I am a white woman living in an affluent country, in a liberal state, with an education and a good job. I am not oppressed like women in Darfur or Afghanistan. I have never been attacked… at least not by a stranger. Even with the most basic credentials of a first world country, I am minority citizen. I did not gain these freedoms by basic right of privilege.
Friday night, I went out in Oakland, alone, to see some local art openings. Walking to my auto around 11pm, two men slowed up in a car and began to trail me, speaking to me out of the passenger window. I knew my footfalls on the street, at night, alone, could beckon danger. I am after all, a woman. I had worked myself up into a fit of rage over this before the men approached behind in their car. They continued speaking to me, but I couldn’t hear them beyond the blood rushing in my ears. I’ve lived in the Bay Area most of my life. I have worked, lived, loved, and gone to school in the seediest neighborhoods for many years. I have been approached by strange men in cars too many times to count….San Jose, San Francisco, Berkeley. It doesn’t matter what I’m wearing, where I’m going or the time of day. It just doesn’t matter. They want sex? They’ll hope I’ll get in? The preposterousness of the situation makes me simultaneously laugh and cringe. What would a 13 year-old girl do?
From the far corner of my mind, I watched myself slowly turn to these two men, issuing elicit invitations to me in the dead of night, and heard a voice speaking to them. Not unlike a ghost from the grave, speaking in slow motion, I said to them in low voice: “You need to fuck off now. Good bye.”
Blink. The driver’s foot hitting the gas. The car speeding off. Me, in shock at the carnal rage within. Feet hitting the pavement, running to my own auto. I hope I frightened them more than they to me. Just like all the others, intimidating women caught off-guard and alone. One thing city living has taught me, you never let that guard down.
The last time I was a victim, I was sixteen years old. I learned that the word “no” itself does not execute intention upon your assailant. Nor does hiding your face in shame. The world still carries on after you close your eyes.
So I find myself in the dead of the night speaking in an other worldly voice to strangers and actually scaring them away. I do not communicate my intentions with physics, but the will of sheer hatred.
How do I teach my daughter to be fierce, but kind; to walk with grace and strength, but without bitterness; to carry all the best parts of male and female within? Or, do I just show her how to survive?