“Ask any woman what she did this week to avoid unwanted sexual attention or an assault. The answers will be varied but, rest assured, there will be some kind of answer to illustrate precautions taken.
Then ask a man, and you will likely be met with a blank stare. Unfortunately, examples of women being victimized are endless. And in that, we really arrive at a crucial waypoint in the issue of self-protection. How can a woman identify behavior that suggests she is a target? And if so, what concrete steps can she take to effectively take control of the situation?
Almost every survivor of an assault will later indicate that there was “something wrong” that they could not clearly identify at the moment. A feeling or sixth sense that gave them pause—if even just momentarily.” (Seconds to Live or Die by Robert Montgomery)
This week, I enjoyed a book on my fenced-in back patio instead of my front patio, because although I like watching the dogs walk by, and the front patio gets better sun, I wanted to avoid unwanted attention from male passersby.
When I got my first 9 to 5 job out of college, I had a panic attack about a month in because I felt so claustrophobic with the May sunshine peeking out of the closed blinds in the chilly office building. I love the outdoors, and it was my first summer being stuck inside all day, five days a week. I have since learned how to manage my vitamin D cravings with full-time employment, but last spring when remote work was the only option, I jumped at the chance to work outside.
Although I live in the city, I was lucky enough to find a place with both a front patio and back patio. I lugged a table and chair set, coffee and my laptop outside every morning, just happy to have the sun on my face and breeze in my hair.
I worked this way for quite some time. Sometimes people would stop and say things like, “Quite a set up!” or “Looks like you could use a piña colada!” But I didn’t have a negative experience for months.
Until one day, when a man sans mask stopped to ask me if he and his children could stay at my house, as their mother was in the hospital. I’m not sure how those two things correlated, but I politely said I didn’t have the room and wished him good luck. This wasn’t an altogether negative experience, but I definitely didn’t appreciate the violation of personal space.
Not an hour later, a man who appeared to be drunk or high (at about 1 p.m. on a Wednesday) stopped and leaned over the railing of the porch. I asked him to stay six feet away from me, and he cursed and slurred at me. He was blocking my exit, so I texted my boyfriend to come outside. He said, “Hey man, leave her alone,” but the stranger just cursed and slurred at him too.
I ended up climbing over the railing onto the stairs of my house to escape. Although he didn’t hurt me, I still felt wronged. Call me a Virgo only-child, but I don’t like being told what to do. And now I feel that my only option is to sit on the back patio if I feel like working outside or enjoying a book in the breeze.
Women are always the ones that have to adapt. Don’t wear earbuds in public. Don’t run at night. Throw out your drink if you lose sight of it. Don’t sit on your front porch. Don’t wear revealing or flashy clothes.
My boyfriend thought maybe I was harassed twice in one day because I was wearing a bright yellow shirt. Regardless of why two strangers decided to ruin my patio for me, it’s important to listen to your gut. I should’ve gone inside after the first man approached me, but I’m stubborn and wanted to sit in the sun.
Listening to that sixth sense feeling you get when something is wrong will pay off; I promise. You shouldn’t worry about feeling like a burden either. Make your boyfriend stop working to come scare off a crazy dude for you. Have the manager walk you to your car if a guy is following you around the store. Call campus security to walk you home if it’s nighttime.
Women stereotypically hate to inconvenience others. We are taught to be polite and helpful at all times. But asking politely didn’t get me anywhere in this example, did it? Thinking back, every time I put myself in a risky situation to avoid being rude I was essentially asking a potential rapist, killer or mugger, “Could you pretty please not hurt me?”
The respect of a stranger is never worth your life. After I told my boyfriend that a strange man asked to stay at my house, he said, “Why did you even respond?” This is a common male response to female self-defense mechanisms, e.g., “Why give a guy your number if you won’t text him back?” Women have learned over many (many) life experiences that sometimes men do not take rejection well.
Politeness is not only a learned behavior from watching our mothers and Disney princesses, but an escape route. Women are murdered for rejecting men every day. So instead, we act nicely and play along while we plan our getaway. I’m not necessarily saying this is a bad thing, but we can’t let being polite drown out our instincts.
I’m sure every woman reading this can relate to this relatively tame example of a potentially dangerous interaction that started as an invasion of personal space and harassment. Instances such as this are treated as mundane, normal, everyday. And they won’t stop anytime soon. However, being aware, prepared to use your Command Voice and capable of defending yourself are the best ways to combat risky situations. To read more about protecting yourself from the "wolves" of society, pick up Robert Montgomery's Seconds to Live or Die.