A graveyard is normally seen as a sad or terrifying place to walk. In the past, I never felt comfortable in them at all. When I moved to my current apartment, I was honestly nervous about the gigantic cemetery right across the road.
Being born and raised in the Most Haunted Town in America – Alton, Illinois – most people have expected me to be “used” to ghosts and death. As a child I was always terrified of death, and the idea of ghosts and graveyards tended to intensify that terror.
After having lived in Franklin, TN for 7 months, I now find the many cemeteries to be some of the most comforting places to walk. As someone who uses walking as my main means of transportation, I find myself walking between tombstones almost daily, and preferring it to the sidewalks of this city.
I’ve grown up and am no longer terrified of the idea of death and ghosts and hauntings – now, I understand that there are much worse things than a dead man.
Dead men won’t yell perceived compliments at me. Dead men won’t get angry if I ignore them. Dead men won’t dismiss me and call me names if I speak up for myself or my beliefs. Dead men won’t have a gun in a holster under their jacket to protect their perceived rights. No matter their past wrongs, dead men are dead, and can’t do anything wrong now.
On a daily basis, at least one man yells at me as I walk along, whether I’m alone or with my dog, telling me how sexy I am, or how I should smile more, or how I should be his, at least for an hour or two. I even avoid people who are possibly being genuinely kind, because too many times, men expect gratefulness or a smile or more for saying something “complimentary.”
I enjoy being friendly and in the past, I would walk places and look at each person I passed and smile and maybe say, “Hi!” or “Beautiful weather, isn’t it?” Now, I try not to meet anyone’s eyes, and I move quickly and purposefully. I often have headphones on, to attempt to block out the catcalls and to give myself a beat to make myself keep walking to. I know nowadays I look unfriendly or even angry as I walk along, and I don’t like the idea that others will view me that way, but it’s what I have to do to survive and feel comfortable in my own skin.
The other day, a large cement truck passed and the man driving leaned out the window, yelling “compliments” and “suggestions” and honked his horn. I was startled and tripped, falling on my hands and knees, but I bounced right to my feet and kept walking, albeit more quickly. I tend to be klutzy and stumble or trip a lot, and nowadays, I will steady myself and keep moving, even if I think I might be hurt. I’d rather find a bench in a busy area or go into a restaurant to sit and check my scraped knees than take a moment on a sidewalk where I might be vulnerable, even if that simply means enduring catcalls for a few more moments.
After posting some videos discussing gun control, I was telling a friend about it over lunch. A group of guys at a nearby table overheard. I paused in talking to my friend when I heard them telling each other that if the mall we were in allowed guns, they’d “teach me a lesson” in “real fear” by pulling out their guns. I couldn’t finish my lunch after that, I was so sickened and terrified. We both wound up dumping the majority of our lunches and left in a hurry.
I’m passionate about my political leanings and enjoy debating with people with opposing viewpoints, and too often, men will dismiss even the best laid arguments simply because I’m a “pretty woman” and they’d rather ogle and laugh at the idea that I could have an opinion, than actually listen.
I know not all men are like this. To those men who see women as fellow human beings – rather than an inferior sex only meant to please you and cater to your every need – please start saying something when you see a woman being harassed. Don’t just stand by and let it happen – tell your friends or even strangers that what they’re doing isn’t okay, even if they see it as a “compliment.” It’s not their opinion on whether it’s complimentary that matters – it’s the woman they’re yelling at whose opinion matters.
When you’re a woman in today’s culture, you have to learn to be wary and protect yourself, body and mind, any way that you can.
Sometimes, that means making peace with places that used to terrify you.
Tombstones and the dead they memorialize can’t threaten me.
Men can, and do.