Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Women Grow Up Fearing, Fending off Creeps

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Women Grow Up Fearing, Fending off Creeps

Article excerpt

Yes, all women, all girls, grow up learning ways to avoid attracting the attention of unnerving guys; it's no doubt built into our DNA, along with an affection for miniatures and the early songs of Patsy Cline.

Simply in order to leave the house in the morning, a girl has to assemble an arsenal of behaviors to "just shut that thing down." You remember that phrase, right? That's from Todd Akin, R-Mo, who argued not very long ago that women don't get pregnant from criminal acts because "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

Every girl remembers the first time she was degraded sexually in public. It is not, as the movies would have us believe, a wonderfully cheerful moment of sensual awakening and blossoming womanhood.

It's the moment when you start carrying your keys in your hand so you've got quick access to the door plus some metal between your fingers, and when you should have your phone pre-dialed to 91 so that there's one more digit to hit. It's the sense of shame sweeping over you because you looked "pretty" only to be slimed in a drive-by insult, told you look like a hooker. It's knowing where the well-lighted streets are because you are afraid of the dark, and it's being wary of the spotlight because if you're the center of attention, you're an easy target.

It's developing a ninja-like awareness of your surroundings even when you're supposed to be relaxed and enjoying yourself. It's recognizing that nowhere is safe. If girls standing on the lawn of the California house where they lived in college weren't safe from a 22-year-old who wanted to prove he was the "alpha man" by slaughtering them, then nowhere is safe.

So we develop strategies to make ourselves feel, if not safe, then safer. They are talismanic rather than scientific, but some do work.

I discovered around age 12, for example, that one way to dissuade men from leering at me or making sucking-teeth-clicking noises as I passed them on the street was to stick a finger in my ear and start digging. …

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