Living While Female

A story of female reality from my life.

Back in my twenties, when I didn’t own a car, I often rode my bicycle to and from my 3 to 11 pm swing shift at the hospital. There’s a walking/biking trail (the Burke-Gilman, for you locals) that runs through town and I frequently used it.

(I’m sure my mother is already getting anxious, reading this, because riding alone on a trail at 11 pm is Not Safe. And that’s the whole point.)

So I was riding home one night on the dark, deserted trail, when ahead of me I saw a group of men, walking the same direction I was going. Although their backs were to me, I was sure of two alarming things:

  • There were four of them.
  • They were male.

Oh, and one more thing:

  • They were walking side-by-side and therefore blocking the whole path.

As they were not yet aware of my presence, I stopped to consider my options. I could turn around, find an exit off the path, and take the street route home. Or I could ride up behind the men, politely ask them to let me pass, and hope like hell that they would step aside.

If you have to ask why I found this situation alarming or what I was afraid of, you must surely live in a puffy soft bubble of cluelessness.

This is what I did: I rode towards them, very fast, and when I was quite close I shouted “ON YOUR LEFT!” Startled, they jumped to the side and I blasted by them, riding fast enough that they couldn’t catch up even if they were inclined to chase me.

And so I made it home safely. After that, though, I stayed off the trail late at night. Even though nothing actually happened, my heightened sense of vulnerability became intolerable. Taking my chances in traffic seemed like a better bet than facing the unlikely but not impossible predator on the trail.

And that’s the unfortunate reality of living while female. The pervasive fear of male violence often directs your actions. Because even though most men would never hurt a woman, some men would, and they look exactly like the harmless ones.

I don’t need to connect the dots to recent events or national conversations for you, do I? Well, if you’re a Twitter user, file this under #YesAllWomen.


9 thoughts on “Living While Female

  1. Yes, all of us. I didn’t drive until I was 26 and I had so many scary experiences.
    I know a few men who apparently reside in that bubble of cluelessness, and what I’ve been hearing lately is something along the lines of – neither I nor any of my friends would ever do something terrible or demeaning to a woman, so all of this talk about how the potential for it changes women’s decisions must be really overdone, there just can’t be that many men who are like that. I can’t figure out how to talk to people who live in that bubble.

  2. I also worked 3-11 hospital shifts in my 20s. Getting from the hospital to my car in the parking garage down the street at that hour was frightening, because of all the possibilities for danger. I walked with my keys sticking out of my fingers like knives and clutched pepper spray. Nothing ever went wrong for me, but just the sight of a man – any man – during that trek was alarming.

  3. As a guy, I am aware that late at night I present an alarming figure to a lone female. I frequently change street sides if I’m approaching, or try to do something like sit on a bench for a few minutes to allow some distance between us if I am following. Just to re-assure her that im not “following” her. I also have daughters and would totally defend her if I thought she was walking into danger. Also at 6’2″ and above 300# I too walk with my keys in my fingers at night. Everyone is a bit cautious in my neighborhood after dark.

    • Thanks for commenting, and thanks (+++) for the sensitivity to the women around you. I will have to ask more men if they do the key thing. I was taught that strategy by some campus cops back in my college days, when they rounded up all the women in the dorm and delivered the how-not-to-get-raped lecture. I’ve never seen a man do it.

  4. I remember feeling most vulnerable as the mother of very young children because when you’ve wrangling toddlers while wearing a baby on your chest, you can’t even do the key thing. On the other hand, if I were to happen upon a group of young men after dark and I were by myself, I think I would be nervous even if I were a man. Sometimes I am nervous walking downtown after dark with my husband because no offense to him, but the two of us are probably not a match for a group of violent young men. But of course I realize that they are far less likely to attack me and my husband (or any man, unless perhaps he is confined to a wheelchair) than they are to attack me when I’m alone. If they’re the kind that attack people, that is.

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