The other night I was walking to my car in the snow, parked pretty far away from the building I’d just concluded a meeting in a few minutes before. Classes were canceled for the rest of the evening, leaving the lot relatively empty aside from my small white chevy parked underneath the streetlamp. I approached my car noticing a good few inches of snow that would need to be cleaned off.
I opened the door, threw my backpack and laptop inside and searched around for my snow brush. I found it, and reached over to start my car to get my defroster running. Turning my key, the engine switched on – and instead of slowly following the rest of this routine, I quickly snapped back up into straight posture and found my eyes darting across the dim, empty parking lot.
My heart jumped as I gripped the small plastic snow brush like a weapon. Leaning over the front seat of my car, all I could think of was how easily someone could have snuck up behind me, kicked me into the vehicle and driven away with me inside. I strategized in my head how I could injure someone with that snow brush if I had to. This plan made me feel a little less uneasy. My fingers burned from the cold as I quickly swept away the snow and rushed into the warmth of my car, making sure to lock it as soon as I shut the door.
Whenever I’m out and about, especially at night, my mom’s voice is always popping into my head: “Always be aware of your surroundings. Never get preoccupied with something while walking alone. If someone grabs you, don’t be afraid to raise hell.” These words are things my sister and I have heard countless times; before we would go out with friends in high school, after we got our first part-time jobs, when we started college and weren’t home much anymore… Despite how much I’ve grown accustomed to my independence, and regardless of how much I’ve aged, I know I’m always going to have these thoughts.
Mind you, these visions don’t come into my mind all of the time and I don’t really consider myself a worrier. I’m comfortable with driving and walking alone, I’m confident being by myself and I have no problem crossing paths with people I don’t know from day to day.
But unfortunately, I still have to have these thoughts; women have to have these thoughts. It’s actually pretty bleak.
I get chills thinking about how one day I’ll have to teach my own children these same lessons. But together, I feel that we continue to especially worry more about our daughters; the “precious and fragile little souls” that will grow up to be afraid of dark parking lots and strange cars that slow down as they drive past.
These are the daughters with sweet faces that serve as an open invitation for old men to look them up and down and command them to “smile, honey.” And sometimes, these are the daughters that obey because they don’t want to be hassled any further.
These are the same daughters that carry pepper spray and play out horrible scenarios in their heads because they’re constantly made aware that they’re seen as simple and vulnerable targets. And these are the women that try to push these worries to the back of their mind, not talking about them because we refuse to succumb to anyone who thinks that they can mess with us – we don’t want to show any weakness.
I include myself in all of these situations, because all of them have happened to me. And I’m sure my female readers can at least share one of these common feelings.
With this, I’m not looking to harbor fear. I’m here to tell you that being alert, thinking about your safety and recognizing that you are your biggest defense is not being overly-worrisome. It’s being practical.
Having these thoughts infuriate me at times. Why should I worry that some creep is going to try to snatch me up even when I’m wearing a huge puffy jacket that nearly reaches my ankles? Why should I second-guess myself on going to interview a man for a story? Because we planned to talk outside, but now that it’s raining, he’ll probably invite me into his truck?
Having these thoughts are powerful. Having these thoughts show us that not everyone we come across is going to have good intentions. And having these thoughts gives me enough hope that I can react in a way that could save my life if I had to.
No matter how old my mom and dad’s little girl is – their youngest daughter – they’re still going to see me as that lanky, curly-haired 5 year old staring back at them, and they’ll worry over whether I’m safe and whether I’m doing everything I can to protect myself. They will always tell me to be careful, out of worry that I’ll end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. And when their little girl has grown up, independent, going through life alone, she will worry, too. I can tell you for certain that I think about it almost weekly.
But the instinct to always consider the worst of what could happen gives me confidence. My eyes are always open, and I am always looking out for myself.