I'm walking down the street alone in the dark, with my phone clutched in one fist and my keys sticking out of the other.
A dark shadow— or two or three— are walking towards me, and the only thing I can tell is that they're men and that I'm afraid.
And it doesn't matter what race they are; White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, or if they're large or small. The sight of any man when I'm alone at night strikes fear deep inside of me. I've heard too many stories.
And every time one passes me, without more than a quick nod, I can't help the sigh of relief that escapes my lungs. I'm safe. For now.
This petrifying fear that I live with every day of my life, simply because I was born a woman, haunts me.
I run through scenarios in my head. Could I activate my emergency alert fast enough? Where would I have to hit him to cause the most damage, so that I could get away?
And people tell me to walk with a group, or not to dress a certain way, or to make any number of changes to myself and my situation to ensure my own safety.
Has anyone ever told men not to threaten women? Has anyone ever told them that our bodies are not their playgrounds, and that our safety is not something that's open for negotiation?
Do they understand that they don't have to be doing anything, that their mere presence when we're alone is enough to make us afraid? Do they know that we know "not all men" are a threat to women, but that enough are that we have to walk on eggshells if we want to walk at all?
Is it too much to ask to be able to walk without being harassed? Is it too much to guarantee that I'll make it to my destination safely?
I shouldn't have to second guess stopping at a gas station at midnight or flinch in fear when I walk across an overpass. I shouldn't have to jaywalk across the street because if I push the button and wait at the corner, I'm a sitting target— and because as long as I keep moving, I'll be harder to catch.
How do I smile and nod at a man passing me on the street, indicating to him that I'm not afraid, while also making him aware that I don't want to engage in conversation and that I don't want to provoke his attention?
And how do I decide which men are trustworthy? Fathers, brothers, uncles, boyfriends, friends? I know there are good men out there. I know them personally. The good far outweighs the bad, but unfortunately, the bad still exist.
I am a woman. And every time I leave my home I am afraid. I live in a world in which violence against women is so common, nobody bats an eye anymore. Every woman has a story about the threat of men in her life and we're all just taught that it's part of the price we pay for being born female; that there's nothing to be done about it, to just take it in stride.
But I'm done being afraid. I'm done being passive and complicit in my own dehumanization. I'm done accepting that to be a woman means to be harassed, objectified, or worse. No more.
We all deserve to live in a world where we get home safely at night, where we don't have to be constantly checking over our shoulders, where every stranger we encounter isn't a potential threat.
It's time to change the narrative, to stand up for one another, to be people who treat others with respect and to raise the next generation to do the same. If we all work together and create a safer environment for women, we can truly change the world.