Two days ago, I walked around the corner from my studio to go to Foodworks. I saw the truck parked outside, and I saw the fat, middle-aged man sitting alone in it with the window down. Instinctively, I kept my eyes forward and hoped not to hear anything.
“Hey!” I heard him shout. My eyes flickered just enough to know he was talking to me. “Hey, honey! How are you? I’d like to take you home and – ”
I kept walking. It was a sunny mid-afternoon, but there was no one else around to see me duck into Foodworks as planned. On my way out, I chose the opposite entrance.
Yesterday, I was at the studio again. I didn’t realise I was playing the scenario again in my head until it was already happening. In the replay, I turned back around. My head stopped thinking and my legs carried me straight towards the truck driver, his expression already altered to one of surprise.
“Do you have a mother?” The words shot out of my mouth like bullets.
“Of course I f-ing have a mother,” he scoffed.
“How would you feel if you knew men were speaking to her that way?”
To this, he put his hands up. “Hey, I have a wife and daughter, ok? I was only messing around.”
“That’s even worse,” I added. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”
I turned back around and continued on my way. Later, I thought, I’d write a blog post about this. I’d share it on Facebook and Twitter, show how I had been one of those girls who didn’t take this sh*t.
If anyone asked how I got the courage, I’d say I was thinking about the little girls I teach who would one day grow up to be spoken to like they don’t deserve to be respected as a whole, emotion-fueled human being. I was thinking about the boys I teach who may or may not one day grow up to be one of those men doing the disrespectful speaking.
I’d say I remember being beeped and whistled at, and called out to from the open windows of passing cars while I walked my dog when I was fifteen. I’ve been slapped on the arse by cyclists who sped away faster than I could turn around and open my mouth, even if I had had that instinctive reaction. I know how common it is and that much worse happens than what has happened to me, but what hurts is feeling uncomfortable walking back to my car alone at night. What hurts is not wanting to train parkour alone because apparently just being female and walking normally draws too much attention. What hurts is seeing a truck driver with his window down and before he says anything, I’m already bracing myself and putting the invisible blinkers on.
Then the replay fizzled out, and there was nothing to be proud of. The truth is, I wasn’t ‘courageous’ because I’d rather feign ignorance than risk further – worse – harassment.
I hate feeling like I need to walk with blinkers on, and play deaf while a stranger thinks it’s ok to speak to me like I’m a walking image.
I hate that it makes me want to fold into a shell like a hermit crab, only to emerge when it’s ‘safe’.
I hate how much this can effect me, when I know so many kind, loving, respectful guys.
I hate hating so much.
Most of all, I hate being put in a position – because I’ve heard enough stories to know worst-case scenarios can and do happen, all the time – where I feel helpless.
Two months ago, I wrote a fictional piece about a woman who loves to run alone at night. I wrote it on a night I wished I could (there is no such night, it seems).
Here it is.
She runs at night. When her husband and children are sleeping and the off-lead dogs are in their kennels, and ribbons of clouds streak the navy blue sky; when the moon is a pale, dusty coin, she changes in the dark and tip-toes to the front door. Slips permanently-tied shoes on. There is the softest click of the door; a slight tinkering of metal as she pushes the house key off the ring and into the zip pocket of her running top. As the door clicks shut behind her, she holds her breath, listening for the pat-pat-pat of small, bare feet on tiles (“Mummy!”) – but there is nothing. She breathes out. Turns towards the end of the driveway, the street, the main road she must cross to get to the track.
It’s so quiet she can’t resist the smile that curls up the edges of her lips. The open space, the shiver of night air, the taste of all you need to do now is run.
Quietly. One foot after the other, focussing on her forefoot strike, breathing in through her nose and out through her mouth. It feels good to move with no one watching; no girls in short-shorts and fluoro crop tops zipping past; no men pretending not to notice the way her breasts bounce; no truck drivers beeping their horns (“Hey, baby!”); no children on tricycles with long handles for their parents to hold, something in the grown-ups’ eyes saying, Shouldn’t you be somewhere else?
She runs at night, when possums scamper across power lines and disappear into the trees. When foxes dart across the track so quickly she questions whether she really saw one at all. On the other side of fences, she looks out for the yellow glow behind windows, the late-night flicker-flash of TV screens – signs of people still awake. Because you never know. Because just in case. Because you shouldn’t be out here, running alone at night. What were you thinking?
She runs faster.