Last Friday afternoon I waited for the bus in downtown LA after dropping off a rental I’d been driving while my car was in the shop. Hopping public transit alone would normally be a piece of cake, but at eight-and-a-half months pregnant I’ve been feeling a very specific kind of vulnerable. The stakes feel inherently higher now that I am responsible for both my own life and that of my unborn daughter. Plus, let’s be honest -- if any situation called for a quick getaway (it’s possible I watch too much true crime TV?), my speed waddle just wouldn’t cut it.
Still, I decided to forego my husband’s suggestion to grab a Lyft if it felt like too much and the concern of the sweet Enterprise employee about creeps on the bus. I’m an independent woman, dammit. I would be fine.
With my headphones in and a direct route home, I settled in to wait and braced myself for the weirdness that is almost always the LA city bus. That’s when I saw him -- a man approaching on his bike. He looked harmless, so when I couldn’t hear what he was saying over the podcast in my headphones, I pulled the right one out of my ear. I should have known better.
Immediately my stomach began to churn when I discovered that he was asking me if I wanted to come home with him and not how to get the closest train station. I quickly put both headphones back in, said no and leave me alone in every way I knew how, and began to survey my surroundings in case the situation was about to get more dicey.
As I continued to step back, he continued to inch toward me. I couldn’t hear everything he said but he just kept going. Would I come home with him? My husband wouldn’t have to know. Here’s the address, it’s just around the corner. He wanted to “do something to me” -- his exact words. My protests escalated in frequency and volume as I stood there seething, my heart pounding, frustrated and embarrassed that I couldn’t get him to stop or go away. While I’m quite sure he never got my message, he finally rode off, but not before going past me to double back on the sidewalk, even closer, to say one last thing to me. I’m thankful I didn’t hear it.
Once he was out of sight my heart continued to pound and I felt shaky. The combination of his entitlement and brazen unwillingness to back off made me sick. I couldn’t make sense of his behavior, so what was up with mine? Why hadn’t I been more forceful? Should I have walked away? Couldn’t he see I was pregnant? (With a girl for that matter, who I was certain could hear and understand everything he was saying.) If I couldn’t protect her from this bullshit in utero, what hope did I have once she was born?
I rode the bus home on edge, and kept catching myself subconsciously leaning away from anyone who came near me. I spent the rest of the day feeling violated and gross, while I imagined he spent the rest of his trying that tactic on other women.
While this type of encounter would have shaken me even had I not been pregnant, it was having this tiny, perfect girl-child in my belly that made it feel particularly heavy. The same way it feels newly heavy to hear about gang-raped teenage girls being publicly hanged in India or to listen to Elliot Rodger posthumously spouting his especially cold brand of misogyny.
And don’t even get me started on those who sympathize with the bad guys in either one of these scenarios. It’s enough to make me want to homeschool forever and cross my fingers for a Grey Gardens-type existence with my husband, our daughter, dog and cat. It somehow doesn’t seem so bad given what’s actually going on out there as the alternative. Alas, our wanderlust and desire to show our daughter all the truly amazing wonders the world has to offer will likely win out -- which means inevitably, some day, something like this will happen to her.
So what is my real game plan here? How will I equip her to deal with all the lady-hate that exists in the world? How can I better equip myself to deal with it and talk to her about it when the time is right? I am incredibly lucky to have a supportive husband who finds this behavior all kinds of appalling, but still, I think the responsibility will rest on my shoulders to start this conversation with her, woman to eventual woman. It’s a lot to think about.
Before this latest experience of what’s become in our culture run-of-the-mill street harassment, I’d been feeling especially inspired by my L.A. people -- the family away from family that we’ll rely on so much once our daughter arrives in a few weeks. I’ve always known that they are smart, funny and selfless, but something about the recent #yesallwomen hashtag on Twitter has motivated everyone to speak up -- the women to tell their intensely personal stories; and the men to voice their support for their female loves, friends and relatives, and their disgust toward the men who perpetuate the anger, harassment and hate.
It’s the words from my family away from family and from not the man on the bike that I’ll remember as I continue to navigate these situations and work to be the best possible mom and role model for my daughter. While I’ll never be able to shelter her 100 percent from the crap that exists outside our four walls, I have a lot of hope that when it comes to the way women are treated and valued in our culture and beyond, we’ll truly be able to provide better for all girls and women.