Last night, I sat outside in my beach chair to have a cigarette before bed. I heard what sounded like rustling in the bushes and waited to find out what sort of animal would emerge and how fast I would have to flail and make noise to scare it away before fleeing into the house.
But then the sound changed to shoes stepping over rocks. A person, not an animal.
And then some dude appeared from behind the neighbour's bushes and walked towards me.
Mum's condo is in an extremely safe suburban neighbourhood. But my first thought was not "oh hey a neighbour that's cool." My first thought was to consider how much damage I could inflict upon him before running and screaming. I had a cigarette and a lighter as my only weapons, and the sliding glass door is kind of difficult to open in a hurry.
It turned out the guy was not a serial rapist, just a neighbour two units down who noticed that someone else was smoking outside and decided to say hello.
I tend to turn a blind eye (or just find something else to do on the internet) when the issue of rape culture comes up in my Facebook or Tumblr feed. I know it's an issue, but burying my head in the sand keeps me from getting upset about it. Because in reality--as last night's incident can prove--there is no way to truly ignore it.
Last night was not an isolated event. There is at least one time every day of my life where I have to stop and assess a situation before I can feel safe continuing about my merry way.
Sometimes when I'm alone in the office, we get random male visitors (delivery guys, lost people looking for someone else's office, walk-in new clients, etc.) and there are times when I freeze and make sure I am ready to grab the scissors just in case the guy that walks in is dangerous.
Sometimes if I'm running errands and it's dark out, I will not park or get out of my car if there are no parking spaces left in the lit portion of the supermarket parking lot. I'll go to a different store.
I no longer go hiking alone, because a while back there was a news story about some girl getting attacked in Ramapo Reservation, which is what I would have considered the safest spot to hike around here if you're alone. Even before that, I went hiking armed with a hunting knife.
I stopped going out to pubs on the weekend with friends because there were too many incidents with guys getting overly aggressive and angry because I didn't want to give them my number or go home with them.
Remember in the past how I've panicked because someone bailed on a concert and I was left going into the city alone? Recently a guy acquaintance asked me why the heck I was so panicked about it. And he was serious. He actually didn't understand why I was so afraid.
And this is why I scroll past those stories in my news feeds and bury my head in the sand. Because this is how life is and I hate being reminded. Constant vigilance. Constant fear. Because I am female.
I've read people on the internet who say that all of the above is bullshit. That bothers me even more than the constant fear. I know what it's like to be chased home in the dead of night, your only thought an intense, almost crippling fear. I know what it's like to be cornered in a dark and empty hallway where there is no one nearby who will hear you cry for help. I know how awful it feels to have a complete stranger grab your ass or your boobs.
No one can tell me my vigilance and fear is just me being paranoid.