I was raised to be tough and absolutely fearless. I was raised to think and strut around my stomping grounds just like my huge, not to be messed with, 6 foot dad. However, I am a 5’7” 130 pound young woman and I am certain that my right hook can’t do nearly as much damage as his. This inherent weakness is a harsh reality for the female gender and there is nothing we can do about it. I just recently became aware of just how true this is in the real world. Still, I do believe that the average man has no desire to hurt or scare any woman in any way. The problem is, there are some of you where this is not true and for my safety, it can’t be my responsibility to trust which one you are.
Over Thanksgiving break, my best friend and I drove up to Seattle to meet our other best friend who goes to school in Washington. On the third night there we stayed in a Seattle hostel. This was a high quality hostel that was very clean, warm and welcoming. You share the rooms with 2 – 6 additional people and share bathrooms that are located down the hall. There was a fun hang out lounge with lots of tables and couches and TV downstairs for people to socialize and relax in. While my friends were at the car, I went down to check it out by myself. Down the stairs and stepping through the door frame, I encountered young men drinking around the couches. Immediately turning to leave, they called welcomes after me.
My friends and I were smart and safe. We didn’t go anywhere outside or anywhere alone, or without a text to our group chat to let the others know where we were. All of our locations were shared and we made sure to always be on the lookout.
Later in the evening, only around 9 pm or so, we wanted to relax with some tea and play a round of cards. We went downstairs to the lounge and together we sat at the table in the corner, away from all the young men who were still sitting on the couches drinking. We soon realized we needed an additional deck for our card game so I left them to do so. When I came back downstairs, I walked into a very suspicious situation. One of the young men who greeted me earlier in the day and had seemed more “outgoing”, was standing above my seated friends.
Still standing I say, “what’s going on here?” trying to appear casual, to the guy. I was on the offense. Who was this guy and why did he think it was okay to be standing above these two young girls and assert his presence.
My friend mumbled about him wanting to play with us, sounding clearly uncomfortable and the guy, overly friendly, said how he wanted to join.
“Sorry this is a closed game. Friends trying to catch up, you know?” I tried to very directly play it off. He tries to laugh it off, still overly friendly.
“Talk about being rejected!” He says, now loud enough for his friends to hear.
“You can’t be blown off by people with boyfriends.” I said, lower than I wish I had. It was the first thing to come to my head. Thing is, whether my friends or I were seeing people, which I won’t even reveal in this article, should not affect us not being unwillingly hit on in a male dominant environment.
We felt so uncomfortable in the room that we went upstairs and continued our game. We drank coffee by the fire and had a good time.
Later that evening I had to shower and those are in the bathrooms that are separate single person rooms right outside the bedrooms. Of course I texted the group chat to tell them where I would be and one of my friends was in my bedroom simply waiting for me to return. I went into the separate bathroom and showered.
When I was done showering, all the suddenly I felt afraid. I was suddenly hyper aware of the fact that I had to leave this room, enter the hallway and open another door to my shared bedroom. Each stop had a threshold where I had to be aware of my surroundings. It suddenly hit me that the guy I blew off could be waiting for me. He could be right outside the door waiting to hurt me or God knows what else. I blew him off directly and publicly. What if I had pissed him off just enough…
Nothing happened. I got changed, stepped into the hallway and stepped right into my bedroom. I just felt afraid, hopeless and overwhelmed with what if. THIS is a woman’s fear. Only women will ever know what it means to be afraid in this way; to be afraid of the fact that harm, abuse and exploitation is possible for me right now. Nothing could happen, or the very worst could happen. Why? Because there is no winning. In situations like that of the lounge, women can either sit and be treated in a way they do not like, or stand up for themselves and risk being punished later.
I, myself, have never felt this realistic fear before that day. All my life I have been blessed to have been sheltered in environments where physical harm and the relevance of gender were never a threat to me and how I behaved. In my life, all that ever mattered was my mental capacity and attitude, not someone’s physical capability to act on their own will against my interests. For me, this was a reality check and I hate to admit it, but it has hit me hard. My father, having raised me with the same tough, tall, strong mentality he holds, cannot be backed up by my smaller, weaker stature. How I acted in the lounge, how I blew off that guy for the protection of myself and my friends, was extremely dangerous. Standing up for myself and dismissing someone who could physically hurt me, was dangerous. No amount of how fearless, protective and confident I feel, is going to save me from whatever a man wishes to do to me physically. No matter what I do or say, no matter the lack of legality or rational is gonna change what this man wants. That is the fact, that is the reality and that is a woman’s fear. I have come to terms with the notion that I will have to change my strategies of protecting myself and other women by learning how to regard myself like a woman in the world of men.
This personal testimony is a story for men. You may never mean any harm. I make the reasonable assumption that the average man has no desire to hurt or scare me in any way. You, as a good-willed man know this is true, but I, as a woman, don’t know if it is true about YOU. When I walk downstairs to where you and your guy friends are having a good innocent time cracking a beer, know that that is not how I see it. When I walk into that situation, you are inherently dominant. When you walk up to some girls you think are cute and would like to strike up an innocent conversation, know that that is not how I see it. You have cornered me and unless my interest is abundantly obvious, I am thinking of the safest way to get rid of you without risking my life. When you stand over me while I am sitting, I am pinned down and terrified.
The average man has no desire to hurt or scare any woman in any way. I know this is true, but since I cannot be sure, I am afraid. I experience a woman’s fear every day I am alive, no matter how I choose to act on it. You sir, will never know this fear for yourself, but if you can be aware of it, that may be the very thing that chips it away…