I am Not an Afraid Person

I watched the video of the woman walking through NYC like most everyone else did. As I watched my anxiety level rose and rose and rose. I was that woman. In that moment I was her, but also I am her tomorrow and I was her yesterday and I am her right now.

I am not an “afraid” person. I am the person who walks up to a man harassing a woman with a small child outside of the grocery store for money and tell him to get away. I see that she is afraid and doesn’t know what to do and doesn’t want to scare her children while she waits for someone to pull the car around so I tell the guy, “Enough, get out of here.” Even though Kamel tells me I’m going to get stabbed one day. As I’m leaving a movie theater I notice a woman being intimidated by a man next to her car. I ask her if she is ok. I am not afraid. I will be bigger and louder. I will not let someone who feels alone be alone.

But I always feel threatened.

Walking home from work one day a group of drunk men were walking towards me. One was carrying a 12 pack of beer in one hand. I tried to silently move around them, but he moved to block me. I moved to the other side of the sidewalk, but he shadowed me. He did this again until he was right in front of me. I pushed the shoulder that was holding the beer so he was off balance and called him a jerk and danced around him and kept walking as they all laughed.

At work in the elevator I notice when I am the only woman.

Having a kid has not made it better. Getting commented on, asked to smile, or when threatening men try to engage with my baby – those things make me feel like a wolf surrounded.

There is a lunch place I go to near my office. I often get a sandwich “with no cheese please.” It shouldn’t matter why. But every single time I order it, if there is this one guy working that station, he says, “With extra cheese?” and he smiles at me because he knows it is a joke. I say, “No thank you,” cheerily. Sometimes I notice he puts cheese on my sandwich anyway. One time after maybe I’ve requested no cheese 7 times, he tells me I should get it with a different kind of cheese than is listed. He says I’ll love it. I say, “no, just no cheese please.” He says, “oh are you allergic?” and because I am bad at lying on the spot I say, “No… I just… don’t want the extra calories.” And then he makes a comment about that but I am no longer hearing him because I am just feeling strangely violated. I am feeling ashamed. Why do you think it is your job to tell me what I will like? Why do I have to explain my food choices? Why is this a constant issue when it is just lunch, I think I know what I want for lunch.

And maybe it is just someone in food service trying to be chatty. But it doesn’t FEEL that way to me. It feels exhausting. It makes me not want to go there anymore, to have this song and dance about my simple lunch choices. And I wonder if a dude came in every day and said “no cheese,” would that guy tease him and poke at him about cheese? I can’t imagine it. I have never seen it in the many lines I have stood in. Would he question another man’s choices?

At a different lunch place I am eating alone in a big booth. I like the space. There are plenty of seats so I don’t feel guilty. A group of men sit at a large booth across the room. They are laughing and looking at me. One or two of them make direct eye contact as I flick my eyes over the room. I immediately worry one of them will try to come over. I immediately worry that they are talking about me, looking at me, that they will call out to me. I feel very small, I feel embarrassed. I try to remember that I am a grownup and that I’m fine. I go back to reading my book and waiting for my food. But it is too late. I’ll keep my eye on them the rest of the time.

I’m not an “afraid” person. Being threatened has just become the normal current running just under my skin. Deflecting, avoiding, and having to always be willing to be the loudest one in the room so that someone else will see if it comes down to it. I am so tired.

 

**Edit: I re-read this and I remembered what I wanted to say. So, don’t tell me they are just trying to be nice and don’t tell me it’s a compliment and don’t tell that I’m being sensitive and relax. If you can’t handle keeping your mouth shut there is something wrong with YOU, not me, not every other woman who just wants to walk to the store, to go about her day, without fielding comments and side stepping potential threats. Don’t tell me feminism isn’t important. Don’t tell me men are harassed just as much, that we should feel bad for showcasing their behavior, don’t tell me this is racism, don’t disregard this voice. I’ve seen and felt enough for a lifetime of proof this happens in every situation, with every age,with every body type, race and religion.

19 thoughts on “I am Not an Afraid Person”

  1. Every time we leave the house we are reminded that public spaces are default male spaces and our existence is open to comment. You get used to it but it is so tiring. Just last week a guy leapt out of a White Castle onto the sidewalk into my path and said, “We have to stop meeting like this” and winked. It took me by surprise so I just said, “haa” flatly and kept walking. It took me two beats to realize I should’ve said, “I DON’T KNOW YOU”. Then I was frustrated AT MYSELF for not reacting better. Fuck this exhausting cycle.

