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I went for a run in town last week. It was outside, drizzling, and about 43 degrees Fahrenheit. I was so cold my breath exhaled in puffs of crystallized white mist. It's autumn, and what I didn't realize before I left was that it was about to start getting dark. I'm a pretty experienced runner, having done this for the majority of my adult life.
The town I live in is relatively small and rural with a population of about 3500 people. As I finished mile two I was running on a bike trail and a group of four high school-aged boys were walking opposite me, all dressed in black with their hoods up. My heart, already pumping fast, spiked and adrenaline started coursing through my veins.
I sped up slightly, corrected my lazy form, and tried to put on a face of steel that would discourage them from approaching me. Immediately, my brain raced to remember the self-defense training I had learned in college, the blocks and kicks I'd picked up from kickboxing classes, and I wondered if I'd be too tired from my run to execute them properly. I had hoped not. I also remembered that I'd read somewhere that if you urinate on an assailant they will be less likely to attack you.
Now, nothing happened. The boys passed me on the other side of the street, joking and laughing as teenagers and their peers will do. I don't know if they even noticed me pass them by. I certainly was stifling my breathing as much as possible so as to avoid their notice.
The rest of my run passed in a blur of leftover adrenaline, fear, and the overwhelming sadness that this is what we as women think about when we go out. I was so jumpy that a nearby slamming storm door about made me scream from all the pent-up energy.
We can't just enjoy the briskness of the air, and focus on the quality of our run. We can't listen to our music at full-blast, because that would dull our sense of hearing if an assailant were to come up from behind us. We can't go out by ourselves for a run after dark. We can't leave a drink unattended at a bar.
Recently, I read a meme album on Facebook about if there was a curfew imposed on men that they had to be in their home by 9 PM every night, what the implications for women would be. I read the responses women were writing in the comments.
By imagining it, they caught a glimpse of the freedom from oppression they were currently experiencing. It was a very drastic "what-if" situation, but my heart sunk in sadness when I realized all that we do to prepare ourselves and try to think ahead to combat a potential attack EVERY time we leave the house.
There wouldn't be pepper spray or stun guns in our purses. We could listen to our music as loud as we want. We could run outside by ourselves, without a dog or partner. We could leave our table at the bar to go dance without worrying about our drink being spiked. We wouldn't have to watch behind us every time we walk home to make sure we weren't being followed.
We wouldn't have to take a cab instead of walking home. We could take any kind of public transportation anytime! We wouldn't have to ignore cat-calls and worry that the cat-caller would take offense to our silence, thereby provoking an assault.
A couple men responded to this meme album, stunned that the things they do everyday (running, traveling solo, walking home, listening to music, etc.) were a gender privilege. One man even asked why women weren't filled with uncontrollable rage all the time because of this.
And that struck me. We should be filled with uncontrollable rage about this. I wouldn't consider myself a huge feminist, I do think there are some things women are better suited for than men (as a mother, take breastfeeding for example :) ), but to not be able to go outside by ourselves? That's trash. That's frustrating. That's WRONG.
I grew up in the country on about 100 acres of pure freedom, and I absolutely thrived outside. I wrote out there. I sat in the sunlight in just a bathing suit, no pool in sight. I ran along the hills. There wasn't another person in sight, just myself and my thoughts left alone.
Once I moved to college, took a few liberal arts classes, as well as a self-defense class, my eyes were opened to what the rest of the women of the world experience on the daily, and have for years. My heart breaks for anyone who didn't grow up in the country like myself that wasn't able to experience the true freedom that comes from not having to worry about this issue every night.
Ironically, the weekend after I went for the run at dusk, I was at a birthday party for my nephew and my sister gave me a party favor: A woman's "stay safe kitty key chain." Basically, brass knuckles that look like a cat, only the ears are sharp, strong, and will cause serious damage if ever used. She gave it to me because she knows I run in town and wanted me to be safe.
I don't know what the solution is. Simply, my goal is to bring attention to this silent oppression that we women go through, an oppression that most men aren't even aware of. I hate that we as women have to focus a part of our brain on being aware and defensive at all times, instead of giving our full attention to whatever task is at hand. Here's to hoping the future is bright, and our daughters are empowered to fully enjoy their life worry-free.