I went for a walk tonight in my neighborhood. This should not be news worthy expect you know – I’m female. If you happen to be a woman, all sorts of normal, everyday things suddenly become dangerous. Because living while female is inherently higher risk than other kinds of living.
As I reached roughly halfway thru my walk, a vehicle stops at a stop sign for an inordinately long time. The driver must have seen me walking: in my sweat pants, t-shirt, and a sports bra underneath. I’m red-faced and sweating, hair unkempt in a loose bun. This is probably not a good look for me; not cute at all. I look like every other chunky white girl out for a walk when clearly, I should do more walking. I hesitate on the other side of the stop sign as I approach. I move into the grass to allow more than enough room for the vehicle. I can’t make it out yet. I wait: no movement. We are in a stand-off.
I play through scenarios in my mind. If I turn left, where does this street go? On the other side of the stop sign is a lake and only two more houses. Those houses do not usually have garage-sitters to watch my nightly attempt at exercise. I turn off my iPod to make sure I can hear everything going on. I wait. The vehicle does not move.
I resume walking, crossing the street and picking up the pace. I move far enough away when I pass the vehicle so that any door that may swing open will miss me. As I approach I see it’s a red truck. As I pass the driver turns on the overhead light. Inside the truck are two young men: probably 18 to 22 years old, crew cuts, clean-shaven and baby-faced. They gaze at me coldly. No smiles, no hint of anything other than that cold leering all women at some point have experienced. I make eye contact with this boy I am likely a decade older than. He stares me down. I maintain eye contact planning what I will do if he gets out of the car. As I have passed the bed of the truck, he slowly begins to roll through the stop sign.
I pick up the pace and keep walking. What was a pleasant walk on a nice evening has been ruined. I wonder if the red truck will reappear. I think of an incident a few years ago. I realize I have forgotten my phone. I only have an old iPod with no way pretend to be on the phone or do any of the number of things we women have come up with to protect ourselves. Every time a vehicle approaches I glance over my shoulder hoping it’s not a red truck.
Ten minutes have passed and I glance over my shoulder: a small red truck approaches. I pick up my pace and put my head down all the while following the truck with my eyes. It appears to be the same truck and it slows down as it approaches. Now the truck rolls past me at a crawl. I pretend to ignore it, growing more nervous. I look at the houses ahead, praying to see an open garage door and a light. The truck rolls on down the street, I sigh. I’m still only three-quarters of the way home.
Soon enough, the red truck makes another slow roll, this time passing on my side of the street. I am sure to maintain enough distance that I am not in the reach of a passenger side door. He does not turn on the light but I can clearly see him leering, leaning over the steering wheel now to watch me walk. He does not smile. This is not a compliment. Suddenly a terrifying thought: what happened to the blonde passenger? The other young man is no longer in the truck. Could he be somewhere on the road ahead waiting for me? The truck has done another roll by and is only tail lights down the road. I look ahead searching the in darkness for blonde boys in white shirts. I continue walking.
A figure approaches. From the silhouette it appears to be a man, solidly built, white t-shirt, dark long shorts. My stomach drops. I glance nervously for open garage doors with garage-sitters. As I approach I see the man has dark hair – and is walking a dog. I sigh, relieved. Men who walk dogs are safe. Dog walkers are not rapist-murderers, at least not tonight. I wonder if the man noticed my fear. If he did, what would he make of it? Why would this random woman walk out of her way to avoid him? Will he just assume I was afraid of his boxer? Or will he wonder if something else was going on? If something happened – would he have helped me?
As I approach the final stretch, the red truck takes another slow roll by. I pick up the pace, turn the corner once he’s out of sight, and book it home. Terrified and furious wondering how I could have prevented this encounter and still manage to live a productive life. Angry because my gender alone makes me a target. Angry because what was supposed to be something nice I do for myself has become something that next time I want to do, I’ll think twice. Angry because out here in deep suburbia where everyone talks about how “safe” and “nice” everything is – I know the truth: I am not safe. We are not safe. Far away from “dangerous” cities and “dangerous people”, in white-washed suburbs I am still “at risk” because I am a woman.