At a young age, I was very protected. Coming from a religious and conservative family background, there were a lot of things I wasn't exposed to. I didn't watch horror films, I didn't hear the chilling stories about Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy, and the only powerful male influences I really had were the heroic princes in Disney movies.
I had no tangible reason to distrust men. The biggest leaders in my life were women, but they never spoke out against them. I was safe and secure, sheltered and unharmed. But for some reason, I was horrified of any strange man who was just a passerby. In public places, guarded and watched, with absolutely no indication that I was ever in danger.
So, why was this? Why was it that I would physically run away whenever I saw a man? Why did I picture them chasing me through the aisles of the store? If I couldn't find my family at the store for five minutes, I would cry and feel like I was being followed. I can remember so vividly feeling like a target, like an animal being hunted. I felt like eyes would pierce through me, like I had a visible bullseye on my back. Looking back as a woman who has been victimized, I am horrified that the feeling of fear that I live with now came so naturally.
I've thought about why this occurred, why I was so startled at the thought of a man even looking at me. I had no education on domestic violence, on power dynamics or on the vulnerability of just being a female; I never watched How to Catch a Predator on Dateline NBC. Of course, I had seen and heard of the PSA's on avoiding strangers and abduction, but I didn't know what that meant for me.
My naive brain never actually believed that the recreations of kidnapping on tv were real or would happen to me, but still, I stood shaking and scared. I looked around every corner, ran from men in grocery stores, and looked at the ground to avoid eye contact.
I have been very unsettling at the memories of fright that I have. Not necessarily for me, because my victimization didn't happen until I was older, but for the sake of the other girls who have to grow up in a society where this is a normal feeling. It further justifies my attempts to push for educating young girls and boys about the reality of violence against women. Girls should always be cautious of their surroundings and aware of their position in society, but never scared to just be.
I pray that if I ever have a daughter, she feels confident and courageous when she steps into the world.