Take a Walk
‘Those are some NICE ASS shorts, girl!’
‘Where you goin’?’
‘Hey come back here! Hey!’
-Pray to a God I don’t believe in that they don’t follow me.
Where I grew up, one generally would not go walking alone at night, but not for reasons I cannot walk alone now. In the Portola Woods there were coyotes and mountain lions and what parent wanted their child dragged off by an oversized cat? It really wasn’t until high school that I became more distinctly aware of the other dangers that surrounded walking alone. My choice to attend public high school meant that the simple task of navigating the halls to fourth period biology would be troublesome. ‘…y como esa ella, gringa punta’ (…and, like this girl, white bitch) a gangly senior spat at me as his friends turned to snigger and sneer as I approached; blatantly unaware that I, like most high school students in California, spoke Spanish.
In college it only grew worse. Tightly packed house parties and rivers of tequila allowed for grabbing, squeezing and pulling of girls’ bodies with little consequence. Within the first year my vag had had enough close encounters with unwanted, prying fingers that I stopped wearing skirts to certain events. Preferring a denim defence to potential penetration. University of California- Santa Barbara’s bright and beachy college community by day transformed into a treacherous nocturnal terrain that warranted the buddy system, constant police surveillance, and an automated alerts system that sent texts directly to my phone in case of dangerous activity (this ranged from bicycle theft and home invasion to rapes and active shooters). Also, it never hurts to carry some pepper spray. The point being that nearly every female in that town was not only discouraged from walking independently, but many were terrified to do so. Even repulsive, albeit toothless, catcalls could strike fear.
And, rightly so. According to statistics put out by the National College Women Sexual Victimization Study in 2000, between 20% and 25% of women in enrolled higher education in the US will experience attempted or completed rape during the four-year period. To put that in perspective: I lived with three other girls in a house my junior year- based on that statistic, one of us would be raped while attending school- three of the four of use were most certainly physically victimized. This strikingly high statistic is facilitated by the ‘rape culture’ that thrives not only in my college community or even America as a nation, but all around the world. Shannon Ridgeway, a writer for Everydayfeminist.com, defines ‘rape culture’ as ‘situations in which sexual assault, rape, and general violence are ignored, trivialized, normalized, or made into jokes.’ Or perhaps as a more poignantly, Diane F. Herman states, ‘Women live their lives according to a rape schedule…’ meaning that women govern many of their choices- where to live, when to go out, where to go, what to wear, who to talk to, etc.- based on the threat of potential victimization. For me, this sentiment laid bare the various character traits, actions, opinions and emotions that I knew to be specifically female-oriented, but could not place exactly why they were connected in this way.
As early as the fourth grade (8-years-old) girls were taught that our bodies were being watched and that we must prepare ourselves for potential attack. Whereas, my male classmates were vaguely told to ‘respect women’. While I was fully armed with an arsenal of tactics to avoid rape by age 13, I had no idea about when and how to use them. The elementary self-defence class taught by my high school Phys. Ed. Teacher led me to believe I would be stomping on insteps and karate kicking someone in the groin at least once a week. So, do I break my history teacher’s nose when he jokes about repealing the 19th Amendment (women’s right to vote)? Bitch slap the boys in geometry loudly and vividly discussing their sexual escapades? We are taught ‘no means no’, but what about the rest of the time?
I was raised to be a polite young woman, I seek to please those around me for fear of offending, angering or disappointing others. It is not an entirely uncommon trait among both men and women. However, this more often proves harmful to women, as we allow others to push past the limits of our comfort zones in order to avoid offending anyone. The issue that many women deal with is deciding at what point should they stand up for themselves and say something when they feel uncomfortable. While I have been lucky, many other women have not
A straight man walking home late at night will likely not be fazed by a group of drunk women approaching from the opposite direction. He will not change his route, call a friend, or position his keys in between his knuckles, ‘just in case’. This is because a heterosexual man does not operate on the same ‘rape schedule,’ he gets to do his own thing without the immanent fear of being sexually assaulted (a homosexual male would be more in tune with the fear of physical harm, due to current and historical events). As a result, many men are simply unaware that their presence or actions could be viewed as disrespectful or threatening. The guy that taps his horn while a leggy blonde crosses the street, might actually believe he is giving a compliment. Susan Brownmiller sums up this fear, ‘That some men rape provides a sufficient threat to keep all women in a constant state of intimidation, forever conscious of the knowledge that the biological tool must be held in awe, for it may turn to weapon with sudden swiftness born of harmful intent…’
 F.T. Cullen, B.S. Fisher, M.G. Turner, ‘The Sexual Victimization of College Women’ study by National Institute of Justice, (U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., 2000), 10-12.
 Shannon Ridgeway. ‘25 Everyday Examples of Rape Culture’. Everyday Feminism. March 10, (2014), http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/03/examples-of-rape-culture/ .
 Diane F. Herman, ‘The Rape Culture’, in Women: A Feminist Perspective. (Mountain View, Ca. 3rd ed. 1984). 45.
 Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1975), 123.