*Trigger warning for mention of assault/rape*
Every day when I put on my headphones and prepare to go for a run down my secluded country road, I think about the Central Park jogger. If you’ve never heard of what is possibly the most famous crime story to come out of New York in the ‘80s, I highly recommend checking out Sarah Burns’ film The Central Park Five, which focuses on the tragedy that came after the initial crime — that is, the wrongful prosecution and imprisonment of five black teenagers. As you can probably tell, there really isn’t anything good about the Central Park jogger story. It’s one of those crime stories that makes you disgusted with the world and makes you wish you could erase the whole thing from your brain. I especially wish I could forget the details of what happened to the jogger because they taunt me every time I go for a run.
Trisha Meili was jogging alone in Central Park one evening when Matias Reyes snuck up behind her and hit her over the head with a branch. He then dragged her off the path and beat and raped her so brutally that she ended up in a coma that lasted for 12 days. She had been wearing headphones while running. She wasn’t expected to ever wake up.
Women are constantly given the burden of preventing their own rape (or worse) by being given a list of rules to follow:
- Don’t wear provocative clothing.
- Don’t run or walk alone at night.
- Don’t wear headphones.
- Pay attention to your surroundings.
Unfortunately, even if I follow all the rules, the deck is stacked against me because not only am I a woman, I’m a severely hearing impaired woman. I’m not completely deaf but I may as well be if I’m ever put in one of the many dangerous situations that women still face in 2016.
For example, I run with headphones on and music blasting in my ears because not doing so wouldn’t make a difference. A monster like Matias Reyes or, hell, the grizzly bear from The Revenant could come up behind me huffing and puffing and I probably wouldn’t notice, even without headphones. I have a choice between running alone or not running at all. So I go running alone down a stretch of country road that is beautifully secluded in the way that’s scary only for women.
So far nothing bad has ever happened, but I still constantly look behind me to make sure a creepy male neighbor isn’t following me. I always jump out of my skin when a car unexpectedly rushes past me. By the end of my run, my heart rate is up for several reasons.
Maybe I could switch to running solely around a track in a gym but I don’t think I could avoid ever going out alone in public at night. This has gotten my heart rate up on several occasions too.
I loved the opening scene of Master of None’s “Ladies And Gentlemen” episode because I could relate to it so strongly, and it was so satisfying to have the difference between men and women acknowledged. While Dev and his friend Arnold walk home alone from a New York City bar late at night, accompanied by cheerful music and even taking a detour through a darkened park without a second thought, the woman Diana walks home accompanied by increasingly tense music and a belligerent drunk who follows her all the way home from the bar.
I could definitely empathize with that experience, as I’m sure most women can, except that for me it would probably have ended even worse. When Diana hears the drunk man calling her from a block away she speeds up and manages to get home and quickly lock the door. I doubt I would have heard the man following me or even calling me, so it would have been easy for him to catch up with me and take me by surprise.
One night, I was headed for my car in the parking lot of a grocery store with one or two bags of groceries in my arms. When I got to my car, a man intercepted me and, smiling in a friendly way, said something to me. It was dark and I couldn’t read his lips. He repeated himself but I still couldn’t even tell if it was a question or a statement.
Perhaps he was offering to help me with my bags, or perhaps he was trying to pay me a compliment, or perhaps he was asking me if I wanted to follow him to his basement and be his sex slave for all eternity. I had no idea, but I wasn’t about to stand next to my car in a dark parking lot and try to figure it out. I just shook my head no, brushed past him brusquely, threw myself and my groceries into my car, locked the doors and sped off. The worst part is that I felt intensely guilty for being rude.
I’ve had to get over my fear of appearing rude because it’s going to happen no matter what I do. Take catcalls, for example. I got really pissed off when I had to explain to a man why I was upset after another man shouted a compliment at me from his car. Catcalls are something that most women experience at some point, but I experience them slightly differently. If I’m lucky I don’t hear it and go on with my day (and it gives me great pleasure to think how much it must bother them to get zero reaction — how RUDE of me!). Sometimes, however, I notice it happening but don’t catch the specific words. It could be a compliment or a threat — I have no idea, and it doesn’t matter because either way I walk on feeling rattled. It just further drives home the fact that it doesn’t matter what the content of a catcall is: it feels like harassment no matter what because that’s what it is.
Whether I’m going for a run down my road, walking down the street in broad daylight, or crossing a dark parking lot, it’s exhausting to have to constantly be on alert not only as a woman but as a hearing impaired person. I feel vulnerable, tense, and paranoid.
Women are told to harness every one of their senses — including their sixth sense — to be aware of their surroundings and stay safe. Does the fact that that’s not an option for disabled women mean that disabled women deserve it if they’re assaulted? Of course not, because that way of thinking is a fallacy derived to deflect blame from the assaulters and the culture that bred them.
In the end, as much as I want to be safe and comfortable, I want even more to live my life without fear and restraint. Sometimes my gender and my disability force me to make compromises in the name of safety; it sucks but it’s the reality of my world. For the most part, however, I simply bring my vulnerability with me wherever I go, letting it whisper its reminders in my ear while carrying myself as if I have no fear. I’ll probably never stop looking over my shoulder on my daily run — but I’ll never stop running either.