I’m an open book. And don’t often shy away from expressing how I feel or how I’m perceiving the world around me. If you know me, you’re probably laughing right now. It’s a feature, not a defect. There are many subjects I can go on about, especially social justice-related topics. But my favorite is gender-based violence or GBV, and oftentimes, I have to chill tf out because one thought can lead to another, and at that point, my audience has completely spaced out, noting that I shouldn’t be invited again. I know, not everyone is here for it. So, because this is my newsletter and I’m consciously aware that you’re a reader with limited precious time, I’ll ease you into my rants.
I’ll start with a small incident that on a regular day, would have little to no importance to many people. A couple of months ago, I was coming back from a friend’s artist talk and decided to take the metro. A male friend who also rode the metro walked with me to the station. As we passed by a group of guys hanging outside of the subway entrance, I had a funny realization: Not long ago, I walked by (alone) the same group of men at this exact station, and was loudly catcalled, and followed for a bit. One of them attempted to establish a conversation… asking for my attention or my number? Silly me, I can lose track of the barrage of unwanted compliments. This time, I was almost ignored, and I felt at ease. The universal unspoken presumption that if a woman is with another man, she’s taken and therefore must not be even be looked at. Ah the comforts of sexism.
Eventually, my friend and I went our separate ways, our trains going in opposite directions.
By the time I arrived at my station, the sun had set. I stood up with conviction and strength, radiating a convincing yet weak confidence, while inside I could feel the bundle of nerves I kept close to my chest, beginning to unravel knowingly. Mind you, I’ve walked home from this station countless times, but never had I felt this distressing anxiety. It didn’t help that I was currently devouring “For the Love of Men,” by Liz Plank and while I was beginning to learn about the negative impacts of toxic masculinity it also heightened my fear of walking alone at night. This is ridiculous, I thought. This is MY neighborhood, it’s safe, it’s walkable, it’s family-friendly, what can happen?
I got off the metro and began walking, there wasn’t a soul in sight, and I couldn’t figure out if I’d feel better if I saw a human or if I preferred for no one to be around. And if something were to happen, how strong is the bystander effect? As I rounded a corner, a man stepped out of a shadow that led to a trail and I began to panic. My brain was sorting through all of the schemas it had of identifying a violent man, but at my core I wanted to be cognizant of not falling into my unconscious biases. He continued to walk behind me and my heartbeat skyrocketed. My thoughts were whizzing by: He was definitely getting closer, or was he in a hurry? He’s looking at his phone, so he’s clearly distracted… but he looked up and looked at me for longer than one second…
All throughout my subway ride I had envisioned enjoying a peaceful walk with noise cancellation on but in that moment I realized there was nothing more important than switching on all of my senses on high alert, without him knowing. That’s the stickler, prepare yourself without them suspecting.
He turned into a street and disappeared. He probably had no idea what I was thinking or preparing myself to do.
I had lost it.
Yes, we live in a world where 1 out of 3 women experiences physical or sexual violence by mostly an intimate partner, and it’s even higher if you’re gender non-confirming or trans. Of course, the solution would be to address the problem at the root, but since that’s not our reality, it’s not irrational for women to fear walking alone at night or not standing up for themselves when someone is harassing them. It is an alarming human rights issue that is often left to the marginalized genders to resolve, kind of like asking people of color to solve racism (?!?!).
Sometimes it’s the ridiculousness of it all that ignites me. It just doesn’t make sense.
I struggle with understanding the stark statistics and living completely free as an autonomous human. Yes, I don’t have full control of my repro rights, but how dare you take away my pretend world where most days I call the shots on “my body my choice”? In all seriousness, I know it can be conflicting for everyone living in this gender binary world to know what the “right” thing to do is and how to approach the subject of violence while simultaneously protecting loved ones AND letting them stand up against benevolent sexism.
My best advice is to ask your female/femme portraying friends how they feel about walking home alone at night. That’s a start.