We’ve all heard it.
“Sit like a lady.”
Close your legs. Take up less space. Keep your hands in your lap.
From the time we are old enough to walk, we were taught that the space we get to take up in this world is limited because of our womanhood.
This is our reality.
Over the past few months, I have had encounters in Nashville (a city that over the course of two years has become more of a home than almost any other place I’ve lived) that made me feel unsafe, and threatened. These encounters made my awareness of my womanhood heightened, and they made me feel like I didn’t have as much as a right to walk the streets of Nashville as my male counterparts. I had to wonder who else was experiencing this, and I turned to Facebook to ask the women in my life who had also experienced this phenomena.
Of the 36 women who responded to me, 23 women said they carry something with them at all times, such as mace, a taser, or a self defense keychain, and almost everyone that didn’t actively carry something was considering acquiring some form protection. Roughly half of the women reported that they do not feel safe in their neighborhoods at night, or that they feel “semi-safe” but they constantly have to remain alert. ALL of the women had reported cat-calling at some point.
Beyond just answering my basic questions, a number of friends went on to explain their experiences in detail:
“I never feel safe. Ever. Being sexually assaulted at 16 robbed me of feeling safe anywhere (in public or even in my own home) ever again.”
“I often second guess wearing high heels/nicer outfits and usually find an excuse to not go out on weekends because it’s just a lot to deal with”
“Some stranger even took it far enough to yank my hair back hard in a bar ‘because he thought it would be sexy'”
“I never feel entirely comfortable walking around alone after nightfall, even in my residential-ish neighborhood, but that could be because I got followed by a white SUV running down an ‘affluent’ street near my house in broad daylight.”
“I wouldn’t dare go outside for a walk (even with my dog) after dark.”
As women, this is our reality.
A couple of weeks ago, I was walking out of Chipotle back to work. The walk is less than a quarter mile, and it was broad daylight. A man started yelling out at me, and I at first tried to ignore it, hoping he would stop. I kept walking, and the yelling got louder, and I could hear him walking towards me. His calling out got more and more aggressive, until he was eventually five feet away from me, screaming at me to “look at him when he was talking to me”, and saying that I was a fat bitch, and other equally degrading statements.
I was calculating in my mind what to do. I was only 30 feet from work, and I knew I could run and make it there. I had a knife in my back pocket, but I figured he could probably turn it against me. I knew that it was broad daylight with plenty of people around, on one of the busiest streets in Nashville, and that he probably wouldn’t harm me in this setting. Of course, I chose to do the safest thing in this scenario.
I spun around and yelled back at him.
I told him that I didn’t owe him my conversation, and that if I didn’t want to talk to him I didn’t have to talk to him. And then I told him to fuck off.
I turned on my heel and walked briskly back to work, shaking the entire time. When I got back to my job, I didn’t feel empowered, I felt scared. I was shaken up and I was afraid to ever walk around outside of work again. That fear has never subsided.
This is our reality.