It is 8pm on a Wednesday. Location: CTA Tunnel.
I’m wearing black leggings and a long jacket. One of my headphones blasts an old Blink-182 anthem in my ear and the other hangs down my chest getting lost in the frill of my scarf. I reach a hand up to fish it out and twirl it around my un-manicured finger while my other hand clings tightly to the set of keys in my pocket. I survey my fellow commuters and check the train tracker app on my phone. Due.
My train arrives, flying fast and past me until it comes to a stop, and I breathe a sigh of relief. Not because it finally arrived, but because no one pushed me in front of it.
I would not categorize myself as paranoid. Sure, I participate in the occasional glance behind my back, the quick hand to my purse to ensure my wallet is still there, and every so often I jump at the sight of my shadow. But paranoia? Not a condition I suffer from. Something I do suffer from, however, is the backlash of being a woman in a culture obsessed with fearing assault.
Let me break it down. I don’t expect anyone to push me in front of the Red Line train to Howard. In fact, I truly believe that most people have genuine natures, kind hearts, and good intentions. Why would someone want to hurt me?
But it’s not about whether or not I believe someone will hurt me. In fact, according to our society, it’s not even about that “someone” at all. It’s about how I am considered solely responsible for how other people decide to treat me. It’s about it being my fault for putting myself in dangerous situations that welcome others to attack me. It’s about how instead of teaching human beings to not inflict harm on one another, the world has spent its entire career training me to avoid becoming the victim of assault.
Around 7:41pm I prepared to leave my apartment to go to dance rehearsal. I threw on a pair of black leggings and a t-shirt and reapplied a natural shade of pink lipstick. Random choices? Quite the contrary. The lighter lipstick draws less attention than the edgy deep burgundy I’d really prefer to wear and the black leggings slim my plump rump down to an appropriate size for the public eye.
If the black color wasn’t enough to hide the invitation to attack me otherwise known as my ass, I made sure to slip on my sweater jacket that falls just above the knee. Conservatively dressed women don’t get raped, says society. I winked at myself in the hall mirror, thankful for the tip.
On went my handy dandy running shoes. Not only would they be helpful should I need to run for my life, but they allow me to walk at the quick pace I need to maintain in order to appear that I am confident about where I am going, and walking with a Don’t-Fuck-With-Me purpose. Sometimes I add in a stank-face just for fun. It’s important to repel anyone who crosses my path.
Next, I pulled the strap of my purse over my head so that it stretched across my torso, the bag resting against my hip. I did this because it makes it much more difficult for someone to strip it away from me, as opposed to the easy access style of simply stringing it over my shoulder. That’s amateur stuff right there. A woman should know better than that.
After I triple checked that my purse was fully zipped and that I had everything I needed, I prepared to take the leap that would force me into the unknown: a misty, dark metropolis where all is silent but the squeak of a rat and my lone hollow footsteps. The streets are barren, a post-apocalyptic concrete jungle where the only witnesses to my probable attack are the faceless mannequins who hover over the sidewalks through glass. It is a perilous place, this unknown. One where the key I use to enter my home is now the key I use to shank my rapist. One where every man becomes the villain, and every look misinterpreted, judgements and unprovoked fears clouding my grasp on reality.
I mustered the courage to embark through this unknown and opened my apartment door. The journey was treacherous and full of terrors, but I luckily made it to the Red Line tunnel where I waited and eventually successfully boarded the train.
No one pushed me in front of it.
Society would call this a miracle; a job well done on taking the necessary precautions to protect myself from all the forces of evil this world has to offer. But let’s play out a different scenario. What if I had gotten pushed by evil?
Would the headline read “Young Woman Gets Pushed Onto Tracks” or “Girl Falls, Too Close to the Edge”?
On the train, my stop approaches, and I stand to walk towards the door. The eyes of a man who was sitting across from me follow my strides and I realize that my jacket hiked up to reveal my leggings from the butt down.
I quickly pull down my jacket. The man stares. As soon as the doors part ways I’m off the train and hurrying to the exit, my running shoes thankfully serving their function. This was a close call, society has taught me. I survived tonight, but maybe the next time I leave my apartment, I should consider wearing a different pair of pants.
You know, pants that would prevent me from being assaulted.