Males Explaining Female To Me
This is the time where you decided you could speak up about what your experience is like in a table of three at a cafe, two men and you as the one woman where before it was four of you. Before it was two women and two men, but as she leaves it makes space for the conversation to be targeted, pointed at you. It’s now the three, and for you, you’re only the one. You’re the one voice that’s saying so loudly what needs to be said, but then you realize you’re not speaking. Nothing’s coming out.
I’m mute. I’ve been quieted.
My pulse is still ever so slightly elevated by the energy it took to walk up the hill to my apartment, but I know the real reason it’s elevated. It’s that I am walking in the dark. My pulse elevates when the sun goes down or starts to, and there’s nobody. I’m here, though, and I’m not nobody. Or am I? Yet somehow I’ve come to feel like my presence isn’t enough to be significant, counted, only a liability.
Safety, it’s what we have to think about all the time. We, it’s everyone, but it’s special for us. It’s special for women. When I’d left I glanced back over my shoulder. I glanced back over my shoulder again. I walked more steps and glanced again. It’s near a nervous tick conditioned that I look over that shoulder. Which? I don’t even know. I just always know it’s the same one.
Just curious, do you know any travelers who have been raped in Colombia? Forgiving the fact that he had no idea whether I had been raped or not, the question fell out of his mouth. I watched it come out of his mouth, fall onto the table, and drop like a knife into it, bleeding across like a cut welling up with blood eventually seeping over to the edge. I watched it drip. Speechless, my eyes glazed, no words were to be had, like I’d realized I couldn’t speak my own language.
He goes on. Well, no, ya, I mean violent rape, not date rape, that’s different. Forgiving the fact that it’s not different; it’s rape. I felt sick, a malaise falling over my entire being. I felt like I’d lost blood too, energy. Maybe a blood rush. I don’t know. Can’t know.
I was warm. It became hot outside. So, I took off my sweater, while I was walking up the hill. The truth also was of course was that I was covered in sweat, with fear, anxiety and elevating pulse. The words of my largely silent, “bystander friend” at the table flashed into my head. You know in Colombia it’s not the same, because they’re used to seeing skin. Me, replying that deciding to show more or less of her skin or not was what made someone get raped, I watched my words bead onto their faces and roll off like drops of water on glass. The notion couldn’t penetrate them. It was as if this was the first time they’d ever heard that thought, and that it didn’t fit with their own narrative of the way they as men had conceptualized rape and sexual assault, why it happens, and what story they had told themselves, told their friends, and circularly what story the people surrounding them in their lives had told each other both with and without words.
Why do you think about it so much? Me, I don’t want to think about it. I wish I had the privilege of not thinking about it. It’s not a choice for me anymore. Me, in my head, thinking, don’t question me. Rage simmering, don’t question me.
Well I can walk you home, because I’ll feel guilty if something happened now after we just had this whole conversation about rape. Me, no, you won’t walk me home to avoid your guilt. That’s ridiculous and a terrible reason to offer to walk me home. In my head, panicking at how much I didn’t want him near me. Apart, away, I wanted to be apart from him, it all.
I realized I was walking up the hill then. I’d left. I’d fled. I’d run from it.
Phone, it rings when I get home. It’s the third person who was at the table, the bystander friend. First, accusation, fault being afforded. Why did you just get up and leave like that? Me, pausing, silent. Second, justifying his silence he feigns ignorance. Did he say something? I was half-in half-out of the conversation. Me, conditioned to aid in allaying the guilt of the bystander male we’ll call him, the one who stands by not saying anything, his omission more significant than anything directly said in the conversation, perpetuating the silence. I’ve been conditioned to in this type of scenario condone this silence, make him feel okay that he didn’t need to step in and stand up for me. I’m the independent woman after all, right? It’s not nearly as bad as what’s actually said by the other guy, so what’s so bad about the omission? Everything. That circle of silence.
Third, finally comes the direct question he wanted to ask from the beginning. Is everything okay? Me, I melt a little tearing up but using the phone as a screen to avoid exposing my emotions, and conditioned to lie again supposing he won’t understand, allay his guilt a second time. No, I say, it’s all is fine. It was simply time for me to leave, to go, to escape, to be with my own thoughts where I didn’t have someone sitting at table with me letting me know I had imagined my entire experience as a woman, a woman traveling alone, a woman tainted by the fear of those surrounding her perpetuating the narrative to her that she should be afraid, she should feel uncomfortable traversing this world as a woman without a man shielding her. The cumulative effect it all had on me at this point was too much of a burden to carry with me anymore. I took the easier way out, evading and avoiding the discussion, feeling weakened to the point of giving up the conversation.
I assured him I was fine, what we both knew to be a clear lie.
Why did I originally get myself into this conversation, speaking instead of remaining silent? It was after some time of hearing the two men speak about safety, as I sat relatively silently aside that I decided to use my voice. Ping ponging off of each other, they’d been trading the stories of when they felt safe and unsafe, all stories revolving around property crimes and theft of personal effects or money. One story involved an idea of a perceived threat of physical safety that would have accompanied a potential robbery, and the speaker indicated that there was an x-factor sense of threat that he picked up on, just a feeling, though he wasn’t sure what would happen or if anything would have ever happened. It was only something he felt. That was my gateway.
I took this as a space where I might be able to open up to speak on another feeling of safety, this x-factor consideration. I wanted nothing more than someone to understand, even if only partway, the terrorized isolation and fear I’d come to live with and perceive as normal, an anxious and fearful normal. I commented, what is different is that with you two, you need to think about the threats to property, money, physical safety adjacent to property crimes, but as a woman I have an entirely separate category of threat, my body. And this feeling like you described you had in one situation is a feeling I carry with me every time the sun goes down. That’s been a lot to handle. Three months in and full of stories, it’s just, yeah, it’s a lot. It’s always there.
And so began his line of questioning, some explained above, others lost in my subconscious, only to resurface later, unsolicited.
Noting for the readers, neither of the men sitting at the table with me were local, and both were travelers.