  2. I have been trying to write an essay about this ever since I saw the video. I am having this wrangling in my head. How do I explain just this? I am not an afraid person, but am often threatened. How do I illustrate the difference between the feeling I get when the cheery man on the corner says, “Hey, awesome hair!” And when the young dude on the sidewalk says “God, you’re beautiful.” That all compliments are not created equal? There is so much nuance that is difficult to express.

  3. This so much. On Tuesday, when I was walking to get lunch, some guy in a suit got right up in my personal space and said “We’re interviewing women in blue shirts today”. And I just said: “No, no, I’m not interested. NO.” as he kept talking to me. And I still don’t know if he was one of those aggressive street corner fundraisers for some non-profit, or crazy or just super entitled, but he put me on edge, made me on guard and I just felt like “I’m just trying to get some lunch. I just want to walk down the street without talking to ANYONE, without having to worry if someone is a threat or not.” Ugh. The worst.

  4. I am not an afraid person, but when I run in the mornings, before the sun comes up (but on a relatively well-lit running path out in the open), I carry mace and look behind me frequently.

    1. Ugh. I had to stop my morning runs after there were three attempted abductions of women jogging in the early hours in my neighborhood. Now I pay $30/month for a gym membership. Talk about a tax on being a woman. This comment reminds me I should be less lazy about carrying mace when I walk home from the train now that it gets dark earlier in the evening.

    2. yes! oy. I had to stop early morning street runs when we first moved to Atlanta and I would never even attempt it now that we live in Baltimore. I just don’t feel safe. And I can’t hear cars or people behind me so I know that I am NOT safe either. I am way more likely to be taken by surprise.

  5. This post was so good. And it made me want to share.

    What’s with the jerks that tell you to smile? Why do you care if I am smiling or not? I am not here for your visual entertainment.

    The man at the Walgreens who saw me standing in front of the chips. My inner monologue discussing if I should get them or not (You haven’t had lunch – it’s OK! You need to fit in the wedding dress 2 weeks from now!). And I reached for the chips. And immediately he goes “You do not want to eat that – you will ruin your figure!” I could not believe it. I told him he needed to mind his own business, and unless anyone asked him to keep his mouth shut. I am not a petite person, but I’m super quiet so who knows where that came from. And his reaction “sheesh – relax, it’s just a joke!”. And I bought the chips. And proceeded to immediately throw them in the trash when I walked out of the store – just being honest. I still can’t tell if I didn’t eat them because I didn’t want to or because of his comment.

  6. Many years ago I was carjacked at lunch time right in front of my office (this was in GDL) and even though I was not injured, I felt afraid for some time. My husband asked me to convince myself I could not be afraid and that this situation could not control my life. I am big woman and I can give a bad look too. I realized I could no live afraid and learned that I had to look around for my own protection, back then my 2 girls were just little kids. We adopted “this looking around” to our daily life routine and there are sometimes when I can be afraid… I guess it is in our nature to be afraid. Best regards.

  7. This this this!! I echo ALL of this. I am not an afraid person, but I do keep an extra sixth sense out for my safety. And I do not think it is something that Men do on the regular (although they might at times, etc). It is sad to me that it has to be on my radar, for myself, and for others – but like you, I am not afraid to say something.

    I hate being fucked with. Especially in situations where I KNOW they wouldn’t treat a man this way. Never. And it very much reminds me that it is ‘default’ men’s space, like Evie mentioned. And that we are somehow ‘different’ when we exist out there, up for discussion, available for harassment, open for comment. It does not make me feel autonomous or safe.

    ps: I am super aware when running – bc now that it is winter it is mostly running in the rain (other than weekends). I run on lit streets, before 9pm always – and leave one of my headphone buds out of my ear so I can hear everything. I cross the street a lot to avoid large groups that I can tell have been drinking and/or are smoking pot. Ugh.

    But I think the most important part is discussing this with people who wouldn’t normally think about or know about these experiences (our men, brothers, fathers, coworkers etc). Saying “this is how it is, we don’t like this”. Even if the moment they might be resistant, I think telling the stories sticks with people. It might be overly optimistic, but I really believe it. Ie, I have been followed, by 3 men, when I was walking home with a friend at age 14 in broad daylight in a safe neighborhood. We had to run away and knock on a stranger’s door and call the police (a really great experience with the police in this situation, thank god). They had passed us several times in a car hollering sexist comments. It was really scary.

  8. I am not an afraid person, but I am an alert person and an angry person. I am pissed at that sandwich guy, and I’m always alert for cat calls and I’m super angry at this guy. He is so angry at the idea that men should give up harrassing women that he thinks it’s a good idea for all women to carry guns.

