I am afraid of many things.
I am afraid of change. I am afraid of sharp objects. I am afraid of things without shape and questions without answers.
But I shouldn't have to be afraid of walking a block and a half across a nice campus on a Tuesday night.
The bookstore held a poetry event on the local campus tonight. Spousal Unit and I also live on said campus, so it was a hop, skip, and a jump away for me to walk home - a much shorter walk than usual. Several coworkers inquired if I would like a ride, and I assured them I would be fine and went on my merry way.
Two steps after leaving them, I called Spousal Unit, as I always do when walking home. Yes, I call him because I love him, but I also call him just in case someone who sees me should have mischief on his mind - something I learned while living in Chicago. My being on the phone sends an immediate signal that if you mess with this girl, someone will know right away. It says "pick a less obvious target" without my having to wear spiked shoulder pads and brass knuckles.
Women, by and large, tend to worry about certain things more than men. Among those things, the largest fear at night, when alone, is the fear of being raped. Usually it's in the back of the mind, but when you're alone and someone you don't know yells at you in the dark, it comes immediately to the forefront.
So when I was walking through a small parking lot behind graduate housing, with my apartment in sight, and someone with a deep voice yelled, "Yo, bitch!" my first thought was, Don't turn around - don't show your panic. Get away as fast as possible.
"Someone's yelling at me, someone's yelling at me," I said to Spousal Unit, voice quiet but panicked.
I should not have to worry about things like this.
It didn't stop at that. Next thing I heard was, "Yo, bitch in the white dress! I'm talkin' at you!"
I should not have to worry about what he might want to "say" to me.
"What's going on?" Spousal Unit was starting to freak out - his voice held that tense, no-nonsense tone.
I kept my pace and didn't turn around, knowing that if I stopped, if I stuttered, if I acknowledged this voice at all it would only cause me trouble. My best bet was to get out of the parking lot, under a street light, around people. Home, which I could see from where I stood, behind a locked door.
"I'm going across the street," I told Spousal Unit, "and when I get to the park I'm going to run. Please come outside!"
Around the bend of the other graduate apartments, I picked up my pace, fairly certain that the faceless yeller could no longer see me. I heard no approaching footsteps as a car drove by ahead of me. I hitched my skirt up enough to free my feet and ran.
"What's going on? Where are you? Which stairs are you coming up?"
Spousal Unit was frantic now. I picked up speed, still not daring to look behind me, and I saw Spousal Unit tear down the stairs and turn to the park. When I saw him, I was a bit relieved, but still terrified.
"What's going on?"
"Let's just get upstairs, let's get inside, now."
We raced up the stairs. I slammed the door, he locked and chained it, then pulled the blinds and turned off the outside light.
I write this about an hour after coming through that door, but I still don't feel safe. My heart is still in my throat. I'm afraid of the what ifs in what just happened. I'm afraid of what if the Faceless Voice saw where I ran and watches for me later. I'm afraid of the 33 percent of rapes that happen in the daylight, the 40 percent that happen in the victim's home.
When this happened, I could see my home from where I stood. I shouldn't have to be afraid.
Campuses everywhere need better lighting. I don't care if it's a campus on the sun; there need to be more lights. Light discourages would-be offenders; in the light, a victim can get a glance of her attacker and report him later. It makes women feel safer - and men, too.
Campuses need better layouts. The parking lot I was in was sequestered between four buildings with no clear view of the street - something that didn't occur to me when I walked through there because I've walked that path so many times before. I've walked that path with Spousal Unit and felt no fear. I walked home from work five days a week in the winter, in the dark, for the last three years, without incident.
But I couldn't make it one fifth of my way home tonight before I was more terrified than I've been in years. Yes, I've been in a situation like this before. It is never any better.
Half the problem tonight was the manner of address, too. It doesn't take a genius to know that someone whose salutation is "Yo, bitch" isn't planning to offer his arm to walk you home.
I am tired of being disrespected. It is 2011. Our advances as a society are incredible. Our technology, our science, our understanding of the world, are immense. Rights between genders are so much improved. What makes it so difficult for us to respect each other and help one another live our lives to our fullest and best potential? What makes us so angry and mean?
Why can't we help instead of hurt?
This has always been one of my deepest confusions about mankind. It burns me so deeply that people will steal, cheat, lie, kill, or just invoke fear for the hell of it. Whether it's in the name of religion, out of anger, for revenge, or because some part of them loves seeing another human being in pain... I just don't understand it.
If we each - every human being on Earth - were granted the compassion and desire to help one another, would the next generation grow up with that desire as well, or would everything collapse on itself again? It doesn't matter; it's not going to happen. But that doesn't stop me from wishing it would.
I should be able to walk two blocks home without fearing an attack. Girls should be able to work with a male coworker without fearing slimy behavior, without the fear of being branded "girl who cried rape" and losing future job prospects. Women (and men) everywhere should be able to feel safe at home, at work, with their friends, or anywhere they go without fearing disrespect or worse. I know that's not the way the world is, and maybe it's naive of me, but we should not have to fear other human beings by instinct.
Next time it's late and a coworker offers me a ride home from work, I'll accept it.
But I shouldn't have to.