Today, I learned that there is much that some men still need to learn about women.
I agreed to go on a date for the first time since my last one went awry nine months ago. I have been very gun-shy around men for the better part of a year now, and I’m very bad at meeting people. The guy that I was supposed to be meeting shared fourteen interests with me, or so the dating website we both subscribed to told me. We had had some conversations via text that seemed to go pretty well, so when he asked if I’d like to grab a late lunch, I told him I would meet him.
I arrived at the restaurant just slightly after he did, but the place was packed, so we were forced to wait outside until a table became available. I was a little uncomfortable because I was nervous to be with a stranger. When I was young, I was very unaware that there were such things as “strangers” in the world, but my mother and father made it their duty to teach me that people I did not know were not to be trusted. I tried to remember what I’d learned in college–how I broke from my parents’ teachings in an effort to be compassionate and non-judgmental–when I spoke with my date, but something suppressed it.
I was in the checkout lane of a grocery store when my mother first told me that I must not stray from her. “You have to be more careful,” she told me. “There are bad people in this world.”
I wondered if my date was a bad man. He didn’t seem terrible at first sight, but I had to wonder. It was just instinct. He asked me questions about myself–presumably to get to know me–but I was sure to answer as vaguely as I could and still be polite. I couldn’t divulge any identifying information about myself. He mentioned a great bar near my apartment and I checked myself just before I could spurt out, “Oh, hey, I live right by that place!” I could not let him know where I lived. He might be a bad man, I reminded myself.
My level of discomfort grew when he started telling me about himself. I noticed something was a bit off about him–he was squirming and kept mumbling under his breath and laughing at things that were “heh”-worthy at best. I thought maybe he was nervous. He kept telling me about misquitoes and his job, where he was “on a mission to eradicate the west nile virus.” He mentioned a lot of terms that seemed science-y, but I didn’t recognize from any biology classes I’d ever taken. His speech alternated between rlyfst and suuuuuuuuuupeeeeeeeer sloooooooow. He told me how “fucked up” he’d gotten with his friends the night before. When my only response was to shift uncomfortably on the bench we were now sitting on alone, he said, “Yeah, sorry if I’m acting kind of weird. I’m really high right now.”
I resisted an eye roll. Liberal education be damned, I made a judgment about this guy: I did not want to be around him and I had no business letting this date continue. I stood up and excused myself to go to the bathroom. Instead of going to the bathroom, I went inside the restaurant and asked a man at the cash register if there was a back door I could sneak out. I explained my situation and he graciously escorted me to a door by the kitchen. I thanked him as he pointed me in the direction of a cafe where I could hide out until my date left. I walked out the door and ran to the cafe.
At the cafe, a woman offered me a cookie and water while I waited for a friend to pick me up. I told her what had happened, and she said, “You’re kind of a badass.” I knew I had done the right thing, and I did feel like a badass.
And then I got home. I wanted to tell the twitterverse about what had just happened to me, and I did. Then I saw the Santa Barbara Shooting hashtag. I felt sick. Six people had died because one man couldn’t bear rejection.
It is absolutely true that it is often terrifying to be a woman in the presence of a man. I hate that that is true, because often my fear is for naught, but I can never be sure. No woman can ever be sure. I spend a significant amount of time planning how I will react if a man tries to rape me, and even with all that planning, I still think that I will not be prepared to fully defend myself if the situation calls for it.
Last week, I was leaving the grocery store and a man cornered me to ask for some money. He looked at me very sternly as he tried to explain why he needed cash. There was a story about a broken down car and children and an inoperable debit card; his eyes shifted from me to my purse. I felt no emotions for this man but I did feel intimidated. He said he needed fifteen dollars.
“If I give you fifteen dollars, will you leave me alone?” I asked. He nodded. It seemed like a small price to pay for my safety. He could have been a bad man.
I walked briskly to my car, but before I could open my door, he pushed himself between me and the vehicle.
“The tow truck isn’t going to come out for anything less than twenty bucks,” he said. “I need five more.” When I told him I didn’t have any more cash, he said, “I know you’ve got more cash. Give me five dollars.” His words chilled me. I could have run, I could have screamed, I could have hit the panic button on my keychain, I could have gone back into the store and asked for an escort to my car. I didn’t do any of those things. I did not say no. I gave him ten more dollars. He could have been a bad man.
He told me he was good for the cash and would repay me. He wanted my address. “I am not going to give you my address,” I told him.
He walked away and I drove all around the city before I returned home. My father taught me to never take the direct way home if I felt unsafe. I had milk souring in the car, but I didn’t want a possibly bad man to follow me home.
I was not attacked. I was not harmed. I survived the incident with no physical or mental injury and yet I still felt the need to go buy a can of mace afterward. I am not sure how this can of mace will truly protect me in the ways that I desperately need to be protected. I will carry it because it is the last and only thing that makes me feel armed, but it does not make me feel safe.
Mace will not stop the bullet that comes for me because I told someone no. Mace will not rid the world of misogynists who would punish women for exercising the rights they’ve fought so hard to have (even if they’re seldom recognized). Mace will not make some men respect me when I say I don’t want to sleep with them. Mace will not prevent some men from ignoring my own claim to my body and my mind. Mace doesn’t tell bad men who think they are nice men that they are, in fact, the worst men.
I know I made the right decision for myself today when I snuck out the back door of that restaurant. I know I am a badass. I know that it is liberating to say no, because so often I feel as though I must say yes, even when I don’t want to. And even in my liberation, I am scared. I have considered the consequences of saying no. Rejection used to be a way to keep myself safe from bad men. I am not sure of that anymore.