PA Shakes 2007 302Yours truly, Summer 2007, with the Liberty Bell

It was the summer of 2007. I had just turned 21, and I had sassy middling-short unnatural burgundy hair. I had a vaguely badass sense of style, and, if I do say so myself, a booty that just wouldn’t quit. After years of insecurities, I had finally gotten to a point where I didn’t give a fuck what people thought…most of the time. I was a pretty hardcore bitch in the best possible way.

PA Shakes 2007 367I mean, they installed a pole for the Shop Party.  What else was I supposed to do?

I was working as a theatrical stitcher at a summer theatre in Pennsylvania, and I had decided that I was going to go to an outdoor shopping mall in a neighboring town by myself.

I don’t remember what I was wearing. Probably just some sundress, my usual summer uniform. Maybe jeans and a tank top.

A car with a couple teenage guys rolled up next to me as I crossed through the parking lot. They began catcalling me. The details are hazy, so I don’t remember what was said exactly, but it wasn’t anything too original.

With a large flourishing gesture, I flipped them the double-bird and yelled “Fuck you!” Assholes. Stupid kids.

The driver stomped on the gas and gunned towards me as I ran out of the way and ducked into the nearest store.

I was floored. Because I was willing to challenge these kids’ lewd advances, they were willing to try to run me over with a car.

Because I was willing to stand up for myself, I deserved to be killed.

This was a formative moment for me. This is when I learned that, no matter my confidence, no matter my attitude, as a woman, I was not safe from men, even in the broad daylight. Even if they were only kids.

I am luckier than most. I have never been followed in a way that I have felt threatened. I have never been physically assaulted, been touched inappropriately by a stranger, been exposed to by an exhibitionist.

While walking in Chicago with my ex-wife, we would receive comments like “Can I watch?” or “Let me show you what a real man can do.” “Hey girl, you’re too sexy to waste on another woman.” “Hey, baby, I’ve got a real dick you can suck on.”

While walking in the city and riding the El, I constantly had my earbuds in both ears to signal that I refused to be talked to. Though sometimes, when walking home down empty streets, I made sure that the music was off so I could hear anything that might be threatening.

I relished being out in public in the winter, when I could retreat into my teenage-boy style, my curves hidden and disguised under layers of clothing. I felt safer, more confident, and completely invisible. It was a comforting thought.

As excited as I was about the arrival of warmer weather, I was always struck by the realization that it meant I would become visible again. A piece of meat for everyone’s consumption. I dress for comfort more than anything, and dresses are the most cool for me. Exposing my shoulders or my decolletage or legs left me raw and vulnerable. Even when I was roasting, if I knew that I was going to be walking for any distance or riding on public transportation, I would make sure that I was wearing a lightweight cardigan so I could disguise my form even a little. Hide my femaleness enough that I felt remotely safe.

After that incident nearly ten years ago, I was forever changed. I realized more than ever that men could not be trusted. Men had to prove themselves to be decent human beings, not animals interested in conquering and devastating me. And I learned that it was simply not safe to challenge them.  It was life-threatening.

Men wield such power, and it scares me. It is terrifying to read stories about how men have killed women simply because they were rejected by them. It is something that has happened with alarming frequency recently.

And so, against my entire nature, I drop my head, attempting to hide in the pavement, praying I become invisible just long enough to get home unscathed.  I avert my eyes to the ground in front of me, and pretend I don’t notice anything.

It’s safer that way.

Maybe.

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