Can you please….. I just need to get through.

I’m out shopping this afternoon. It’s rainy, and cold, and I’m in a hurry. My winter boots are cheap, and worn almost through — my socks are starting to absorb the moisture that has leaked through the cracks in the sole.

I’m in a busy part of the city at a busy time of the day, but it’s quiet in the beauty supply store when I get there. The security guard smiles, makes a joke about the weather as I try to shake the water from my shoes and coat. I’m helped at the wig counter by a woman who has helped me before. She smiles and rolls her eyes as I walk in — what is this crazy costume design lady gonna ask for this time? 

I have the wig in my hand, and I’m headed up the stretch of long aisles towards the front of the store, where an older woman sits behind the register, windexing the counter. I’m in the middle aisle, with the wig in one hand and my phone in the other, my purse slung across my shoulder, when I notice a man in a hooded sweatshirt blocking my path. He’s in his fifties, maybe. Skinny. Bearded. Dirty jeans. Looking at eyeshadows.

I get a little closer, and as he sees me coming, he leans forward, resting his elbows on the makeup counter, extending his legs so as to make it impossible for me to pass through. He makes eye contact with me as he does so. He smiles a little. I realize he is missing teeth.

“Excuse me,” I say. “I just need to get through.”

He smiles, again. He hasn’t stopped looking at me this whole time. His eyes remain focused on mine. His lips turn upwards slightly into a half-smile. The left-hand corner of his mouth twitches a little. I don’t like how it makes me feel.

“Not till I get them digits on your phone,” he says.

I purse my lips.

“Uh,” I say. “No, thank you. I just… uh. Can you please let me by?”

He leans closer. My shoulders shrink backward.

“No,” he says. “Not till we have sex.”

I feel as if this moment lasts a very long time and not any time passes at all.

“I just need to get through now,” I say.

He doesn’t move. My heart is rattling, scratchy.

“I need to get through,” I say.

He shrugs. “Suit yourself.”

Slowly, with his eyes still on me, he raises his hands,  a gesture of surrender.

He moves out of the way. I walk past him, towards the register. I make my purchase and leave.

When I look behind me to see if he is still in the store, I don’t find him. I walk quickly back to work, partly because of the drizzling rain, partly because I’m newly aware of how, in a stretch of a few blocks, how easy it could be to shove me into an alleyway, how quickly I could disappear.

*

Here’s a funny thing about privilege. It’s all kind of relative, right?

Here’s what I thought about, as I walked back to work:

I know I am privileged because I found this incident upsetting.
Because something like that hadn’t happened to me in awhile.

I know I am privileged because this kind of thing doesn’t happen to me regularly.
If it did, my heart probably wouldn’t have been beating as fast as it did.

I know I am privileged because I got to walk out of the rain and into my workplace.
Where I could tell people, and they listened, and said, “Ew,” and “I’m sorry.”

It had probably been three months since the last time I was that viscerally afraid of an assault, since the last time my stomach contracted and I had wildly calculated my options in the span of a few seconds.

That, to me, is progress.

And that’s incredibly fucking sad.

*

Poll: It’s time to take the car for an errand! Do you first check:

a) The rearview mirror
b) The gas tank
c) The undercarriage and backseat for hidden rapists and assailants?

What? Did your mothers not tell you to do that?

*

I’ve talked about gender issues here before. Gender equality has become a big topic in my small world, more so in recent weeks than most — a lot of important discussion being generated specifically as it pertains to women in my chosen field.

I could say more, and I will. But here’s what I will say for now:

I love being a woman. It’s the foundation, the cornerstone of who I am, informing all the rest of it. Being a woman is the way I smell and the way my hair moves and the way my body curves and the way I breathe and the conversations I have and the voice I inhabit and the logic of my mind and the warmth of my soul. It’s everything and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Being a woman is also being a little bit afraid all of the time.
Being a woman is to choose safe rather than sorry.

Being a woman is having to figure out what to do if the guy from the wig store follows you home.

And that sucks and I wish that were different.
And that sucks and I wish that were different.

And that SUCKS.

And I wish that were different.

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