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It seems that the primary form of harassment I endure is being followed by car. I love to go for long walks, with my iPod, with my headphones. It’s discouraged because you’re supposed to be ever aware, lest you’ll be spirited away by one of what seems to be a massive army of would-be ax murderers. I resent that, though, because walking with my iPod is something I enjoy and I feel entitled to doing what I please.
It does seem to happen to me a lot, a man slows down as he drives past me, gives me a looong, hard, unmistakable look, and drives away, only to mysteriously reappear minutes later, drive off, and reappear again. Sometimes they try to talk to me, and still return even if I wave them off. Perhaps more disturbingly, sometimes they don’t try to talk to me at all, and are probably just monitoring my movements until I hopefully take a turn down a more secluded road. Sometimes they park on the shoulder and try to force me to pass by them, mere inches from their car doors, forcing me to cross the street where there isn’t a safe place to do so, or to turn back and not get where I’m trying to go.
In Bellevue (where I used to live, and where my husband works) this only happens about the half the time I go out. But in Tukwila (where I live now) it *always* happens, so I don’t go out on foot, or shop, in my own neighborhood, ever.
I’m not a confrontational person by nature (I mean VERY not confrontational), so it can be very difficult for me to puff myself up and argue with people.
But the most recent time, I found myself becoming angry. I had just been followed around 148th by a man in a pickup truck who passed by me exactly eight times, even stopping in driveways and waiting for me to walk past so he could plead with me to get in his car. My protests didn’t seem to deter him. Eventually, my heart was racing, my knees wobbling – frankly, I didn’t have much confidence in my ability to walk anymore. So I hid in the bushes, my old trick I pull out when what was supposed to be a peaceful, enjoyable walk is turned into a terrified jog toward the nearest store or bus stop, wondering if the world is really so horrible that these men could actually be thinking what I think they’re thinking.
After the man in the pickup crawled at 15mph down a very busy 35mph road nearing rush hour, craning his neck and cursing loudly through his open window, I emerged from the bushes with a spider in my hair, feeling defeated and whipped into submission. Naturally, I was planning my return route to my car, abandoning my “fun” walk altogether and wishing I hadn’t already gone a mile and a half, even though the plan was for five or more.
Of course, seconds later, a different man in a Lexus nearly rear-ended a BMW staring blankly over his shoulder at me. Then, he scurried into the U-turn lane and tried his luck. I was completely emotionally drained and stressed to the maximum. I furiously waved him off, glaring, no mistake that I wanted nothing to do with him. He passed by me, and, of course, jumped right into the next U-turn lane (148th is full of them). He passed by on the other side and yelled out his window. I held up my hands like “What!?”. He got in the U-turn lane. Shouted at me again (each time, I believe all he said was “Hey!!”). I started to cry. He got in the U-turn lane. I wondered if these men have, I don’t know, lives? Places to be? Personalities? Suddenly I realized that the most pathetic, degraded people were these men who seemingly had no souls and no morals and no concept of the damage that this selfish, disgusting behavior causes to their personhood.
What was this, the fourth time he had turned around to yell at me? Sadly this is a small number in my experience. Finally, uncharacteristically lusting for blood, I screamed, “I’m gonna call the cops!!!”. He sped off. The two older women walking a few yards ahead of me stared at me as though I were insane.
I did feel stronger. Often times, I feel that my freedom is being taken away from me, that the streets aren’t as open to me as they are to men, or worse, that if I want to enjoy the streets, I must thereby accept that I’m subject to whatever treatment the men, whom “own” the streets, see fit. It didn’t seem possible to me that there was any way to deter one of these more persistent harassers. They buzz around like flies. You can swat them but they won’t relent.
I couldn’t help noticing that, after scaring off the last guy, I was free to walk the rest of the way to my car without incident. I’m sure it was because I was storming down the sidewalk looking like Satan, and it must have frightened any potential stalkers. I’ve been told that the probable reason why I in particular am harassed so very, very much is because I have an “approachable” demeanor. But I don’t want to have to be upset before I’ll be allowed to enjoy myself. I won’t be able to enjoy myself if I’m upset.
Since then, I found the whistle that my dad gave me in my desk drawer. At time time, I thought he was being paranoid. He’s lived in the slums of LA and I have not. But apparently these thugs crawl all over the place. For fun, I taught my dog to respond to the whistle with tricks. I’m thinking from now on I’ll just blare on the whistle whenever a man makes me feel threatened, see if I can train them like the dogs they are.
DISCLAIMER: No offense is intended to dogs. My dog is actually much, much better behaved than a lot of men =)
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