This is a little story about the day that I realized what it meant for me to be female, a woman, in the eyes of a male dominated society.
My experience took place about 6 years ago— I was 13. I use to live in Louisiana, but at the time the incident took place, we had evacuated to Georgia in order to escape Hurricane Katrina’s wrath.
My family and I went to stay with my Grandma and Grandpa and Uncle. Of course most people remember how much damage the storm caused and we ended up staying with my grandparents for a few months. While we were there I was enrolled in school, because frankly none of us knew when we were able to return home.
I would always walk to and from school because though it was roughly a 30 minute walk one way, it was pretty much a turn, walk straight down a handful of streets for 20 minutes and then turn again and bam there’s the school.
One day in particular I was walking back from school, and usually the way I went I would pass by a Kroger and on the side opposite of me was a University. As I passed by the Kroger and looked over and sitting there by the door was this man of a lighter color (though I couldn’t tell what his ethnicity was because my memory is a tad foggy on that aspect), watching me as I walked.
I was by no means “alone”, even though I was walking by myself. There were plenty of other kids who always walked to the school, and most of them walked my way, too. I smiled a small, polite smile and kept walking.
About five minutes later, I happened to glance over my shoulder as I paused at a smaller street, checking for cars, and I noticed that man was walking along the sidewalk a ways behind me. I thought nothing of it, I merely figured that he was just heading home from the store.
I kept walking, and after a little while I could hear steady footsteps behind me which I found odd because normally this close to home I was always alone; all the other kids would have been home.
Curious, I looked back over my shoulder and it’s still that same guy, only when he caught my gaze he leered. Quickly I turned to face forward again, and I got this strange tightening in my stomach— the way I always did when I was starting to get anxious or scared.
I walked a little faster almost sighing in relief when I finally turned onto my grandma’s street even though I still had a seven minute trek ahead of me.
And that’s when he spoke.
He told me to wait, that he just wanted to talk to me.
I ignored him and kept walking, tightening my grip on my backpack. But he didn’t stop there, apparently my silence meant for him to step it up a notch and I could hear him getting closer, so I peeked and sure enough he was only a few feet away.
He started to get lewd with his commenting; telling me about my outfit, about all the things we could do— the fun we could have.
Everything he wanted to do to me, if only I would stop and talk to him.
I couldn’t take it— I started running. I figured if I ran, he would leave me alone, but no. He ran after me, still shouting at me only this time he was pissed off, calling me obscene names. Getting closer.
I started crying, and yelling at him to leave me alone, and I saw the house, but it still seemed so far away.
What if he caught me?
What if I didn’t make it in time?
Fuck, it dawned on me that I forgot my key to the house, and usually around this time everyone was gone. I crossed to the other side of the street without looking and ran up the steps.
I could still hear him, he was crossing the street and I started pounding on the door, ringing the door bell and finally my uncle answered looking at me confused and partially like there was something wrong with my head.
I pushed him aside and quickly slammed the door shut, locking it tightly, sniffling, and I peeked out the window. He was there, lingering for a few moments before ambling away the way he came.
My uncle asked what that was about, why I didn’t have my key, but I just ignored it and immediately told him about what had happen. How the man had followed me, and ended up chasing me back to the house.
He listened and did something I never expected him to do: he shrugged and walked away.
I just stood there in disbelief; I was terrified by what just happened and he just walked away, shrugging it off his shoulders.
When my grandparents and parents slowly came home, I never told them.
My uncle didn’t either. I spent the next month, terrified to go outside by myself. Terrified to even walk to school, because he followed me to my home. He knew where I lived.
To this day, none of them know what happened.
What I learned that day.
Ever since that one day, I have always been on guard. Always alert and aware of the people around me. I realized that even though that day I was 13, wearing jeans and a t-shirt, people will always say that I was “Asking for the comments.” “Asking for that man to follow me.”
I realized that to my uncle, the fact that I was harassed and potentially a victim of something that could have taken a turn for the worst, didn’t matter.
I didn’t matter.
That man— that creature — who chased me down took something from me that day. Took away an innocence that I won’t get back. He took it from me and in it’s place filled me with a fear that has sunk its roots deep into my chest to this very day.
I need feminism because I can’t walk anywhere no matter how crowded, without feeling that stare, without hearing a faint echo of that man’s footsteps.
I need feminism because I don’t want my little sister to experience anything like that, simply because she’s a girl.
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