Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Living while female

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?


Jessica said...

I'm sure most women think about this stuff all the time. It really sucks, but it's reality. I walk my dog a lot at night, but that's different than running alone. I think you should keep running at night, but maybe not listen to your mp3 player. Also, what about looking for a female running partner when you move? Sometimes I carry pepper spray when I'm out at night. Case in point, when we met in Oak Park and I knew I'd be sitting in the station--totally a pepper spray night.

Dr. Bob said...

This reminds me of the time when you were going to cross the Isthmus to meet your sister at the High Noon on a Tuesday. She was worried since you didn't know the exact location and it was late. When I left to drive you over, the guys I was with thought it ridiculous. When I returned to Wando's, I tried to explain the risk and that "you never know". No luck getting through.

The next morning, the paper reported an assault just around the corner from Wando's on the night before we were out. And still, it didn't register with the guys. Even when presented with immediate evidence of two sets of rules, it wasn't real to them.

The number of times that "non-escorted" women in a bar draws not only attention, but complete invasion... Makes me long for some of the elements of chivalry - at least there was a boundary to some behaviors.

bobbyboy said...

I like the idea that you get angry at these situations. Many woman have had the same anger and turned it into a positive thing. Maybe they read about how to be more aware in certain situations, or took a basic all around self defense course for a better chance at security.

It seems justified to be angry and woman have to deal with situations like these most of their lives.

"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?"

NO! The criminal IS at fault and looks for openings or weakness's of an innocent victim. It is a plus to get informed on how to avoid a bad situation, and deal with one once you are already engaged, but whether a woman has this knowledge or not, does in no way make her at fault for a criminals actions!

No one should have to worry about their safety, but it is a part of our society and all we can do is get informed and go about our lives.

Amy said...

I agree that things like self defense classes have helped women channel a positive sense of empowerment from anger over feeling unsafe. And they’re great. I don’t believe though, that these sorts of precautions completely negate the feeling of vulnerability — and in my case, resulting anger — after you’ve taken the classes and read the e-mail forwards and watched the Datelines — and things still happen that shake your sense of security.

And sometimes I wonder if all the cautionary tales and forwards I’m inundated with are actually feeding into my paranoia, if my ever-growing safety checklist is creating a perpetual state of fear — not to mention the conflicting advice the checklist includes. (Elevators or stairs? They’re apparently both death traps. So I guess I have to stay on the ground floor, but wait, aren’t garden apartments unsafe as well? And mace seemed like such a great idea until I read it can be turned against you, rendering you even more defenseless.)

And I totally agree, unless you live in a bubble you have to accept some risk and live life as safely as you can. And as a middle-class, white female living in America, I realize I enjoy a sense of security that a distressing number of people around the world probably can’t even imagine.

But I’m still finding it difficult to strike a balance between precaution and paranoia, or empowerment and self/victim-blame, to feel a sense of security that eludes me, and that I suspect would be within my grasp, had I been born a different gender.

bobbyboy said...

You know Amy, I agree with you. I as a man still have to watch out against being mugged, robbed or even killed. And, having taken some self defense courses and gotten some awareness, I'm still Leary when out and about. I still double check my door locks at night, make sure all the windows are shut and locked and still listen for the late night sounds that shouldn't be there.

I am always a bit nervous when walking alone at night or being with just one other person whom I don't know and no one else is around.

I can only imagine what a woman must go through dealing with day to day activities, or better yet, the situations that you've sited.

I think other than taking the precautions that we know to take (Education), we must live our lives as happily and fruitful as possible. I mean, are we supposed to just lock ourselves up all day in a fortress like house? I won't because then these scum have won a battle in my life that they don't even know exists.

I will keep my healthy fear because that helps to keep me safe. I won't let it paralyze me though because that may even be worse for me then getting mugged, I don't know.

I can only wish you the best and hope that you find a "Midway" point of compromise where your fears are healthy enough, but they are also well in check.

Anna said...

I think this feeling applies to a lot of situations... for instance when I got in a fender bender earlier this year I couldn't drive without white knuckles for at least a week. Couldn't stop thinking the "what ifs"... but eventually I got used to driving like normal (which obviously isn't something to brag about)... but with a little more awareness. Who knows, maybe the little fender bender that day made me more alert while driving to work at 7 am the next and I avoided a major crash. It might be unfortunate for myself that I think so optimistically sometimes but we can't live in fear, just learn from it... and I agree with no ipods on late night jaunts

So did you rent your apartment? :)

Amy said...

But I like listening to music while I run...drowns out the catcalls and kissy noises :(

See the next post for an apartment update ;)

I heart emoticons :)

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