I’m trying to get better at observing the world around me. Picking up tidbits of conversation, looking for details I may have missed before, and generally being mindful of my surroundings–these are just a few of the things on my list. I’m finding this to be a vital part of understanding the people and places I encounter every day.
A couple nights ago, Myla and I accidentally joined the local Take Back the Night march. We’d been at a rehearsal dinner downtown and, when we left, wandered through a the Take Back the Night event and met Myla’s Aunt Chelsea, her aunt’s mom, and her cousin. We explored the tables a bit while Myla and her cousin marched around with a sign saying “Take Back the World” and chanted “No more littering!”. (There was a drawing of Earth on the sign, so it kind of makes sense.)
When the crowd began the march around the block, we joined them, the girls still toting their sign. One of the chants rang out–2, 4, 6, 8, No More Rape! The girls chanted the numbers. Chelsea and I conveniently left out the words, not quite ready to explain to them what rape was.
As we rounded the last corner of the march around the block, there was a group of men standing around a bar entrance watching us, arms crossed or in pockets, leaned against the doorway, sneering. One of the men said loudly: Rape!? Which one?? Then he and his friend laughed.
Immediately, my fight or flight instinct kicked in. I felt cold and hot and rage mixed with fear in the pit of my stomach. My first thought was, I didn’t hear that right. But the women behind me started talking to each other quietly and I knew there was no mistake.
I wish I had turned around and confronted him.
I wish I had yelled something equally horrifying right back.
I wish I’d done anything but shrink and run–which is exactly what I did.
Because I was reminded–at a sexual assault awareness march with my 6-year-old–that the world is not safe. Because a man can yell a rape joke at a group of empowered women and we will keep walking, stone faced, unblinking. Because we feel safest when we are unseen.
Don’t step out of line.
Don’t disrupt the system.
Don’t draw attention to yourself.
In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t make a scene with my daughter present. I hope that if I had been alone I would have asked him questions.
Why would you say that?
What do you mean?
What will it take for you to never speak words like that again?
Why do you feel safe here, yelling threats at us, when you are so outnumbered?
I hope that someday he has to answer for himself.