Friday, September 29, 2006

Predator or Moron, Begone!

Last night, at approximately 11:00 pm, I was walking home on 8th Avenue, when I noticed that someone had fallen into step beside me. I had been feeling sad and had been focusing on covertly wiping the tears away from my eyes, instead of on my surroundings, so I'm not sure when he noticed me or for how long he had been following me.

For a few paces I ignored him, hoping that he would just go away, which is often how I deal with unwanted male attention. He didn't go away. He said "hi" or something like that, and I glanced to my left to assess him. He was a large white male in his 20s or early 30s, probably 80 lbs heavier than me, with blond spiked hair and glassy eyes. He had a series of chain links, that I think were part of his clothes, draped over his shoulders and around his upper arms. From my quick glance, I determined he was not a homeless beggar, not drunk but potentially on drugs (you can never rule that out), and not your typical (older white male) serial killer. Something about him, maybe just that he started following me, struck me as emotionally disturbed.

Continuing to walk, I replied with a brief "hello" and then fixed my eyes pointedly ahead of me. Saying nothing and being rude felt risky because encounters like these are unpredictable and I didn't want to give him an opportunity to get angry or allow him to think that I was afraid of him, which I wasn't, at least not yet. Eighth Avenue is a fairly busy street, with a fair amount of lights and shops that are open late, and I felt safe for the moment.

Keeping pace with me, he asked, "Hey, would you like to get some coffee or something with me?" I glanced at him again and said, I think with a note of disbelief in my voice - disbelief that he was trying to pick me up while following me down the street in the middle of the night, and disbelief that this interruption was happening while my cheeks were still damp with tears - "No," while shaking my head for emphasis. Not no thanks, just "no" with an inflection of you've got to be crazy if you think any woman would say yes under these circumstances.

What on earth could that guy have been thinking to start following me and then ask me to go out with him? Was I so attractive to him that he couldn't resist? Did he think I was asking for that type of attention in my jeans and shoulder-baring top? Or, did he think I was easy prey because I looked sad and like I had been crying? The last thought gives me shivers.

If he's a psychopath who wanted to do me harm, it makes sense why he was following me. If he's not a psychopath, he's an irresponsible moron, because by now there have been enough Take Back the Nights for men to know that women will likely perceive following them in the middle of the night and approaching them as threatening behavior.

As a woman, I am very aware of the risks involved with walking around the streets of New York at night, and I'm aware that those risks are greater for me because I am a woman than they are for men in general. Not that men don't get assaulted, robbed, murdered, and sometimes raped, because they do. But on average, I have a far greater chance than a man of being the victim of a rape or violent crime, and I tend to be smaller in stature than my potential attackers. That's the reality I face every time I walk home alone, which I did last night.

Fortunately, when I said "no" last night, my pursuer backed off. For a beat or two, he kept pace with me, and I thought I was going to have a problem, but then he slowed down and let me walk ahead. I didn't look back to see if he had really stopped following me. I didn't want it mistaken for interest of any kind. I just pulled out my keys and kept them firmly in hand. Did you know that when you punch someone while gripping an object, such as keys, in your fist, the force of your punch is magnified? I read that once somewhere. Keys would also be a good weapon to use for stabbing someone in the face, eyes, throat, or on the back of their hand. Brutal thoughts, yes, but necessary for survival at times.

When I made the turn down the darker, less busy street that I live on, I allowed myself a quick glance over my shoulder and the coast seemed clear. I walked on the road, away from the shadowy edge where the buildings meet the sidewalk, and I kept my ears alert for the slightest sound of movement behind me. I was so relieved once I had reached my apartment building and locked the door behind me.

This reminds me that I should probably start carrying mace or a panic whistle. Apparently, both are good for fending off bears, as well as human males. Good to know.

11 comments:

SisterFriend said...

Wow. I'm glad you were safe and aware. Although your last thought makes you shudder, it is also quite accurate. When predators size up a female, one thing they do is assess your general awareness. They do look for someone who is in a weak state...the least likely to give a fight.

I'm glad you wrote this because as a woman, one of the most frustrating things to me is the fear we live with anytime we want to venture out after dark. So many times, I would like to take a walk after dark, but I don't do it because it isn't safe. Most men wouldn't think twice about it.

