Anyone who knows me well can attest to the fact that I am not a very adventurous person. I am kinda a picky eater, I am scared to mountain bike (although I own one and use it as a commuter bike) and I am not very good at snowboarding because I don't take enough risks.... But there is a way in which I am adventurous and that involves traveling. When I visit a new city I try to do three things. 1: run somewhere new (I am trying to run a race in every state; am currently at 31) 2: visit a wild or natural space (park, arboretum, mountain, etc) and 3: attend a yoga class. Doing these three things has led to many awe-inspiring memories, some so-so experiences, but also some downright scary moments (don't even get me started on the night I spent in a cabin in a deserted state park in Kansas).
I was in Houston last week for a conference. True to tradition, I sought out some adventures. One morning I took a bus to a yoga class and walked back to the hotel. There are not many better ways to get the real story of a place than riding a bus or walking a few miles through random neighborhoods. The weather was amazing during my trip (ok, 60 degrees and sunny, but it is 13 degrees in Pittsburgh as I type this) and I wanted to make the most of it. One afternoon I decided to take a break and visit the Houston Arboretum. I had looked it up before my trip (I do PLAN these things at least a bit) and knew it was less than 2 miles from my hotel. I asked the concierge at my hotel for a map and walking directions to which she said "oh, you can't walk there!" as though it was the craziest thing she had ever heard. During my four days in Houston I realized that people didn't really walk around much, so I could understand why that was such a weird notion to her.
But, I decided to walk anyway. Luckily I have a pretty good sense of direction, I can read a map, and I walk 3 miles a day on my commute to work so I figured I was fairly prepared. The first part of the journey was simple. The sidewalk did end at one street and pick back up the next block, but there wasn't any traffic so I wasn't concerned. After passing a few business parks, I had to go out onto the main road--a three lane frontage road next to the highway. It was loud and packed with flying cars, but there was a wide sidewalk with a barrier between it and the road. I listened to This American Life and soaked up the sun.
Before long, my peaceful walk was disturbed by a few passing cars yelling various obscenities, unwanted offers, and incomprehensible crap at me (and I know it was at me because no one else was out there). I couldn't help but think "Really?" Then I had an "oh, yeah" moment. "Oh, yeah" I thought. "In some cities you get catcalled in the middle of the day while walking by the highway." I have lived in such cities before, but in my 3 years at Pittsburgh I have grown accustomed to the comfortableness that comes with walking around a city with very little street harassment (it still happens, to be sure). I am now a bit startled to visit places where this is not the case at all.
So after about the fourth car it was hard to ignore. It was hard not to be aware of my WOMANNESS and everything that can go with that. It was hard not to think about safety and the implications of being a woman walking around alone in a city I don't know. And then the "uh-oh" moment happened. How it is possible, I don't really understand, but somehow in this asphalt jungle I was suddenly in the middle of the woods. To be fair, I don't think it was the woods so much as a bunch of overgrown trees and bushes, but the path went right through them instead of around them. I felt like little red riding hood hoping there was no big bad wolf. I and thought, "uh, oh--maybe I shouldn't have gone on this walk" and "if something happens to me, no one will find me for days" and " I am sorry for being stubborn and adventurous" (this last one was directed to those who love me who would have to deal with what happened to me).
Seriously. It was 4:00 in the afternoon. Bright and sunny in a suburb of Houston. The chances of something happening to me were so slim as to be laughable. But I couldn't laugh at it, because the fear was real. The fear of becoming a statistic on the news. In this (thankfully) brief moment, it was like I connected with the fear of every woman on earth who has ever been beaten, raped, murdered. Because that is what we are told to do. We are told to think about every possible bad outcome that could happen to us and make sure we avoid it. We women are told not to dress provocatively, not to drink at parties or let our guard down, not to walk around alone, or else we could become victims. We ARE connected to every woman who has been victimized simply for having the gall to be born female.
Now, I know that I live in one of the safest countries of the world (aside from the massive amounts of guns, but that is another post for another time) and there are millions of women living in places where the risk of being attacked is less of an "if" and more of a "when". There are girls and women risking their lives to get an education, walk to the market or give their opinion: those for whom writing a blog like this would be dangerous. So I know that I am lucky. But in those moments of fear I don't feel lucky. I do, however, wonder. I wonder what it is like to NOT feel this fear. I wonder what it would be like to walk on a sidewalk in a busy city in the middle of the day and not have an "uh-oh" moment. I wonder what our world would be like if all women felt safe. If we didn't experience daily street harassment, the threat of assault, the fear of violation. I wonder about a world where safety, dignity and respect are the norm, not a blessing.
In that worId, I wonder how much more adventurous we all could be.
EMPOWERTAINMENT aims to take a critical look at media in regards to how gender and women/girls are portrayed. From popular articles, videos, and websites, to original submissions, we want to not only examine the media and its relation to gender, but help shift it.