Thursday, September 07, 2006

What it's like for a girl.

The other night I stopped at the drug store to pick up some touch-up hair dye. This is an inauspicious and silly beginning to a story but it ties in because I am writing here about what it’s like for me to be a girl. Not that I have any thing to compare it to…as far as you know. But you’ll see my point I think.

So, I stopped at the drugstore and the kind of parking spot I usually look for at night (directly under a light, as close to the door as possible and not blocked by other cars) was not available. No, I’m not really that lazy. During the daylight or when I am out and about with a partner, I park in the last spot available and get some walking in. But when alone…I try to be smart. But in this case, no optimal spots were available so I took the open spot. What the heck? It’s not a neighborhood I feel particularly uncomfortable in, so why worry, eh? When I came out of the store and walked to my car, I realized that vans had parked on either side of me. Big vans. Effectively blocking anyone’s view of my tiny car. Effectively making me…uncomfortable.

Here’s the thing, I am not paranoid. But I am aware of what is going on around me and I think that, for the most part, I am practical and sensible. I am often alone when I go out. And sometimes when I am home. So I take care to do what I can to keep myself safe. I park under lights, I lock my doors as soon as I get in the car, I check the backseat and under the car as I walk towards it, not in a freaking out kind of way but just in a noticing what’s around me sort of way. When someone acts in a manner I find unnerving, I leave the area. I don’t use the ATMs in dark little streets, I drive to the well lit ones (and I also have a habit of looking directly into the camera, just in case). I lock the door to my apartment as soon as I close it. I carry my keys in my hand and my cell phone in my pocket. I just try to be smart about things.

I used to have a friend who lived in a very nice neighborhood with very bad parking and I would often park several blocks away. When I would walk back to my car in the dead of night (OK, well, after dark anyway, on poorly lit streets) I never felt “unsafe” or “threatened” until the one night when a man stepped out from behind some bushes about 20 feet ahead of me. I immediately picked up my phone and pretended to talk to a friend. “Oh, I’m on my way to the car, I am parked on Elm and Broad but I am just now walking down Pine. And OH! Gee, a man just startled me.” I wanted the guy to think that someone knew exactly where I was and that I had seen him. A few seconds later, his little dog stepped out from behind the bushes too. The poor guy was just taking the pup for a stroll before bed. I felt silly. But then I realized that he didn’t need to know that. All he needed to know was that I knew he was there.

It’s not something I really think all that deeply about. I don’t really worry that I am going to get mugged when I leave my house. I don’t think I will be murdered in my bed. But when I get up in the morning and I find that my husband neglected to lock the door behind him, I get upset. And I notice when he parks in the darkest, deepest part of the parking garage and I think, “Gee, if I were alone, I don’t think I would park here.” I don’t think, as a big guy, he really worries about these things. But he probably should. We probably all should. Not worry, just pay attention.

So, when I saw those two vans on either side of my car, I took pause. I looked around, didn’t see anyone in the vans, got my keys ready and got in the car, locking the door as quickly as I could. I didn’t hyperventilate. I didn’t panic. But I did think for a moment. And then I thought about all the other times I thought for a moment. And I realized that although I don’t like defining it this way, this is what it is like to be a girl.

ADDENDUM: I wasn't sure that I wanted to post this as it makes me sound a little crazier than I am. But I reiterate: Not paranoid, just practical. And I hope, if you are not, this will remind you to be aware of your surroundings.


Jodi said...

I try to be very "aware, but not paranoid" too. Things happen everywhere in all kinds of neighborhoods and situations, so I agree that it's good to pay attention. I've worked in a fairly "unsafe" neighborhood for many years and just remember that, but don't freak out. A guy was murdered on my street a few years back, which is horrible, but knowing the circumstances made it clear that it had nothing to do with the location...just bad luck on this guy's part.

I don't think you sound crazy, just smart. I only got really paranoid once, in New York City on a bus, when I was a college student doing an internship. I thought for sure that this guy was giving me a homicidal staredown. I actually got off of the bus, way before my stop, thinking he'd follow me for sure, but he didn't. So, I caught the next bus and was on my way and feeling kind of silly for getting worked up.

I'm more concerned that I'll get "caught" sniffing the different scented panty liners in the store...and I have been seen--TWICE!...okay, that's probably WAY too much info!

Jodi said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Brenda Griffith said...

Yeee Jodi! Just go for unscented, all those perfumes are bad for you anyway.

You are definitely not paranoid Ren. But hair dye?

I am not a smart person. It is not that I am unaware of my surroundings or that I was raised complacent in a safe neighborhood (Missoula Montana in the 70's and 80's, where could be safer? Except we had our own serial killer: )

But I have never grasped the concept of the whole locking-the-door thing. Oh I have tried. But even living alone on the edge of Hyde Park in the south side of Chicago (one block from one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city) I forgot to lock my door half the time.

Here it's both better and worse. I am really lazy about locks, but we are strict about putting the alarm on at night. And we have dogs--one loud and two big.

I did go through a stage where I thought I needed to be more protected out at night and Dave bought me a little stun gun to carry. I've had it two years and still don't have batteries for it.