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.

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White Men Only

Speaking of public schools, my sixteen-year-old dropped out of high school.

No, she didn’t, really. She actually signed up for the state’s dual enrollment program (called Running Start), and elected to become a full-time student at the local community college, with no high school classes on her schedule at all. This is working out beautifully so far. She enjoys her classes and she especially enjoys the absence of stupid high school stuff. She seems unconcerned about social issues and still spends plenty of time with her friends. Tigger’s goal is to finish her two years with both a high school diploma and an AA degree.

It’s a little tricky. She has to carefully choose classes that satisfy both the requirements of the AA degree and the high school graduation requirements.

For example, to graduate from high school she needs a class in American History. Well, that’s cool, it will satisfy a college humanities requirement. But which class to take?

The college offers:

  1. US History I
  2. US History II
  3. US History III
  4. Women in US History
  5. African American History
  6. Native American History

Courses 1 through 3 can be summed up as “white men and their wars.” Courses 4, 5, and 6 could be called “other stuff that happened.” This being my child and all, she would much (+++) prefer courses 4 through 6, any one of them, really.

So she went to her high school counselor, who has to sign off on all of her choices before she registers each quarter, and asked him if she could take one of those classes for her American History requirement.

What do you think he said, friends?

Yes, you’re right. He said no. Only “white men and their wars” counts as real history. To his credit, he didn’t like the school district’s policy and agreed that she should be allowed to take the other courses. It’s not like there’s no overlap. Do you suppose the African American History course includes no discussion of the Civil War? It’s merely a question of perspective, and one perspective is privileged above all others.

That is a lesson my daughter is sure to remember.