I’m a woman about to walk down the street.
It’s a beautiful day. It’s kinda hot. Pants won’t do. I’ll wear a dress. Shave/dress/examine self in mirror. I like this dress. Hmm, it’s a little short. I’ll wear bike shorts underneath.
My phone’s loaded up with a podcast that’ll keep me company on my walk. Sunglasses on. Comfy flats on. I’m headed to the coffee shop. It’s early on a Saturday morning. The coffee shop will be quiet. Just how I like it.
The first five minutes of the walk pass by without incident. I come to the end of the residential section of my neighborhood. I hang a right by the abandoned electronics store. I look down the street. It’s mostly abandoned. Except for two men in the distance.
I’m a fast walker. I catch up to them quickly. I’m 10 steps behind them now. Are they father and son? Nephew and uncle? Friends? The young one is walking slowly to keep up with the old one. The old one is moving, but barely. He seems to be having a hard time standing up straight. Are they drunk? It’s 9:00 AM.
I’m too aware of my awareness of them. Why is the mere presence of men a legitimate concern for women? Is that true? Am I just a baby? What did Louis C.K. say about men in relation to women? “There is no greater threat to women than men.”
I was enjoying my walk. Now I just want it to end. Should I have stayed home? Is this how I die? Will my roommate know the path I walked so he can come looking for me if these two men abduct me? Would any of this be happening if I’d worn pants instead of this stupid dress?
I’m now five steps behind the dudes. Should I be legitimately concerned for my well-being? Are they acting strangely, or am I overreacting? Oh god, they’ve stopped walking. They glance at me. Brush it off Beth. My brain is looping Homeland Security advisory announcements. “If you see something, say something.” “Report any suspicious activity.” Is crushing a soda can on the ground repeatedly with one’s foot suspicious? That’s what the older man, now only three feet from me, is doing. Is this aggressive assault of a soda can meant to be a threat? I don’t give myself enough time to find out. I walk by, key word walk. I don’t change my pace. I don’t let them know they’ve freaked me out big time with their aggressive can-crushing and general weird-dude-ness.
I come to the end of the street, cross at one crosswalk, and then another. Only then do I let myself look back. They’re out sight. No trace of them. Sigh of relief. A man in a Honda speeds by me, hollering something out his window that I don’t catch. Let’s pretend he said, “Young lady! I hope you enjoy your walk! I hope no one harasses you or makes you feel uncomfortable!”
I make it to the coffee shop.
45 minutes later. Good cappuccino. Think I’ll head home now.
I take a different route. I don’t want to run into the soda-can-abuser and his friend again. It’s later in the day. The streets are busier now. Every man who passes me by looks me up and down. Let’s not wear this dress again Beth. An unwashed 50-something man on a bicycle attempts to hold a conversation with me. No thank you. He winks and pedals off.
I get home. I take off the dress. I put on ancient sweatpants and a t-shirt. The t-shirt is a little snug. I change into the baggiest t-shirt I own. I look at my dress lying on the ground. I ponder cutting it up. The fabric might be useful for an embroidery project I’m working on. Plus, it was a little tight across my ribcage.
No. Fuck that. I’m going out to dinner tonight. I’ll wear the dress.
Maybe I’ll take my car.