Last weekend, while traveling for work, I had two very different encounters that really stood out to me. The first one happened when I was waiting, at 5:30 a.m., to get on a plane. I flew out of a tiny airport that had only two gates, so all the passengers were snugly situated in one room on couches and chairs. A white man wearing slacks and a button-down shirt, took command of the area pretty quickly. There is no reason for me to say he wasn’t a good man. I don’t know anything about him, his past, or his family. But it was very clear that he lives his life taking up space in a room. He walked back and forth down the one aisle of the area, checking people out. I felt like we were being watched by a prison guard, and immediately, I didn’t trust him. He laughed and gave advice to a group of people who were traveling. He told them which apps to download on their phones and how to look up good restaurants when traveling. Whether he was aware of his privilege, his demeanor put off the signal that he doesn’t often get told no. As a young woman in that room, I didn’t feel safe in his presence.
Last week during the Brett Kavanaugh hearing, I posted a tweet that went viral within days, asking women when they feel safe in America. When I realized that I’m not alone in my fears for my own safety as a woman, and as an Indigenous woman, I began to notice everything. I watch interactions between men and women more closely. This hyper-awareness is leaving many of my friends on edge across America, women who have now seen a man like Kavanaugh lauded for his work while his victim is called a liar. We don’t trust the people on the streets, in elevators, or in our neighborhoods. We are paying attention.
Women:— Kaitlin Curtice #UNTAMED (@KaitlinCurtice) September 27, 2018
RT if you’ve ever walked through a parking lot with your keys between your fingers or pretended to talk on the phone because you felt unsafe.
After my flight that morning, I took an Uber ride home. I got into a car with an older driver, and as soon as we left the airport, we hit Atlanta traffic. So on that 35-minute drive back home, I kept my phone out. I texted my husband to let him know I was in an Uber. I didn’t make small talk. I just wanted to get home. Because of traffic, the path of the GPS changed. After a minute, my driver pointed to his phone and said, “It’s taking us a different way now, I just want you to know so that you don’t wonder, ‘Where is this guy taking me?’”
But all I heard him say was, “You’re safe. It’s safe here. I’m taking you home.”
I felt my shoulders relax. I kept looking out the window to make sure I recognized where we were, and I kept my phone close, but this one comment made all the difference. His awareness made all the difference.
While women and men are sharing stories of abuse, we are also sharing openly about the way America works right now, the way it’s always worked. Indigenous women go missing and are found murdered in America. Black women are abused and murdered in America. And as we’ve seen, white women like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford are sexually assaulted or raped and hide it for years, because shame for women runs so deep in our culture that victims think what happens to them is their fault.
Men are asking, “What can we do?”
Women are saying, “Listen. Tell your guys to do the right thing. Stop saying boys will be boys.”
In the last day, I’ve seen a few men sharing on Twitter that they commit to helping women feel more safe on the streets, by crossing to another sidewalk instead of walking straight toward a woman. This is acknowledging the space that men take up in society. This is acknowledging that, if you are a white male, you hold the most power in our society, and you need to ask what it means to give up that power so that others feel safe.
It means that the man at the airport doesn’t have to strut down the aisle of our gate just because he can.
It means that the man who sat next to me on a plane last week didn’t have to take up both armrests and stretch his legs out so much I couldn’t put my tray table down and had to push my body against the opposite side of my seat to have room to breathe.
It means that men who are Uber drivers take a minute to make it very clear that they will, without a doubt, take a woman straight home.
It means that men actually ask women how we are doing and listen.
It means that men work to break stigmas around shame and lessen the poison of toxic masculinity.
Women cannot carry this burden alone.
We have, and we will, but we shouldn’t have to.
Men, now is your time, too.