Buttercup said...

Sisterfriend,

I think you're right that most men don't think twice about walking around at night, and not enough of them seem to genuinely understand what women face on a daily/nightly basis just going about their business walking around as if they too have a right to walk down the streets.

On an almost daily basis, I am generally subjected to some type of harassment when I walk down the street alone. Usually it's just annoying, like cat calls or whistles, but sometimes it feels dangerous.

I used to get slightly annoyed when men offered to walk me home, mainly b/c it often came with undertones of ulterior motives or with the attitude that I was somehow weaker or inferior. Also, most violence against women comes from men they know, so getting walked home by a date is not necessarily safe.

Now I find myself thinking that more men need to have a clue. They need to understand who it feels to be a woman walking the same streets as they do. It's a very different experience. Especially in the dark.

InterstellarLass said...

Scary! I've heard about using keys in your fist as a weapon. I've braced myself to use that tactic before. I'm glad he backed off and you didn't have to beat him up! Mace would be a good idea.

Laura said...

Good for you, keeping your head and your wits about you. You just never know with some guys. I think Sisterfriend might be right about the guy sizing you up to see if you were weak and would put up a fight or not. by the way, if you have one of those keychain fobs that allow you to hit the horn or security buttons, that would call attention to the situation, if it came down to that (and of course, you'd have to be near your car as well).
Anyway, hope you don't see him again!

Buttercup said...

Lass, I'm glad I wasn't making up the key thing. It makes sense in terms of channeling force.

Laura, This is New York, no car for me! But I can aspire to such gadgets. :)

Anonymous said...

I would have immediately moved to the other side of the street.

Being afraid of being rude so as not to provoke him, in my opinion, is not necessary. If protecting yourself provokes him,then his buttons are going to get pushed anyway, no matter what you do.

Buttercup said...

M, You make an excellent point and I think you are largely right in your approach. In this situation he was between me and the other side of the street, so that was not an immediate option.

In other situations, where I have seen a person coming towards me I do as you suggest and move to the other side. Sound advice.

Gypsy said...

When I lived in Europe for a time I encountered much more blatant "pick up" attempts from strangers on the street. It's a different culture, for sure. There, however, it rarely felt threatening. Annoying, yes. Off-putting, sure. But I only felt threatened by that behavior a couple of times, and then only slightly.

But back in the States it's a different story. I don't feel like it happens nearly as much but when it does it almost always feels threatening.

Even if this guy was harmless, I'm glad you kept your wits about you.

Buttercup said...

Gypsy, I observed the same thing in some places in Europe. In one trip to Greece I, and the group of American girls I was travelling with, were approached by men in the "pick-up" sense you describe many many times. It was more blatant there, perhaps b/c machismo is more openly a part of that culture than in the US, where it's politcally correct to be non-sexist.

Is it b/c we drive sexism underground that it then bubbles up in street harassment that more often sounds threatening and angry than "just harmless" and sexist?

I wonder if (and bet this is true) that there is a significantly higher incidence of male assaults on women in the US, as opposed to Europe. If so, that would be a statistic to study.

gravelly said...

Buttercup, knowing it is dangerous practically everywhere at 11 pm, why would you walk alone, why not take a taxi to be safe? Why put yourself in a potentially threatened postiton?

Buttercup said...

Gravelly,

It sounds like you're essentially saying that b/c I'm a woman and I walked home at 11 pm at night (which is actually not that late in New York) I should be blamed for the actions of a male who chose to invade MY space and MY right to walk on the streets by following me and approaching me.

If so, I don't agree with you. I have the right to walk on these streets free of unwanted male attention. I am well aware of the risks and I DO take precations such as being aware of my surroundings, walking in well lit areas, and usually I do not walk alone at night. I did not "put myself" in that situation. That man put me in that situation when he started following me.

Furthermore, it is not "dangerous practically everywhere." For the most part, I feel extremely safe in New York. The streets are well-lit and there are people out at all hours. In a place where many people go out at 10 pm, 11 pm is early. I feel much safer in New York than I ever did coming home to my house in the woods in CT.