I posted an ad for my apartment on craigslist today. I’m moving before my lease is up, but if I find someone to rent my apartment sooner, I can avoid paying double rent next month. When my landlord offered up this arrangement, I thought of craigslist right away – and was pleasantly surprised by the calls I started getting almost immediately. But then one guy called who just sounded a little … off. After I made an appointment to show him the apartment, I couldn’t stop thinking about him – and the story about the 24-year-old nanny who was killed after answering a fake craiglist ad.
I have a pretty regular routine during the week after work – read mail, change, work out, make dinner ... not much time for anything else. Plus I was thinking about doing laundry too. But instead of doing any of those things when I got home, I sat on my bed, overwhelmed by a feeling of dread, mentally running through various scenarios of how this showing could go horribly wrong – both embarrassed and angry by feelings I couldn’t get under control.
It’s an emotion I’ve had before – not just fear, but the experience of rolling along, happily feeling in control of my life, and then bam – all of the sudden I’m not because of one ridiculous, infuriating reason: I’m female.
I like running at night. I’ve somehow convinced myself that pointing my key out between my fingers as some sort of potential weapon provides sufficient safety. I know that probably makes no sense, but I don’t care. Not only is the time, and often weather, more convenient than during the day, but there’s something empowering about it – I refuse to be afraid to leave my apartment after dark. So I was enjoying one of these runs last Halloween, listening to my mp3 player, when I sensed someone running next to me. I turned and found myself three inches from a grotesque face – a monster mask, I realized after a moment of visceral terror – some teenage boy trying to be funny in front of his friends. Of course he was harmless, but my heart didn’t calm down until I was back inside my apartment. Shutting and locking the door behind me, I didn’t feel empowered anymore. I felt scared. And mad.
Last summer I took a cab to go meet friends at a bar, and the cab driver was especially chatty. He wanted to know why a nice girl like me was going out all by herself, and warned me to be careful of men who were up to no good. Not a big fan of small talk with strangers, I normally would have been annoyed, but I was looking forward to a fun Saturday night, and I found the driver’s old-school concern sort of endearing – he didn’t know I go out alone all the time – that this nice girl has her very own job, rents her very own apartment and pays for her very own cocktails. But when we got to my destination, instead of telling me how much the fare was, the driver stretched his arm over the passenger’s seat, turned his head around to look me up and down, and kept talking. All of the sudden I didn’t find him so endearing. My eyes darted over to the locks. What if he wouldn’t let me out? I grabbed the door handle and planted one foot outside as I fumbled with my money. When I got to the bar my Saturday night cheer was replaced with anxiety over my looming cab ride home.
Am I paranoid? Probably. I know women are less likely to experience a random act of violence than an assault by someone they know, but that doesn’t change the feeling in my stomach when I hear an extra step echo behind me on a dark and empty street. How do you remedy that? Should you ignore the gory front-page story because you know umpteen frat party date rapes probably went unreported that same night? Do you carry mace? But can’t that be used against you? Do you blame the victim because she wasn't watching her drink, or because she was wearing a short skirt, or because she was at a bar in the first place?
Do you keep running at night? Is that empowerment, or is that endangerment? And who is doing the endangering?