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The Best and the Worst May 22, 2013

Posted by craftlass in education, life lessons, women's rights.
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I don’t scare very easily. I have walked the streets of many a city alone, feeling perfectly comfortable just about anywhere. I’m cautious, always aware of everyone around me, as anyone who has spent a lot of time in urban environments learns to do, but it’s been a long time since I felt a true threat.

I’m disgusted by many actions aimed towards women, but I’m also used to a lot of offensive behavior, have become inured to it (sadly). I rail against it more for other women’s sake than my own.

Then I got on the “other” PATH train last night, meaning the connecting route from the World Trade Center to Hoboken, with a change at Grove Street. I take the 33rd Street line at all sorts of hours somewhat regularly, it’s always crowded late at night and, while sometimes annoying, it always feels safe. One of the myriad reasons I chose to move to the Mile Square City was I have never felt truly threatened on the train or the streets at any hour, even before I lived here or it was known as a safe place. I was tired of the extra precautions required in some not-so-great neighborhoods I’d lived in and paying for cabs in the wee hours. Anecdotally, most of the women I know who have been attacked at night in the city were attacked on the subway (I have no statistics, and most seem to go unreported anyway, so I’m a little suspicious of data on this topic). Being brave does not mean taking stupid risks, so getting to avoid the MTA system without spending a fortune is one of the many great perks of living Jersey-side.

I had been hanging out downtown with two male friends, who were gracious enough to walk me to two blocks away from the station before we said our goodbyes. I paused for a moment to admire the St. Paul’s Church graveyard, as I always do when I walk by, thinking about the rich history it contains. Walking on, I stared up at World Trade Center 1, finally nearing completion and beautiful enough to win over this hard heart of mine (I wanted them to just rebuild the old buildings, show everyone we don’t give in, but I accept what we’ve been given to ogle). I was in a fantastic mood, having had a wonderful night with people I love, and skipped my way down the escalators and stairs to the platform. There was a decent amount of people, less than I’m used to at that time, but there were enough that when we got to Grove Street, quite a few people got out. Most went up the stairs and out of the station, leaving only two men and me on the platform. I sat down and noticed I had 1x data, so I checked the schedule and saw the train should arrive at 1:55. It was 1:47. Okay, that’s not long. 1:55 rolled around…1:56…1:57…2:00…

Suddenly I heard a voice call out, “Look at me!” Reflexively looking towards the voice I saw a man standing by a column with his pants down. I took a deep breath and looked pointedly down at my phone, trying to just not give him any satisfaction, and tweeted:

I tried to shrug it off as I just really wanted to the train to come. Right then. But then I looked up again and the guy was walking towards me, with his hips thrust forward and pants around his knees. My Spidey-sense was screaming and I could hear the sounds of construction above me. Before I even knew what I was doing I was racing up the stairs, with the guy in full pursuit. Yellow tape and a barrier were blocking off a stairway to the street. I flat-out hurdled them and ran up to a construction worker in a mask and rapidly told him what had happened. One of his co-workers came over, and upon hearing the very brief version, went running down the stairs to find the guy just as the train finally came it. I don’t know if Mr. Creepy jumped on the train or ran out of the station via the open stairs somehow, but he was gone. The first construction worker went over to the help phone and contacted the police while the other asked me for more details. We all went up to the street to wait for the police, who arrived a few minutes later and took my statement and description of the man. One of the workers went back to his job while the other made sure I was getting into a cab home. With no cash on hand. I called and woke my partner, gushing out a non-detailed explanation, fearful that my drained battery would run out on me before I got through. The phone stayed alive. I was going to make it home okay and the tension started to ease a little.

Note: I meant the PATH train specifically there.

Getting home, seeing my partner waiting on the stoop for me, was the best feeling I’ve had in ages. I told him the story and he gave me a huge hug, then went back to bed. Well, when I checked Twitter again… The response was incredible, full of support from all sorts of people, and even thanks for sharing the experience. That’s what made me decide to post about this here, if this helps even one woman feel a little less alone or a bit more empowered to get out of a bad situation, then it’s worth writing.

Instinct is an incredibly powerful thing. I have no idea what might have happened if I hadn’t listened to mine. When a man groped me long-ago on a rush-hour subway I kicked him in the most effective place and he crumpled. That was the right thing in that trapped situation. Last night, I probably could have fought but knowing there were people nearby enabled me to listen to my flight instinct instead. It was the right move and reinforced my belief that most people are good, despite seeing a bit of the low side of humanity.

Still, I’m angry. The knowledge that my little incident last night was far less scary than most women in the world face regularly, many even in their own homes, gives me the chills. I woke today feeling mentally empowered but with muscle exhaustion from the tension, the thought of that being a somewhat normal state to anyone is unacceptable. I’m very lucky, I was raised to be prepared and strong, and have a wonderful support system. What about the women who have no such good fortune?

We can only do so much to directly change or even punish the bad people of the world, like this man who will haunt me forever. We need to make sure that every girl gets an education in how valuable she is and reacting to dangers with all her strength, which goes hand-in-hand with access to academic education, according to pretty much every woman who has escaped bad situations from poverty to abuse to systemic misogyny. This is not to say that men are never victims, it’s just that their access to all kinds of education and even help from others is much more common on the global scale. We need to make sure that every woman on this planet can feel she is not alone and simultaneously learn how to take care of herself, without dependency on anyone. It will be a long road, but it’s the only way to improve circumstances for the majority of people.

This morning one of my companions from last night texted, “Do I need to be your subway escort going forward?” It’s a sweet sentiment with the best of intentions, but actually completely contrary to what anyone needs. If we can’t take care of ourselves we can’t be either safe or free. I would never want to exist in a world where I feel the need to have a man to protect me everywhere I go, that would be a mental prison. True, I turned to men last night, but I would have run up to whoever was there. Asking for help is not the same as dependency, it’s just good sense sometimes, especially when it allows you to avoid being a victim or getting violent yourself (which should always be the very last resort). Conversely, if another person came to me for help under similar circumstances, I’d have reacted just like those two wonderful workers. Humans are simply stronger when we stand together against those who want to use power against us, individually or as a group. Perhaps that is the ultimate lesson in all of this.

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