“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” -Novelist Margaret Atwood
I’ve never been the skittish type, at least I never thought so. Until about a week ago I had never considered what it would feel like to actually fear for my life. I’ve always seen stories on the news about girls getting kidnapped and killed. I have also seen many movies where girls get killed or brutally beaten. The girls in the movies always seem so helpless. When I watch these movies I always find myself thinking, “Why is she acting so terrified instead of doing something?” or “She needs to toughen up and stop crying and acting helpless”. But today I have a totally different perspective on instinctual fear.
It all started in Riverside Park located about a mile or so from my school. My best friend and I were on a bike ride minding our business on an extremely beautiful spring day. I can remember how careless I felt. We didn’t have a worry in the world that day- until I saw him. We entered the park and immediately I noticed this young man. I think what made me notice him is that he noticed us; he REALLY noticed us. As I kept glancing toward him as we were approaching him on the path I couldn’t help but make note that he was staring at us.
His face lit up like he had just won a prize and it sent chills up my spine. As we went by him, we sped up because we had a bad feeling about him. When I looked back to make sure we were in the clear I felt a shock run through me- I was terrified. I had never felt that before and it felt as though my heart stopped. “He’s chasing us!” I yelled to my friend. We tried to speed up and get away but he was fast. I remember my legs felt limp and heavy. I just kept thinking I can’t stop. He started yelling,” Girls! Girls! I just want to talk to you. Girls please I just want to talk.” Hearing his voice just made me want to peddle faster. I can’t put my finger on what exactly made me so terrified.
What part of me took over and said “You’re in danger-RUN!”? Where did this instinctual fear that women have of men come from? When did this begin? I never knew that I was afraid of men. I consider myself to be strong, but why was it that I felt so helpless with a man running after me? Why were two girls terrified with just one man running after us? He was out-numbered but yet we were almost crying in fear.
I did not think it would be a good idea to follow the trail into the woods away from the public so I told my friend we would have to turn around. Turning around meant going back past the man- but to us it meant safety in the public view. When we turned around I did not see the man and my heart began racing. We quickly got off of our bikes to push them up the huge hill that we had ridden down to get away from him. I took my backpack off and grabbed my pepper spray (that thankfully my boyfriend pleaded with me to take- I blew it off like he was being ridiculous but he made me take it). As we walked up the hill we saw him coming up the other side at an angle towards us. We figured out that he had went that way so that if we had kept straight on the path he would have cut us off. We started running pushing our bikes and finally made it to a couple and this old lady who had seen him chasing us. I asked them if they knew who he was and they told me they did not. I told them everything that had happened and that I was going to pepper spray him if he came near us.
As I spoke with the group of people he approached all of us. He came close and we told him to stop where he was. He kept looking at my friend and me and addressing us. He said, “Girls, I wasn’t going to hurt you- I mean you no harm”. “Girls please just talk to me, I have something important to tell you”. I was horrified. I could tell that he wasn’t all there in the head. The compassionate side of me kind of felt bad for the guy- but in a horrified way. I could not tell if he was just mentally challenged or if he had sick intentions.
I was having a moral battle with myself. Am I being ridiculous for being terrified that a young, African American, lonely man was chasing my friend and myself? Was I rightfully afraid? I could not answer these questions myself. I’m still not sure if I can answer them. I don’t know if that man was trying to hurt us. All I knew was that I told this man to leave us alone and he would not. I also want to clarify that I would have been just as terrified if he were a white man, skinny man, tall man, Asian man; you get the point- his race wasn’t intimidating but his gender was. I yelled at him to stop chasing us and he just continued running after us. I firmly believed that if we had stopped our bikes that he was going to grab us. I felt helpless and it was because I am female. I am female and I am scared that a man could kill me. Men can kill women and men have killed women. We see it and hear about it on the news all the time. We see it in the movies we watch. Is that why I was instinctually scared of him? Has the media and society instilled the fear of men in us? I think that makes us inferior- I am not ok with that.
At Least A Third Of All Women Murdered In The U.S. Are Killed By Male Partners -The Huffington Post
I began thinking to myself “Well… what if I were him? What if he was just troubled and didn’t know any better?” I feel guilty for assuming that he was going to hurt me but I could not help it. I am not sexist- I love men. I do not think that all men are violent but I think that all men have the potential to be intimidating to women because of this instinctual fear.
Then I began thinking what if I were a boy? I firmly believe that if my friend and I had been guys that I would have been significantly less frightened. I also feel like that man would not have approached us if we were male. When I spoke of this to guys they could not understand why we were so afraid. Talking to these guys made me understand even more how little they have to fear. They could not even fathom two of them being scared of one guy at the park.
I would love to have the privilege of being able to go for a run or a bike ride alone and not feel like someone could kidnap me. Now please don’t mistake what I am saying to mean that it can’t happen to men, because I fully recognize that it can. But I am saying that I believe men do not live in as much fear as women do because we have been conditioned to fear men. We watch violent films with helpless women and we mimic this behavior. We have been made to believe we are inferior. Now we subconsciously fear men and what they can do to us.
I don’t want to live in fear.
How can we fix this?
To see numbers on death percentages between men and women check this out: http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/06/us/domestic-intimate-partner-violence-fast-facts/
For more on this topic read: http://www.pbs.org/kued/nosafeplace/articles/nightmare.html