running

Dear Sirs

Dear Sirs,

I don’t want to be afraid.

I don’t want to be afraid of you.

I wasn’t always, you know.

Just a few years ago, I was guileless. I was at ease and ignorant. I had managed to scrape through forty some years without a chink in the daft armor. But you changed that. And I wish you, collectively, cared more.

I knew the stories. I understood the statistics. I knew that assault could happen to anyone, at any time. It’s not what she wears, or how much she drinks, but still, I thought, I was safe when running. Running is physical and active and energetic. Yet, there you were.

You didn’t hurt me. You didn’t get what you wanted, unless jail time was what you had in mind. (Happy to oblige, by the way). But you did change me. And you scared me. In ways I can still viscerally experience.

Since then, I’ve noticed all the things I never noticed before. Like when I am negotiating a freelance contract with you, and you tell me about my pretty eyes. (I’ll decline the contract, thank you.)

I’ve noticed how your eyes shift over my body when I walk past your table, or run past your car, or order my coffee. It feels like a sickness curling up my back and parking itself in my mind. It feels like you’ve poisoned my skin, made me less than I am. Your gaze is an assessment: you are appraising the value according to whatever skewed system you use.

You turn commonplace conversation into innuendo. You think it’s appropriate to tell me about your passionless marriage. You think my wedding ring is just bling.

A few years ago, some guy on sport radio said something stupid. (They say stupid stuff every day, natch.) He said that he would cross the street if he was out late at night and saw a tatted up man of color approaching him. And I want to say to him:

It’s not the color of his skin. It’s not the ink. It’s the fact of his maleness that would put me on alert. 

I am afraid of you.

When I go for a run, I take pepper spray. I tell someone where I plan to be and for how long. I watch everyone. I never post my routes. When I park my car, I observe who what where when. When I walk into a building, I notice you. All of you. And often, you all look suspicious.

Did you know that?

Yes, yes. I know. Not all men. You might be a good dude. But how am I to know that? How am I to know you respect me when the majority of your kind have made it so challenging?

Just this weekend, I posted sexual assault statistics on twitter and some bros came at me, fingers ablazin’. They said the results were skewed. They called me stupid, a “concrete block.” They said women lie to get attention, or fame. If that’s true, then I’m still waiting on all those piles of cash. (My policy: do not suffer fools.)

You reduce me. You make me a literal object: a concrete block. You devalue my body, my words, and my voice. I’m angry. I’m angry I can’t exist in a world without being afraid, or at the very least, aware of imminent threat. I’m angry that you can go for a run in the wee dark hours, but for me, that is an untenable proposition. You can go where you will, without fear. I must calculate my risks.

I’m afraid. I don’t want to be.

 

6 Comment

  1. It makes me so sick to know you’ve been there. To know you’ve gone through this and people still don’t get it. I know, 95% of men are good, honest, trustworthy people. I am so sorry you experienced this. Thank you for sharing your story, for being brave enough to press charges.

    1. Oh, you know I would press charges! My husband arrived as I was talking to the officer. I was trying to spell my last name and still keyed up. The officer looked to my husband for help with our name, but he looked at me just as I said, “I will spell my own name.” It was like no one was going to take away my voice. I felt so strong in that moment. I just wish there was a way to convince people that there are these people out there. That’s what I talk about it, and things like depression. I’m also thankful nothing more happened.

  2. For me it was my boss. I had him fired. He had a wife and two children. I was working for a Christian organization. It changed me.

    Yours is not an isolated story. Thank you for sharing.

    1. I think we forget that Christians are people, but we certainly do expect more when we’re choosing to work for a place with Christ in the name. I’m glad you moved to stop that nonsense. The idea that if he sees something he wants he can go for it is baffling to me. What arrogance. What aggression. Good for you!

  3. Great post Jennifer! I went through a similar (although not as eloquent) rant in my head one morning when I chose to run to the gym at 5am. It was scary and I questioned whether I should be doing it. Then I was just pissed off that I had to be scared to go running by myself in the morning. And pissed that if something did happen to me, people would probably say I shouldn’t have gone running by myself in the morning.

    And I’m sorry that you were assaulted. That really sucks. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    1. It’s a kicker, isn’t it? We want to be safe; we want to be smart. And: our male counter parts don’t have to have that internal conversation. I still run everywhere, but I take all the precautions I can. Be safe, and keep being you.

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