Golden Girl: The dangers of being a woman in a man’s world

Ali Smith, Roundtable Editor

As American women, we are so incredibly blessed, and sometimes even I forget that. I have access to an education. I can drive. I can hold a job, or two. I can choose whom I want to marry, or if I want to marry at all. I have access to health care, both basic and feminine. I have access to medications, therapies and so many more basic privileges that many women around the world don’t have access to.
With that being said, even in one of the safest countries for women to live in, it is still scary being a woman, especially a young woman.
Late last week, I experienced something no woman should have to face, but far too many do. And when I told my family and friends about this incident, no one was surprised, and the pressure was on me to better protect myself. Why?
After school Friday, around noon, I headed to the computer lab to print off a document for my mom after class, and then zipped my coat and braced myself for the cold, brisk wind I was about to face on my four-block walk to my car. I park in a lot off campus because I know the owners, and free is free, right?
On my walk to and from school, I pass a bus stop, a gym, a mental health institution and a food bank, all of which are stereotypical hot spots for predators. I hate falling into the trap of these stereotypes, so when I see or hear someone walking behind me and I feel paranoid, I try to remember that I don’t need to fear every man, or woman, who crosses my path downtown.
Friday, however, I wish I would have listened to my instincts.
As I was walking my final block, I began to hear the footsteps behind me getting closer and closer, and his breathing in my ears getting louder and louder. Surely he won’t turn down the same street as me, I thought to myself. But he did. And after I contacted the Gannon Police Department to save another young woman from experiencing this, Officer Smith relayed to me that the man had been following me for the entirety of my walk, and I didn’t even know it.
Closing in on my lot, it seemed as though he was getting closer and closer, and I based this solely on the sound of his footsteps and the volume of his breath. I couldn’t turn around because I didn’t want him to know I was on to him, and honestly, I was just plain scared.
As I approached my parking lot, and it was time to cross the street, I knew something bad was about to happen, because he crossed right along with me.
I grabbed my phone and called my mom, hoping that maybe if he saw I was on the phone, he would get scared off. At the same time, I pulled my car keys out of my pocket and tightly gripped my hot-pink mace for dear life.
I never thought I would actually be put into a situation where I thought I needed to use it. Luckily, my infantry-dad made sure I was strapped with the military-grade stuff.
Approaching my driver’s side door, hoping and praying I was just being paranoid and the man following me would get into the passenger seat of the car parked next to me, my mom picked up the phone, and there was silence on my end, as I could only focus on the footsteps and the breathing behind me.
With my phone tucked between my shoulder and my ear, my right hand on my door knob and my left hand on the trigger of my pepper spray, I saw the driver of the car next to me look at me with wide-eyes and a sense of helpless panic. I turned 180 degrees around to be met with a pair of wide, bright blue eyes two inches from my own.
On the other end of the phone, my mom was panicking as I hadn’t said a word in the 30 seconds she had been on the other end. Between her voice, the witness and my pepper spray locked and loaded inches from his eyes, this was enough to send him running with a slew of cuss words under his breath, disappointed that he hadn’t been able to steal from me, touch me or worse.
With awareness of my privilege, I realize things could have gone a lot worse.
However, why should I have to keep my head on a swivel and my pepper spray handy just to commute four blocks from my car to school? Do the men attending my university feel the same way? Why is it up to me to protect myself on a normal school day, in broad daylight that is, simply due to my gender?
As a young woman, a feminist and a future mother, it disappoints me that I had to be prepared for this very moment. That I knew what to do had someone followed me. That I had a self-defense weapon in case they had gotten too close. That I had taken classes on how to defend myself from being choked, battered or raped.
Why can’t I just focus on going to school, getting my education and returning home without thinking about who may want to take advantage of me in the process?
Why don’t we, instead, train boys and men to keep their hands to themselves? To understand no means no. To recognize they can’t have every woman they see. To protect a woman when she is feeling threatened or afraid.
It is sad we even have to consider these scenarios. But in a man’s world, that is just how it has to be.

UNSPLASH