A few weeks ago, during a beautiful fall day on campus, I was reminded of the fear inherent in being a woman. I was walking back to school from the new Chocolaterie with my 10-year-old daughter at my side. A young man crossed the street with us and started a conversation. He appeared to be a university student; he had the prerequisite back pack, wore black framed glasses and was walking towards the campus as were we.
He started to talk about his recent acupuncture appointment and the remarkable feeling of wellness he was now experiencing. The conversation moved on to areas of study. When I asked him what he was studying he gave a vague and slightly nonsensical answer which immediately tweaked my bull shit radar.
I reassessed the situation and thought about how he would see me; a small woman, single mother, with child in tow. I was a good target and I knew it.
I have read a lot of forensic reports; have studied forensic anthropology and have had an interest in forensic psychology. A university campus is a rich hunting ground for predators and I thought I might have encountered one.
I started to increase the distance between the man and myself. And then he grabbed the top strap of my backpack and tugged me towards him. The backpack was full and I momentarily lost my balance. Once I regained my equilibrium I quickly altered my route in opposition to his, all the while outraged at what he had just done but fearful to confront him about his inappropriate actions. A confrontation could escalate the situation if he was truly a threat. If he wasn't, if he was just oblivious to how he had violated my space, a confrontation might be 'a teachable moment'. But with my daughter by my side, I could not risk any possible negative outcomes.
My daughter and I headed off towards my car where I sat for a few moments to regroup. I was upset by what had happened, mostly because my daughter was with me. I thought about what I could have done better-- not taken part in the conversation in the first place? I don't like that option. I don't want to live in fear of every friendly man that I meet. Sometimes people are just friendly. But as a woman it can be hard to tell what will start as friendly and end as scary.
This may seem like a small incident and maybe nothing at all to some people. But as women we face these little incidents, moments when we are reminded that our bodies may be taken, that we may not be able to protect those that we love, that we may face unwanted attention, at any time and in any place.
I would like to say that I am strong but physically I am a small woman and there is nothing that will ever change that. After a similar instance in my twenties, I spent a few years in the gym, working to overcome that physical reality. But no matter how much I could bench press or how many bicep curls I could do in a row-- my strength and stamina would never match most men I would encounter in my life.
It is an uncomfortable feeling; this powerlessness.
Women live with the possibility of violence every day. It isn't something that I think about on a daily basis but it is something that simmers under the surface.
I hate that I have to live with this. I hate that my daughters will have to live with this. I hate that no matter what consciousness raising efforts we have promoted in recent decades; things have not changed.
Respect my body's autonomy. Give me some space.