Finding My Voice
I recently read this (and also this and this ) and nodded my head sadly at the familiarity of feeling vulnerable and exposed while being watched or followed by a man. At the same time, I also thought that now at age 35 I am stronger and more confident than ever and I would absolutely confront someone that was making me feel that uncomfortable, that unsafe... It turns out that I actually wouldn't or should I say didn't when it happened to me last weekend.
I am not a chatty or particularly open person who shoots the breeze with just anyone. I tend to avoid eye contact with strangers - not out of rudeness but purely out of a desire to just be with my own company. This is the head space I was in on late Sunday afternoon when I was at the gym. My place. My time. My sanctuary.
I was taking my training plan out of the filing cabinet when he appeared next to me casually asking me about my workout. I was a bit taken aback by his attention but thought he may have just been interested to swap training stories Oh man, don't you just hate push ups? How heavy do you do your bicep curls? So I was polite but still kind of distant and I tried to get away into my own space.
He didn't get the hint. He kept talking. He followed me into the weights room. He must have been older than my own father.
I started my work out but felt him there with me. I felt him watching me as I did tricep pull downs, push ups and planks. Every time I bent over I thought Is he still watching me? Should I not be bending over right now? The mirrors surrounding us allowed him to just sit and stare at me. I lifted more weights. Perspiration running down my face and back. I felt vulnerable. Self conscious. But most of all very-fucking-angry.
He came over to me while I was doing squats and commented on my work out. Asked me questions about how often I came to the gym. Told me I was overdoing it. I practiced confronting him in my head You are making me uncomfortable, please leave me alone, but it just never came out. In the end, I locked myself away in one of the empty studios to stretch and cool down. I was too outraged to relax.
When I was ready to leave he was at the reception area loitering, looking my way so I dodged into the change rooms and sat for 10-seething-minutes hoping that he had gone. Hoping that he wouldn't be waiting for me out on the street. Hoping that he wouldn't force me to confront him about his unwanted attention.
I would absolutely confront someone that was making me feel that uncomfortable, that unsafe... It turns out I wouldn't. I didn't.
I went home to my husband and raged about the seemingly unfairness of being a woman and asked why, why, why? Why do we as women have to feel unsafe and vulnerable? Why can't we go to the gym, walk home by ourselves, travel, [insert any activity] without feeling defenceless or exposed. I think I was mostly angry about not being the person I thought I was.
For the next two mornings I pulled the covers over my head at the chime of my alarm, not going to the gym for the first time in months, allowing this person to take my sanctuary away from me, making me more and more angry.
I keep thinking back to the words of Laura Jane Williams I know what I will do next time – because, of course, there will be a next time. There will continue to be next times until we all feel empowered enough to say, when it happens, loudly and apologetically, “No. You do not get to do that to me.” That’s what I will do. Speak up. For myself. For us all.
I draw hope from this. To be confident and unapologetically not ok with someone making me feel that way ever again. I draw hope that this latest experience and my consequent outrage has finally led me to finding my voice. I draw hope that I am now the woman who finally stands up for herself and in doing so, helps us all.