We were raised to think the monsters were hiding in bushes, in creepy white vans, in dark alleyways. Some of them are, some of them always will be.
But they’re also everywhere else. Everywhere we go. Hiding in plain site. Touching every corner of our world, every corner of us.
We sit on the subway on a Tuesday evening, keeping our heads down and praying the whole time that no one will bother us.
We spend money that we don’t have on ubers that will (hopefully) take us safely to our doorstep. And even that isn’t a guarantee. We sit rigidly in the back seat, thinking of the sexual assaults that have occurred with these ride services in the past – knowing that the odds are extremely low, but that to relax would be foolish.
To relax, when you’re a woman at night, will always be foolish.
We accept the $17 charge and then rush to the front door, because hey, it was either this or getting leered at on the bus.
When we’re feeling bold enough, we walk home, our keys clutched tightly in our hands, one key in between each knuckle just to give us a little more of a fighting chance. We keep our headphones in but the music turned off, because then it’s just one less thing standing in the way of us and our safety. How else could we be sure that we’d hear any fast-approaching footsteps?
We pass men jogging, their headphones blasting, and wonder what it would be like to feel that carefree.
We clench our muscles and feel our breath pick up each time we walk by another figure, instinctively coming up with defense moves in our heads and planning our escape routes. We feel instant relief whenever we realize it’s just another woman, just another one of our sisters. She’s probably just as scared as we are.
We run through dark parking garages as fast as possible, our hearts pounding. We go over the ‘safety’ techniques that have been ingrained in our brains since we were teenagers. Keep your finger on your key’s emergency button. Don’t be on your phone. No earbuds. Walk down the center of the aisle. Peek inside your car before you get in, especially the back. Only unlock your door. Don’t dawdle. We do this as fast as humanly possible. We don’t feel truly safe until we’re actually home.
We become accustomed to the leering, the comments, the staring, the catcalling – no matter where we are. We have no time to think about it, to analyze it, because we have somewhere to go and we just want to get there in one piece. We get called a bitch when we don’t respond to a suggestive remark. Sometimes we get called a bitch for no reason at all.
Our brows furrow when we get ready to go out. We want to wear that bright red lipstick or that formfitting dress. Those high-heeled shoes or that glamorous top. But should we just go with the sweatshirt again? The one with the hood?
Sometimes it’s just easier to be as close to invisible as we can get.
We are harassed on the subway platform, on the bus, outside the convenience store. We are used to this, we expect this, but every time, it still hits us like a slap in the face. Knocking the wind out of our lungs and leaving us shaking long after the exchange is over and we are in our beds, wide awake. We think of all the people who saw this and said nothing, who pretended not to notice, who figured it was better to just not get involved. “It’s just some drunk guy. It’ll blow over.” We feel a crushing sense of being alone, even while surrounded by dozens of people.
We keep our guard up, our music off, our eyes peeled, our brains ready for anything.
For to relax, when you’re a woman at night, will always be foolish