My weekends are usually very busy, especially lately. This weekend was supposed to be comparatively tame. Saturday night my friend Matt and his band were in town playing a show, so I was going to go see them, and then Sunday I'd go to my son's dance recital in the afternoon, then head to my own evening dance rehearsal. Not unreasonably busy, especially when you consider that two out of those three events involve me sitting. I'm fond of sitting; it requires very little energy on my part. The weekend wound up being unexpectedly eventful, though, mostly due to Saturday.
I had invited a few friends to go see Matt's show with me on Saturday, and for one reason or another, most of them had to decline. I did have one who came to join me, though, and I was pleased because a) this meant I didn't have to sit alone in the corner and b) there was someone to show my pretty leopard print nail polish to! During the course of the evening, though, this friend of mine got very drunk, after which she fell and hit her head hard. Because she'd drunk so much, it was impossible to tell if she was showing any signs of a concussion, so with the help of the staff at the club (to whom I owe a huge debt of gratitude; they were wonderful), I called the paramedics and got her to the hospital. I stayed there with her until a little after 3, when her parents arrived and took over.
She's fine, by the way. I've heard from her since then, and while she doesn't remember much of Saturday night, she hasn't suffered any lasting ill effects. This was really a set-up for me to talk about what followed.
I don't drive. I don't, in fact, have a driver's license, even a learner's permit. The plan had been actually for met to start learning this year, but just studying for the learner's permit gave me so much anxiety the husband suggested I take the self-imposed deadline off and just study at my leisure until I can feel comfortably ready for the test. So most of the time I walk places, or if it's too far the husband drives me. Occasionally I can get a ride from a friend, and if I really have to, I'll take the bus. The club where my buddy's band had played was well within walking distance from my house, and the plan had just been for me to walk back home after the show was done, probably shortly after midnight. It's a well-lit, well populated area, and a walk I feel comfortable doing alone at night, especially since it only takes me about twenty minutes.
The... unexpectedly eventful portion of the evening, however, left me in a totally different area of the city after 3am on a Sunday morning. The buses aren't running at that time, I didn't have the cash on me for a taxi, and the husband had been asleep for hours and wasn't answering the phone. I didn't have to weigh my options very long to realize I had no options, and if I wanted to get home, I was going to have to walk.
In order to get home from the hospital, I had to walk through a rather dodgy part of the city, which meant I met some... interesting people along the way. (I'm pretty sure at least one dude thought I was a hooker, judging by the way he spoke to me.) I did what I could not to draw too much attention to myself, but when you're the only other person on the street at the time, those efforts are kind of limited. Several people spoke to me, or tried to. And by "people," I mean men, because in the time it took me to get from the hospital to my home (just over an hour), I didn't see any other women. Which, y'know, good for them. Smart. If I'd been able to see another option, I wouldn't have been walking around myself. But apparently most of the men I ran across that evening seemed to think that because I was occupying space near enough to theirs they could see me and make themselves heard, that I owed it to them to stop and talk.
Here's the thing: I don't owe you a conversation. I don't ever owe it to you to speak to you for any reason, and I don't have to justify it to you. But I especially don't owe it to you to stop and talk when I'm alone at night, I'm already worn out both physically and emotionally, and I'm in what we both know is a sketchy area. If I don't acknowledge your... uh, "friendly" greeting, believe me, it's not because I missed it. As a woman, any time I'm out after the sun has started to set, I'm hyper aware of every other person on the street. All my senses are on full alert. Trust me, I know you're there. What I don't know is whether or not you're someone who's likely to try to harm me, and the best way for me to protect myself from that is to try to get past as quickly as possible without engaging. This is how it is for a woman, and I know it's not something most men ever really have to think about. But that doesn't make it any less true for me and other women who've been in a similar situation. Following me for several feet to call after me because you're insulted that I walked past without a friendly greeting or acknowledgement doesn't exactly help your case or put me more at ease. Shouting slurs at me as I walk away doesn't inspire me, either. Driving your car slowly along the sidewalk at the same pace I'm walking only earns you extra creepy points. In fact, of all the people who spoke to me along my walk that evening, I only actually spoke to one, because he came across as kind and concerned, and even then I think I only said three words. ("Are you ok? Do you need a ride somewhere?" "No, thank you." "Ok, well, be careful.")
But frankly, the circumstances only make my main point more obvious. Even in broad daylight, at a party when I'm surrounded by my friends, I still don't owe you a conversation. It's not my responsibility to converse with you, total stranger. You don't have the right to my time, my thoughts, or anything else. They are mine to share with the people I choose to share them with. And if it's not you, you need to accept that graciously and move on. Your desire to talk to me does not override my right to remain unharassed, and if you try to press the point, guess what? You are harassing me.