I used to claim to be a city girl at heart. Having grown up in a city of 13 million people, it really wasn’t far from the truth. Chicago is one of my favorite cities, New York a close second. And now, I live just a few miles south of the thriving metropolis of Denver. Of the many things I expected to encounter after moving down here, I didn’t expect the subtle uneasiness that has crept into my days.
I don’t feel safe here.
In my favorite little comfortable town of Fort Collins, I never thought twice about my safety. I wasn’t oblivious to my surroundings, and if anything were amiss, I tried to get myself out of the area as soon as possible. But my safety didn’t dictate when I went out, what I wore, and how much I had to drink. In fact, I was frequently out riding bikes at eleven p.m., I lived in little dresses all summer long, and I smiled at strangers.
It’s winter now, so my attire consists mainly of jeans, boots, and coats. I don’t look any different from the next girl, and on really cold days, you can barely even see my face underneath my hood. Yet even though we have many months to go before the summer nights roll in, I’ve already started worrying about my safety here. I see the looks I get on the light rail when all they can see is my face. I’ve already gotten approached by a few men on my various adventures around town. And there’s this ball of dread growing in the pit of stomach, making it difficult for me to be comfortable anywhere that isn’t my apartment.
In the summer, I live in dresses, wear red lipstick, and drink a good amount of beer. I worry that I can’t be that person and ride the light rail home; that someone will inevitably accost me; that I can’t be pretty and safe. I’m thinking about taking a self-defense class. I rarely venture out after sunset without giving myself a pep talk about how God is my safety and I have nothing to be scared of. But I do have things to be scared of.
And I hate that with every fiber of my being.
I hate that I constantly have to be on guard, ready to defend myself, ready to run. I hate the fact that my gender makes me a target for attack. I hate that I feel like I have to change who I am to to be safe, that I can’t be seen and secure. I hate, above all, this societal mind frame that makes it my responsibility to not get assaulted, making the men the victims of my “innately seductive ways”.
The thing that saddens me the most is that most of the “good guys” tend to distance themselves from the situation. They don’t fight for us. They retrospectively discuss the general ideas of chivalry and the unfairness of society, but when faced with a situation that desperately begs for a hero, they shrink back.
A long time ago, there was a story being spread around my group of friends like wildfire. It was about a guy we all knew, who pushed another guy up against a wall at a bar and threatened him because he grabbed one of the girls’ butts. I wish our friend knew how much we talked about that story, and how much we cheered and applauded and felt validated. We probably should have told him. And then there’s my little brother from another mother, who intentionally places himself between you and traffic/threatening people, and is constantly on the lookout for your safety.
These men exist. They do. But it makes me incredibly sad that they are the minority, because for as many of them that I know, there are just as many who would look away in situations that call for a hero. It irks me that society (and the Church) spends more time teaching the ladies how to protect the men and keep them from “stumbling”, telling us what’s too short and too tight, yet no one is teaching the guys how to protect us. How to help us feel safe. How to be able to appreciate a woman’s beauty without objectifying her. Who is teaching them that? Why isn’t that part of the conversation? Who is telling them that if they ever feel like a woman is “asking for it”, the problem lies 100% within them? Instead they’re validated for being inherently unable to control their sexual urges, while we sign up for self-defense classes and buy bottles of mace.
It is exhausting to constantly be on guard. But more than that, it is disheartening to know that this has become a part of our cultural expectations of women and men. When I’m a mother, I plan to spend more time teaching my sons how to respect and honor women rather than teaching my daughters to fear men. And I pray, for the sake of the young souls coming behind us, that I’m not the only one.