly sure that decades from now, the world will not have changed enough for my daughter to not be fearful. Still, sometimes it’s hard not to wonder what it would be like to keep my headphones in and walk home alone in the dark. Fearless.