    And I do think there is a way to say something to someone on the street without being harassing. Just like I think there is a way to approach someone in a bar without being harassing. But it requires listening to women, and adjusting behavior and erring on the side of safer-if-I-don’t. And it makes me so mad that even that is not enough for a lot of men to do. They are more than comfortable with women being the ones to police behavior for both men and women. And women pay the price, by always being alert and always in danger, basically.

  9. I am not an afraid person, but I feel threatened. I thought it would change when I had a child, that I would no longer be treated as a sexualised object, that I was off-limits. Who wolf-whistles and shouts from a car at a woman pushing a pram? But it still happens.

    A few weeks ago, a small-weasely guy skipped along beside me and the pram, circling us and peering in at my son who was wide awake and wide-eyed. He called me mama and started talking about my breasts. Something broke inside me. I asked him if he was touched inappropriately as a child, because I couldn’t see any other reason why he’d think it was okay to sexualise me in front of my boy. He looked like I’d slapped him in the face. Then he scarpered away.

    It scared me that that was the most powerful weapon I had.

  10. I used to be an afraid person, but now I am just a cautious person. Have you talked about the Gift of Fear before, Lauren? I feel like you have. It’s a quick, fascinating read and it helped me think about fear in a rational way, and taught me that it’s actually unsafe to live in a constant state of fear because it dulls a person’s responsiveness to the true fear that is the brain’s way of reacting to real danger signals. I’m no longer afraid of random dark alleys and strange men, but I do pay more attention to my gut and other signs that something is wrong. But to the point of the post, it’s shitty that being attuned to threats has to be part of the “current running under our skin.”

  11. I love this. I love you for refusing to be cowed. I am also a person who gets into things happening in society because I cannot be quiet.
    Having a child is interesting. On the one hand, I want to be quieter in order to be overlooked, so as not to endanger him. On the other, I want to be louder in order to do my part to rid the world, in order to be a model for him. And oddly, when I walk around with him, people are less likely to harass me, and more likely to help me. It’s odd that I feel SAFER with an infant than alone.

    1. I am so happy you have had that experience with the babe, because I have NOT. I’ve had drunk men come up and want to play with/touch Gabe while I was wearing him in an airport while I was alone, I’ve had crazy people block my way on purpose, try to talk to my kid, yell at me while I walk with him to the grocery store, etc etc etc and THAT part actually makes me more afraid than anything. Because I feel like I can handle me, I can flee, I can talk back and be aggressive. But! Can I do that with my kid? I don’t want to scare him, I want to diffuse, avoid, disappear, and sometimes that is so much harder to do than to just be bitchy and get-the-fuck-away-from-me. It’s like my insides are on the outsides with him.

  12. I find that as I get older (and right now, more pregnant) the more angry I get. And I didn’t think I could get angrier than I was already, from that time I walked down the street after a work function to the BART and was stalked by three dudes in a car most of the way.

    It comes from feeling threatened ALL THE TIME and I mostly react angrily now. I was walking Seamus the other day and some random ass dude pops out shouting “Hey, how much does he weigh?” And my reaction was to half glare at him and keep walking. Who the hell are you to be asking any personal questions of me when I don’t know you from a stump in the road? Who are you to demand that I stop and converse with you, *especially* so rudely?

    PiC has begun to experience this when walking with Seamus too, so apparently it’s something to do with the dog in this case, but it shows him what I mean when I talk about the street harassment – except it’s mostly about some jerkoff trying to get in my face because I’m a woman and he thinks he can. Some days I wish I could throw fireballs at them.

  13. What an interesting rumination. Two thoughts:

    1. When you hit about 40 or 45, all that claptrap comes to an end. At a certain age, men no longer can see you — literally, you are invisible to them — and so they stop pestering you.

    2. If you live in a place where you can have one, get yourself a large, aggressive-looking dog (not a greyhound, not a golden retriever). When I was young and had big bezooms and a tiny waist, I could not walk to the corner without some SOB hollering obscenities at me. Then one day the neighbors divorced and we got custody of their German shepherd. That dog was the best thing that ever happened to me. Suddenly, I could walk around the neighborhood and even walk to the park with NO harassment! Zero, zip, nil. At one point a “gentleman” actually crossed to the other side of the street when he saw me and that dog coming.

    This applied even to the jerks who would yell at me from their cars. I don’t know what they think a dog is going to do to them as they’re flying past at 45 mph. But apparently in some male minds, a woman who is alone is fair game and a woman who is accompanied is not. But bizarrely, you don’t have to be accompanied by a man to qualify as “not fair game.” A dog will do the job.

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