I took my dogs to an off-leash park this morning. It’s a huge place with rolling hills and wild deer and while popular, is large enough that you don’t see many people on your journey. 45 min into our walk, I decided it was time to turn around and head back. It was a chilly morning and I had plenty of things to do today.
At that moment, I noticed something. As a woman walking on her own, I notice everything. This something was a man – white, middle aged, walking alone. No pets, no friends. And, as a woman walking on her own, instinct told me to move a bit faster.
I veered off the main path to a side one that would lead me back to my car. As I casually glanced over my shoulder, I see the man do the same. Weird, I thought. This path isn’t very popular. I quicken my step and notice, after a few minutes, that the distance between us hadn’t lengthened. I pause my podcast and stow my phone in my pocket. I recall my dogs to my side every 30 seconds. I survey my surroundings, memorizing them – every rock, every branch.
A few more minutes later, I see another something. A woman, also alone, also walking her dog. I quicken my pace again to close our gap and get within twenty feet. Our dogs meet, and I turn around. The man is gone. The path we were on was the only one around, and the land is flat. He has left, and I can breathe.
The unfortunate part of this story is that it’s not unique. It’s not uncommon. Ask any of the women in your life and the vast majority will have a carbon-copy tale of a time where they just didn’t feel safe. (LGBT folks, I haven’t forgotten about you. I know you have similar experiences). And I’m one of the lucky ones. None of my situations have turned ugly. Yet. There’s still time. But there are many, many more women who cannot say the same.
A lot of assumptions were made in that moment. It’s entirely plausible that this man I saw was taking his morning walk, and turned around because he too had hit his halfway point. It’s wholly unfair for me to think he had ill intentions. It’s wholly dangerous for me to think he didn’t.
And that’s why when you excuse “locker room talk”, when you laugh at that inappropriate joke, when you give light (or no) sentences for sexual assault, when you accuse the women who do come forward of lying – I can’t support you. I can’t understand you. I can’t wrap my head around why, why you’d want to perpetuate the very thing that ruins my morning walks. That makes women everywhere nervous to be alone. That makes men everywhere a potential danger in a woman’s eyes. Even if he doesn’t really pose a threat. Even if he is just trying to talk a walk.
Rape culture and misogyny hurts us all – profiling good men and victimizing women. We walk a little faster, we breathe a little heavier, solemn in the knowledge that it very well could be us. For many of us, it already is.