I’m sure most women can relate to the uncomfortable feeling of having to walk home alone in the dark and feeling nervous because you know someone is behind you, but you don’t want to act like you’re scared. When you know for a fact that you’re getting followed around a big city in the middle of the day, and the person following you keeps glancing at you and smiling because they know exactly how much they are making you feel uneasy, it’s just as bad.
It was last Sunday. I had been planning on spending the afternoon wandering around some of my favorite parts of the city in order to get proper photos of all these places I’ve loved spending time in the past several months. I headed down one of the main streets, and while I was stopped at a crosswalk, I made eye contact with a man who was probably in his mid-40s. He smiled at me, and while I normally am pretty friendly and smile at most people I come across, something about him unsettled me a bit. I stopped a few times at different statues and buildings, taking photos, when I noticed that every time I stopped, he stopped as well. I tried to play it off as a coincidence, but this went on for over an hour. He stayed far enough away from me, but no matter where I walked, he would be watching me. I started using the giant windows to keep an eye on his reflection, but there would be a few times that I couldn’t see him, so I’d look around, we’d make eye contact, and he would smile this terrible smile because he was aware of just how creeped out I was starting to become. At this point, I had been walking with no chance of losing him, so I stopped at a coffee shop hoping that he would get bored and leave. I waited inside for about thirty minutes, but when I left, he was waiting down a side road. I eventually lost him walking through several large crowds of people and down some alleys and through shops, but the fact that he was watching me for at least two hours still gives me chills.
I feel like I need to point out that I have never felt uncomfortable in the middle of the day like that in Frankfurt ever. It’s generally a very safe city, and I can’t even count how many times I’ve walked around the city by myself. In fact, most of the men here I encounter when walking home at night will cross to the other side of the street or will pass by in what I can only assume is an attempt to avoid making any female that might be walking home in the middle of the night feel unsafe.
This man made me mad. It made me angry because while I’m capable of taking care of myself, I felt out of control in this situation. I have encountered creeps before. Guys that think it’s ok to do things in attempt to see how uncomfortable they can make a girl. I know it’s been said over and over in all sorts of ways, but there is no reason that behavior like that should ever be acceptable.
The first time I ever experienced any sort of action like that was in 7th grade. A boy that had the locker next to mine had been inappropriate towards me several times, and when it came to the end of the year and we were all writing in each other’s yearbooks, he wrote this message in mine: “I’m going to rape you and f*ck you up, b*tch.” I was horrified. I don’t remember what I said to him, or if I said anything at all, but I do remember using white-out and covering up the message before my parents could see it. The only thought I recall thinking is that if my very strict, very conservative parents saw what he had written, they would be angry at me. I was horribly embarrassed.
I think this is the biggest problem. Instead of talking about our experiences or those moments that made us feel scared, vulnerable, or uncomfortable, we tend to be embarrassed and try to hide what happened. I lived with someone who treated me far less than desirable for three years before finally feeling brave enough to tell someone what had been happening and leaving the situation altogether. It’s hard to talk about these things, but this is what needs to happen. When something happens to you that makes you feel sick to your stomach, your concerns should be vocalized. Being brave and telling someone not only helps you, it also helps others that might be too scared to talk about their past. When people know that similar things have happened to someone they respect and trust, they gain the courage to share their own hurts. Talking about these things is the only way to heal, and it’s the only way that people like the men in my stories can be stopped.
listening to: Ani DiFranco