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.


Teaching Girls to Fight

My teenaged daughter punched and kicked another human being while I looked on, pleased.  Though generally averse to violence, I enjoyed this demonstration of toughness.  It was all tightly controlled and ritualistic, the way karate always is, and she’s still a beginner, but the sparring match gave me hope that with enough training my child will have the means to defend herself against a real-life attacker who doesn’t follow the rules of the dojo.


Consider this story in the local paper today.  A woman, jogging in the park, minding her own business, was attacked by a knife-wielding man.  She fought back, and when her screams drew a good Samaritan to the scene, the assailant ran off.  No analysis is required.  Having the skills and the courage to defend yourself is a tremendous advantage in life.


The human species has an unfortunate design flaw: the males, who have the greater size and strength, are also the ones most inclined to assault and victimize others.  Imagine how the course of human history would have differed if women were stronger or men were nicer.  And now, being a strong, aggressive young man doesn’t mean you can hunt and provide food for your family, but it does mean you can attack 55-year-old women in the park.  (Don’t jump all over me.  I’m just reporting the facts.  I know that most young men do not attack women in parks.  And no, I don’t hate men.  Some of my best friends are men.) 


The reality of the size/strength/aggression disparity leaves women in a position of conscious and continuous vulnerability.  A man can go jogging in a city park without a second thought.  A woman will always have the big red flashing danger sign in her head.  It’s stressful and it forces women to restrict their activities to certain places at certain hours. 


Taking karate classes does not eliminate the danger, and in addition to self-defense skills, my daughter’s sensei teaches the students not to take foolish risks.  But no amount of caution can make you perfectly safe.  I want Tig to walk (or jog) without fear, with a confident manner that proclaims “not a victim.”  I hope she never has to fight for real, but girls should learn how.