I am female. With my sex, come certain irrefutable actualities, some of which I don’t like but accept as the reality of being female.
One of those is the knowledge that you are vulnerable.
That to many individuals in the world, you are prey.
I do not allow this reality to stop me or prevent me from doing things I wish to do. I do not allow my experience – and I would bet the experience of every woman out there – of past harassments, past unwelcome advances, past assaults, to impede me from doing what I feel, as a human being, I have a right to do and to do in safety and without worry.
However, I am not stupid either and precautions, necessary, regretfully taken but crucial, are simply a part of my existence.
I learned the lesson first when I was attacked at 17 by a businessman in a big fancy car when hitchhiking.
I had that lesson hammered into me on those many nights when walking alone, I was considered fair game – as if my insistence on my right to walk the streets of my city was a challenge to the predators who prowled them.
But I chose to regardless.
I have always refused and continue to refuse to allow the predators to dictate the parameters of my existence.
For many, many years, as a night worker, I would walk from my job at a big law firm down the almost deserted streets of Toronto at night to my parking– anytime between midnight and 3 a.m., keys protruding from between the fingers of a clenched fist, keeping to well-lit streets with the most traffic, keeping a hyper (but NOT paranoid) awareness of my surroundings and who was in my space. And yes, there were many times I was harassed – verbally, with rude comments, sexual innuendos and intimidation – but only a few times where these threats turned physical and those I was able to handle. For I walked – as I had learned, with confidence (no matter how assumed), with intent and with a firm, no nonsense step.
It was with great reluctance that I gave up my 4 a.m. cycling to work, wheels flashing on cool pavement, night air licking awareness into sleepy eyes, the delicious sense of moving through time and space, the glimpses into warm windows and the waking of the world around me, sunrise still an hour or more away but D’s increasing fretfulness at my vulnerability as the disenchanted prowled the still dark streets made it an increasing bone of contention between us, until, reluctantly, I acceded and cycled instead only on those days where daylight shed its light before I mounted my bike.
I remember nights even as a student in a small university town, being flashed… being accosted and propositioned … but I was lucky and with caution and determination, went where and when I chose to go.
But then as now – not without some trepidation. Not without the awareness that I was vulnerable. Not without the underlying- much despised but real – fear that this time, my bluff would be called. This time I would join the ranks of those who gambled on retaining independence and freedom and lost …
For most women, like me, this understanding of our vulnerability, this insidious acceptance of our role as prey, is reluctantly but realistically internalized.
Just last week, as I drove up to a 24 hour grocery store, hoping to pick up a few items before work, the reality of my vulnerability flared to life. At 4:30 a.m. on an October early morn, dark rules still and outside the lighted doors were a group of males, bearded, rough, smoking and without conscious volition, I turned the wheel and drove away ….not because those boys had threatened me, not because they had in any way, form or manner suggested harm to me, but because as female, you learn to hedge your bets, you learn to make careful choices …
But last night the October moon glowed palely in a crisp October sky and from the window, cracked to let the clear autumn air in, I felt the pull of the wild night and deep within the need stirred and flared to life and I needed to be out.
Leashing the dogs, I bundled into my sweater and stepped out onto the porch. The night flared around me, velvet dark and the crisp air seared my lungs into life and I breathed deep while the dogs moaned with anticipated pleasure of a walk.
I strolled down moonlit streets and relished the feel of the autumn air against my cheeks, stinging colour into pale skin, rustling the mane of hair around my face and the dogs gambolled in delight and sniffed and acted silly and made me grin. We came to the park up the street, a small neighbourhood park, ringed by beautiful oaks and towering maples and dark velvet shadows wrapped it in a Halloween delight of gloom and pooled dark rivers of mystery in the periphery of vision and turning, I entered, loosening the leashes, allowing the dogs to run and jump and stretch their canine minds and enter for a moment their ancestors world of night and prey and I realized, as I strolled in the dark of the night, in the middle of a park, I did not feel vulnerable … I did not feel prey … and as I watched my dogs as they ran and played and came back again and again to check on their alpha that what I was NOT feeling was trepidation. What I was NOT feeling was nervous. What I was NOT feeling was cautious …
For the dogs were my pack, they were there protecting me and it was only in the absence of fear that I recognized how fear can insinuate itself into the very fibres of your mind and heart without you even realizing it.
And even as I strolled the dark embrace of a deserted park, I felt both a little sad and a little thrilled … sad because the absence of fear was so intoxicating … I felt as if I could scream out my delight in NOT fearing … and sad because I knew it was only the two powerful creatures beside me now that gave me that absence, whose powerful bodies provided that sense of peace and invulnerability … and in the end, I walked the dark streets and revelled in the momentary absence of emotions which life itself imposed on me and relished the momentary escape from being female and prey …