As a Woman I Behave Like a Prey Animal, Albeit a Badass One

We interrupt today’s Grace and Frankie binge-watching session to bring you the following public service musings, sponsored by WB Industries…

I was recently asked if I ever worried about my safety when out on my solo trail walks and I tossed off a quick “Nope, never think about that when heading out the door.”

Later, (on the trail, where I do my best thinking) I thought about that statement and have come to realize it is undeniably true and untrue AT THE SAME TIME. It’s true that I don’t think about personal safety when I head out the door. (Unless weather conditions are poor, but I think we all know that when women talk about personal safety outdoors it is about just one thing 99.99% of the time. We are talking about being assaulted by others men.)

The reason that I don’t think about this is only because my protection mechanisms are so automatic by now that I don’t even realize I am performing them anymore. Like any good little prey animal, they have become instinctive. They no longer register as conscious thought. So you see I am a bit of a liar, liar pants-on-fire.

This week I paid close attention to these “instincts” when I was performing my training walks for my upcoming half-marathon event. What was I doing subconsciously or barely consciously to prepare for and to execute my walks? The answers were enlightening to me.

First, I never wear headphones. I see a lot of people wear them outdoors when exercising but I will never be one of them. I want to be aware of my surroundings at all times. I want to hear traffic when on the streets and other hikers or bikers or walkers when on the trails. Headphones (or earbuds) have their place. On the treadmill. Where you will (almost) never find me because although a prey animal, I am not a hamster.

Second, I don’t take any valuables with me, except my phone.

Thirdly, I walk stride with purpose. I have always been a fast walker. I (think I, hope I) radiate “don’t fuck with me”-ness while out and about. And I make direct eye contact with every other person on the trail and greet them. So they know I see them.

I got my eyes on you, potential bad person!

This week I even found myself scanning the ground for a weapon (a rock, a pointy stick, whatevs…) when I saw a couple of males standing around on the trail up ahead. Turns out they were preparing to fish from the riverbank but when I first noticed them I didn’t see the fishing gear lying on the ground, just the unusual sight of 2 men just standing a bit off to the side.

Holy crap, I thought, I was actually looking for a weapon to defend myself with! My mind “went there” as soon as I saw those men. Upon reflection, this is not the first time I have automatically done this. I do it ALL. THE. TIME. when faced with anything “unusual” on the trail (or the street for that matter).

Nope, I am not paranoid or a scaredy-cat. I am just a woman living and trying to enjoy life in a rape culture.

When I was on the trail this week thinking and noticing all of these things I remembered the first time I really got scared when out walking by myself. I was a young teenager (13-14?) walking from my house on outskirts of town to my girlfriend’s (in closest subdivision) on a quiet weekend afternoon. I had to walk through an open agricultural/industrial area for close to a kilometer. It being a Sunday in the early 1970s, there were not many cars on this stretch of the road nor many (if any) people working in the factories. And certainly no other people out walking.

And then a white van slowed down beside me. The back doors were open and there were 4 men inside. Two in the front seats and two sitting in the open back. They began to catcall me and coax me to respond and get in the van with them. I ignored them and kept up my steady pace but inside I was frightened to death and trying to figure out how to best escape them if they decided to get out and chase me. Then another car drove by and the van sped up and drove out of sight. I felt immense relief until…the van pulled up beside me again and the harassment continued.

When it happened to me this time, my fear turned to rage instead. I had an umbrella in my right hand (forecast called for rain and I was prepared), so without changing pace or looking at those fools I raised the umbrella and slowly and deliberately tapped it into my open left hand.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Three times.

You wanna mess with me? Well, I won’t go down without one hell of a fight. Consider yourselves warned.

Then I brought the umbrella back down to my side, all the time keeping up my steady pace and looking straight ahead, chin raised defiantly. Message delivered.

Now, I don’t know if this worked (doubtful) or if it was because I was now quickly approaching “civilization” (the subdivision was just ahead), but the van pulled away again and this time didn’t come back.

I didn’t get a license plate number and I didn’t report it. I already knew, even at my tender age, that somehow this incident would be seen as my fault.  (And selfishly I didn’t want my emerging freedoms to be cut off by parents worrying about their daughter being accosted whenever she left the house. )

I had provoked them somehow. How was I dressed? Were my jeans or T-shirt too tight? It was the 70s – everyone wore tight jeans and t-shirts. Maybe there was too much wiggle in my walk. What did I think would happen when out walking by myself? Etc. Etc.

I knew this because these were the thoughts going through my head. Like a good little woman-child of the 1970s, I was trying to figure out what I had done to bring this “attention” on myself.

Thus began my transformation from human being to hyper-aware prey animal (and, let it be said: future badass).

I wonder if men can even begin to comprehend feeling this way when out walking solo, on the trail or anywhere.

Apparently not, because just a couple of days ago I came across a post on Facebook by Backpacker Magazine linking to an article entitled How to Avoid Seeming Creepy to Solo Women Hikers. I made the mistake (I know, I know) of reading the comments section. There were some good comments from men but also a lot of stuff like this gem by a guy named Spear Chucker in response to a woman: If you are getting eaten by a bear, I will keep walking. I won’t even tell anyone.

Yeah, so mature. You hurt my man-baby (thank you Lindy West, for this) feelings so now I am picking up my toys and leaving the sandbox, with a vengeance. WAAAAAH!!!! Take that you woman, you!

Dude, if you are that offended by the article and comments made by a woman, clearly you ARE the target audience.

There were other negative comments and arguments. I’m paraphrasing tremendously of course, but this was the gist:

Women feel scared on the trail when approached by men? Can’t be our fault. What is wrong with these women?

One little rape and they become suspicious, man-hating femi-nazis. LIGHTEN UP, WOMEN.

Get some therapy. The good kind.

And this sparkler: how am I expected to find a date on the trail if I can’t hit on the women I come across there?

The lack of empathy and consideration that someone else’s world-view or experience could not be like yours (and yet strangely enough, VALID) is mind-boggling. Don’t these men have women in their lives? Women that they could ask if this is indeed how they truly feel when alone and outdoors?

I have yet to meet a woman who has not felt anxious or threatened, even for just a few seconds, when outside and alone. The woman who has never rethought a plan to go somewhere because it might not be safe. The woman who has never been catcalled or harassed by men on the street.

If you are that woman, please contact me because I want to know where you have been cloistered all your life. It would make a great retreat, I am thinking.

In the meantime…

Rock your bad selves on,

The WB

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