Dear College Boy,
Yes, you. In your basketball shorts with your earbuds in, walking across campus. It seems that you are in a hurry, perhaps you are late for class. You probably don’t see me, this lady who is old enough (just barely) to be your mother. Not noticing and not seeing are two different things. And, honestly, I need you to see me. I need you see that you are walking too close. I need you to see that you are taller by at least a foot and bigger by at least 100 pounds. I need you to see that you are in my dance space, whether you mean to be or not. I need you to see it for me and I need you to see it for you.
I’m assuming you are not menacing. I’m assuming you are not up to no good. I am assuming you have a mother somewhere, back in Havre perhaps, back in Kalispell. I am assuming you have a sister or a brother, that you hung out in the grocery store parking lot in your friend’s car on Saturday nights back home. I am assuming you are new to town, new to this college thing. I am assuming you are a kid with people who love you waiting for you to come home for the holidays wherever it is you are from.
I am assuming the best. And I am assuming these things with my brain. My nearly 40-year-old brain that can remember college, that talked my body into doing stupid things like running alone after dark without telling anyone where I was going. There are girls who never came back from those kinds of things. But I did with my nearly 40-year-old brain intact. My brain that knows that you are male and big and I am female and small and that we have a power dynamic going on here whether either of us wants to admit it or not.
My brain that is trying to tell my body to quiet every fight or flight impulse it is having right now because I can feel you breathing over my shoulder and I can hear you mumbling the words to the song you are listening to. On primal level, my body senses that you are a threat because you have violated customary rules of space and privacy. My heart beats faster as you get closer and my brain stops my body from turning around and telling you to back the fuck off. Instead I take a quick step to the side. In my side step you see me for the first time and you sense, as animals will, that I am scared. You look a little confused and walk on.
I stop and think about all I want to say to you in that moment. I want to tell you that my brain said you were not trying to hurt me in broad daylight but my body felt something very different because of your proximity. I do not know you, you do not know me so there is no reason you should be that close to me especially if we are simply sharing the same sidewalk. It is up to you to be aware of your surroundings, it is up to you to see people in your path.
Take your earbuds out you young, big, goofy boy and learn this lesson now. See me. See the girl you’ll take out on Friday night. Know that there is privilege and power in every step you take and that my brain gave you the benefit of the doubt over and over until it just couldn’t anymore and I stepped aside. Know that there are men that hurt women and know that I know you are probably not one of them. So step back a few steps. Give me some space as a woman moving through this world. Think about what it would be like to the smaller of the two of us, the scared of the two of us. Think for just one second what that would be like. And then go to class. Fill that big, beautiful brain with everything real and imagined and change this world. Change it so no one has to be afraid to walk alone. Ever.
With all the hope and love I can muster,