I drive a lot — it appeals to the wild child, the “king of the road” girl who navigated for random Sunday afternoon drives as a kid. Full confession, if I won the lottery, I’d probably get a driver for the routine drives and a way sexier car. That aside, I keep my car maintained, gassed up and Triple A’d for the road. I’ve had brothers, and boys tell me since I could drive, to be safe, let them know when I was driving after dark — to be afraid of the scary, scary world.
I’ve had the safety talk with my daughters, decrying the standards that make me have to warn them about putting themselves at risk. Yet, the fear isn’t something I’ve ever done… not over random strangers. The world I knew, the world I grew into offered too many fears — for dark nights and sketchy characters to hold terrors.
I went to my first “grown-up” job interview alone, naively following the owner to the storeroom and awkwardly wiggling away from his clumsy, old-man kiss (he probably wasn’t that old, I was just 18). I stammered something about getting back to him and fled… feeling idiotic for thinking he actually wanted to show me products. It was a few years before my Dad and brothers knew of that day.
I learned a lesson, 18 year olds aren’t generally offered marketing director jobs (even in little companies) and any fears I had needed to end when I walked out of my house. I could be sassy, and smart, and funny, and even a bit flirty in the office — but never ever vulnerable. When girlfriends talked of sleeping at their moms when their husbands’ traveled, I teased. Walking to my car at night, of course I could do it alone. Pepper spray, guns, tasers — they’d be used on me quicker than I could use them on an assailant. Any “situations” I encountered were ultimately my responsibility and had I used “my good sense” I could have avoided the problem.
This weekend, watching the #metoos popping up on social media — I thought of that icky old man (sorry, he still is old in my head) and the blame I’ve carried from that foul kiss, the other instances where I “behaved” stupidly or recklessly — and realized I would never say that to any friend or god forbid, to my girls.
Tonight challenged my facade. While driving to work — the street I drive every Tuesday, I pulled to a stoplight. One of my favorite songs had just popped up on shuffle when I noticed a man on the corner, I probably smiled — I do so reflexively. Suddenly, he was at my passenger door — trying to open it. I fumbled with the lock, opening my window in my haste. Finally, the light changed and I pulled away as he stood in the street. I discovered I was shaking as I drove the last few blocks to campus. As I caught my breath, I immediately tried to dismiss my panic — he probably just wanted a ride, I smiled at him so he thought I was nice — yet I couldn’t stop shaking. Bottom line… a man tried to open my door in the middle of the street. Is that a thing? What did I do to make it happen? I’ve never locked my doors — I texted my daughter to lock hers as soon as I parked.
Do I have any conclusions for all these thoughts swirling in my head? How does tonight fit into the mixture? Should I just go with the fear, “and not put myself” in those situations? Always travel in a group, like chicken or geese? What does that even mean? Take no risks? Separate spheres? Really? I like doing things on my own. I like hanging out with guys. I like hanging out with women — why should any of it be curtailed?
Or perhaps, we could live in a more realistic real world? One where men don’t assume my very being is at their pleasure. I was an 18 year old who wanted a job to pay for my future, was I naive? Absolutely. Was I responsible for a decrepit Ichabod Crane type sticking his tongue down my throat? Of course not!
The women accusing Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump, Bill Cosby — yes, they wanted careers. Does that mean they are prey? Do teen girls who dress like teen girls have to worry that some boy sees “I just gave up consent” in the length of her skirt or number of beers? At what point is a woman innocent enough NOT to be complicit in her own assault? At what point do the voices in her head let her off the hook? Will she still be at fault, the tease, the slut — 5 years later, 10, a lifetime?
I know how to be afraid. I know how to doubt myself. I can give you a list of my flaws alphabetized and Dewey decimaled. I can probably twist everything but Donald Trump’s election into somehow being my responsibility — for that I will not take the blame. These days my biggest fears and greatest courage are wrapped in my girls. My heart swells like a shield of medieval armor as dragons rear up to threaten their peace. Yet the skulking bruises, and bloodied wounds from which I can’t protect them ripple fear over me that I feel it on my skin in the 3ams.
I will be damned, however, if I ever tell them to quit. They get to throw themselves into their lives heart and soul — Maggie Kuhn (founder of the Grey Panthers) once said, “stand before the people you fear and speak your mind – even if your voice shakes”. Of course, they love to turn my advice back on me — in this case, yes. I won’t stop driving, or playing music to ease the road — I may, however, lock my doors in the future.
Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering. → Yoda