As a woman, fear is part of my reality

  • Article by: GAIL MULLANEY
  • Updated: June 1, 2014 - 6:00 PM

We are not blaming all men. We are just telling our stories.

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Image of an anguished woman sitting in a corner.

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The killings in Santa Barbara by I-refuse-to-name-him, spurred by his hatred of women, has itself spurred a flood of comments by women pouring out their experiences of being a woman. Some men have taken offense, with responses prefaced by #NotAllMen.

We are by no means blaming all men. We are simply telling our stories. We want you to understand what it is like to be a woman. I also have no idea what it is like to be a man. I understand in an observational kind of way the challenges and the pressures, but I have no idea in any real sense. And neither do you have any real idea about being a woman.

I can’t remember exactly when I became aware I was vulnerable. I do know I was 10 years old when I sensed something was off in the way a man looked at me. He proved me right two years later when he molested me. I made sure I was never alone with him again after that. The shock and revulsion are still vivid.

When I was 19, I was at a party when a guy came up to me and was openly hostile about my looks. He made comments about how I pluck my eyebrows to try to look pretty. I heard a month later he was arrested on rape charges.

When I was 21, I lived alone in a secure apartment building. One day someone knocked on the door. I didn’t have a peephole so I asked who was there. A guy said he was looking for an apartment and the manager had sent him down to look at mine. I said I wasn’t moving. I refused to open the door and he tried several tactics to try to get me to open the door. When he left, I called the manager, but she said she had not talked to anyone. I called the police. They said since I didn’t know what he looked like, they couldn’t do anything. I asked if they could just drive around to see if anyone was loitering or just to scare him off. They refused.

Walking down the streets of downtown St. Paul, I had a guy walk out of a bar and start following me. When I tried to ignore him, he started yelling that I thought I was too good for him. I was terrified. There were other people on the street, but they just looked uncomfortable and frightened, too.

So, I may not remember when I became aware of my vulnerability, but now I can never forget it.

I never get in my car without immediately locking the car doors. Despite the summer heat, I always shut and lock all windows at night.

In the 1980s, there were a series of high-profile rapes and killings of young women. I got a letter to the editor published for each one, trying to raise awareness of violence against women. I remember their names and they still haunt me.

What is truly frightening to me today is how much more prevalent that violence and hatred are. Without straying toward politics and religion, we cannot ignore the way women are treated as mere objects in much of the world, possessions to be bought and sold, beaten, stoned.

So I’m back to writing, to speaking out. And I will repeat the line others have chorused: We should not be teaching girls how not to be a victim; we should be raising boys who respect women.

 

Gail Mullaney lives in Maplewood.

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