By: Angela Marandola, Programs Manager at the Katie Brown Educational Program
It’s 3:15am. I can’t stop thinking about Sarah Everard. Her disappearance while walking home from Brixton, South London is keeping me from sleep and I can’t believe I’m not asleep. I’m exhausted. We all are—-because once again, womxn are not the problem. We’re just not. We’re not even YOUR problem. Most of y’all can walk home and feel safe doing so. Most of y’all can simply walk away from this conversation and go about your day. We can’t. And we’re so tired. I spent a summer taking night classes at Providence College. Before my first day, my father gifted me two types of weaponry: an oversized pocket knife and a device to gouge the eyes of an attacker. I didn’t think twice when I put them in the side pocket of my car. I didn’t think twice because as a womxn attempting survival in a world where rape culture IS our culture and violence against womxn is the most common act of all, these precautions, as I’m sure you’ve heard, are our “norm”.
Let me tell you how I’ve taken walks since I was old enough to walk alone. Absolutely no music/headphones/earbuds. My hair is usually long so I tie it up in a knot because when I was in the second grade, my health teacher told me someone would kidnap me simply by grabbing my ponytail. The key/Wolverine hand trick is a staple but that doesn’t feel like enough, so I have one of the gifted weapons in my left jacket pocket at all times. In the summer I palm a rock. I don’t look down at the ground because I’ve been told that shows weakness. I refrain from smiling because I don’t want to engage. There is definite privilege in my whiteness but my gender identity and expression leave me vulnerable (…right?) so if it’s dark out and I’m walking home alone, I try dressing more masculine. If it’s light out and I’m walking home alone, I try looking mean.
You’ve heard our walking testimonies before, I’m sure. You’ve probably heard them a trillion times, and I know! It’s so much! You get it, you get it, you get it. Can we just shut up now? Can we just wear neon colors? Can we just let you eat breakfast in peace?
Once upon a time, a politician’s violent rhetoric against women was recorded, shared publicly, and endorsed when we elected him into high office. That night, I had a quiet panic attack in my bedroom until my boyfriend (white, cis, performative Facebook status warrior in regard to International Women’s Day) at the time, barged in and sarcastically exclaimed, “Oh, I know. This only affects you because you’re a woman. You have it so bad.” Countless times he called me naive. “I go into people’s homes for a living,” he said, reminding me of the job my mother got him, “You don’t understand what’s going on in the world.” I mean, maybe there’s some truth to that.
I have no idea what’s going on in YOUR world which seems, for many cisgender men, to be the only one that exists. And sure, maybe I have thingamabobs and maybe I’ve got twenty but who cares? No big deal? I want more. What’s it like having permission to be angry, anxious, scared and exhausted without the accusation of being “a lot”? What’s it like talking with someone about your anger, anxiety, fear, and exhaustion without seeing them visibly overwhelmed because you could have just sat there and looked pretty but you had to ruin it. What’s it like positioning yourself as a victim to gain our pity or sympathy when we’re grieving our lived experiences out loud? Why have I, at 35 years old, considered where/when/how I talk to keep cismen safe? Why am I still, at 35 years old, considering where/when/how I walk to keep myself safe? I often wonder why I can’t sleep. Maybe it’s because sleep is too close to blissful ignorance, too close to letting my guard down. Whatever the reason may be, just know that at the end of your 8-10 hours, I’ll be there, tapping you on the shoulder asking, “You up?”