The greatest hits parade of bus-rider pet peeves greets me every day during my commute. Man-spreading. Cat-calling. Leering. The guys who lean their bodies into the aisles to intimidate or fondle. Once I was even followed home by a drunk man who spent 10 minutes pounding on my front door, crying out on a loop, “I’m so sad, love me Sharon. It’s your daddy, let me inside.”
So many people watched this stranger chase me to my door as I fumbled with keys, rushing inside before he caught up. No one said or did a thing. It wasn’t until the man tired himself out and left that the busy signal on the 911 line changed into an operator. “Never mind,” I said, and went on with my evening, trying to lure my heart back to a normal pace.
I texted a male friend who lived nearby for help, warning him I felt unsafe and worried the man would return. “LOL, gotta love this hood. Wanna come over & fool around?”
This friend had no concept of my alarm. For him, it was a joke. He couldn’t understand that the last thing I had planned on was leaving my house again in the dark. He doesn’t see that there are a dozen equations I have to factor in every time I step outside. Is walking to the bus stop at a particular time of the day worth the risk of being assaulted? How much leg can I show given how far I have to walk alone? Is feeling hot in heels worth all the “hey baby” calls I’ll get?
So no, I didn’t want to come over, and no I didn’t want to waste any more time on a dude who thought a woman being chased home was a funny gag. “Stop over reacting,” he said.
I tried to explain further that this is just the mental energy I daily expend wondering if I’m relatively safe getting to and from the bus. It doesn’t even speak to the million other microaggressions of being a female, of living in a body that a percentage of the population thinks is theirs to touch or comment upon at will. That I’m a commodity they’re owed for finding attractive. A prude if I don’t and a whore if I do. No matter what I look like or how I act, I’ve wronged someone. When (not if…when) I’m assaulted or raped, it’s, “Well yeah, but what were you wearing?” or “Why were you alone?” or “You must have given him signals that you wanted it,” or “You sleep with so many guys, what’s one more? Don’t make a big deal of it.”
But it is a big deal. All of it’s a big fucking deal, and why I participated in Portland’s SlutWalk two weekends ago. Took off my top and wrote “Consent is sexy!” in red sharpie on my chest and walked with a crowd of other people who are also sick of this shit.
We knew even as we were chanting down the streets of downtown that in the larger scheme of things this one march won’t change much. It was more about community, a pleasant release valve for the anger and sadness we carry around. It was a rush to rub elbows with other people who believe that our bodies are our own to do with as we choose. That no one gets to tell us what is or isn’t assault, what is or isn’t scary or traumatic.
It was jarring to return to life as usual after that afternoon of intense community rallying. Even a brazen slut like myself runs out of steam. I didn’t have the necessary energy leftover to be caught on a big metal box full of douchebaggery while wearing a mini skirt and fishnets, or the attention that would garner. So I walked halfway home with a male friend. Down streets and over a bridge I could never cross by myself because my calculations would never justify the risk.
I am a slut, and I walked for my right to keep slutting. And it still didn’t keep me from feeling unsafe walking home. That march won’t stop the Donald Trumps or the Planned Parenthood defunders of this country from hating me and everything I stand for. But I tried. I made my voice heard. And I’ll SlutWalk again next year, and the year after. And I’ll keep on doing it until it isn’t a revolutionary thing anymore for a group of people to gather and chant their stories to one another regarding this issue. And even if we make it into some sort of equality utopia, I’ll still keep telling my story so no one can ever forget the fight.