For the month of May, I spent my time student teaching in D.C. When people ask me about it, I smile and say, “It was a great opportunity. I loved teaching, and I learned a lot.” That is true for sure, but my trip to D.C. was much, much more than that. It was by far the most difficult thing that I have ever done. It wasn’t as much the teaching that was hard than the social justice environment. It required constant self-checking and being checked by others. I appreciate that I was able to experience this because as a white woman, I don’t always get challenged in that way. Regardless, I learned a lot that will help me be a better teacher and a better human in general.
Another new experience that I had in D.C. was living in a city environment for a long duration of time. When people ask me where I am from, I always say “outside of Pittsburgh” because most people at the very least and geographically locate that. If I am being honest, I live about 45 minutes outside of the city. My home town is Hickory, Pennsylvania. My town has about 600 people, and I am convinced most of them are cows. We have one gas station, a few mom and pop restaurants, one Subway, one Dollar General, and many many farms. I have neighbors on either side of my house, but behind my home is many acres of field and in front of my home is many pastures of cows. I love it. I love the space, the privacy, and the fresh air. This doesn’t mean I hate cities. I do enjoy them, but I am much less comfortable in them.
It was towards the last week of my time in D.C. and I was actually starting to feel comfortable. I could navigate the metro. I knew where my school was, and I would sometimes even give directions to others (which is really impressive if you know me). I was feeling pretty impervious. “I could totally live in the city for like a year” * dramatic hair flip *. But, something happened that really shook my confidence.
That day, I took a wonderful day trip to visit our fabulous Administrator, Maya Alcala. I love her, and it was the day before her birthday. I navigated the metro there with some assistance from her and made it safely (yay!). On the way back, the ride didn’t go as smoothly. I was waiting on the platform for the train to arrive, and I was sitting alone on a bench. There was a bench across from me and a man sat down. I looked up from my phone and he gave me that look that was sort of like….I want to eat you for lunch. Naturally, I was like ew gross, and shifted my eyes away as a hint of not being interested. I continued to feel his eyes, so I got up from sitting across from him and called my mom. I did not want to engage and at this point, I wasn’t feeling super comfortable. Unfortunately, he got up too. He stayed about 3-4 feet away from me, but at this point my mom had picked up the phone. I glanced his way to make sure he wasn’t moving closer. During that glance, he looked at me, pulled a phone out of his pocket, and made a scene of pretending to be talking on the phone too. The literal nerve of this man was crazy. I started to think, “Oh shit, not only does this man think he is calling my bluff, but he also is doing it in broad daylight and is not giving me the amount of space I want.”
I was far enough out of the city of D.C. that the metro platform wasn’t crowded. I shared it with one other woman. I tried to continually keep that individual between me and him, so that I could kind of have a buffer. The train started to pull into the station, and the man started to move closer. There were little to no people on the train because it was going into the city on a late Sunday afternoon. I started to think, “He’s going to make sure that he gets in the same empty train car as me. I will then be trapped and alone.” So, I knew that I couldn’t let that happen. The train came into the station, and I waited to get into the car. He waited too. There are two doors for entry on each car. I was at the second and he was at the first. The metro doors only stay open for like a minute and a half, and then the train goes on its way.
After about a minute and 15 seconds had passed I acted like I was going to enter the second door, but quickly turned on my heels and sprinted to the train car behind it. I jumped into the car. The doors slammed behind me.
I could now clue my mom in on what was going on. She was disturbed and asked if there was anyone else in the train car with me, so I could have another person to make sure it was okay when I got off the train (I had to switch cars to go back to where I was staying). There was. Honestly, I may have been delusional, but also probably not, there was an incredibly attractive 6’5” man wearing a Boston University Baseball shirt. To makes him more attractive, he was reading The Circle, which personally, I thought was overrated, but I took it as a good omen. I glanced up to meet his eyes, and he just nodded and said that he heard what I said and asked where I was switching. He was getting off the metro there, which was ideal.
I looked towards the back of the car, and I saw the face of the man who had followed me, peering in. I immediately slouched down in my seat. I did not want him to know when I was getting off the train. I was in a position where I could see his green shirt and know when he got off the train though. Unfortunately, he ended up getting off the train when I had to switch. I watched him get off the platform and look around for a while, but I was hiding behind a large man holding The Circle. My follower left the station, and I felt relieved. I didn’t feel as relieved as I expected though. Every man was suspicious to me. I felt everyone’s eyes. My hands were still shaking. I was not really okay.
My independence was taken by a man, who probably thought he was just being fun and flirty. I felt uncomfortable doing things alone in a city that I had grown accustomed to. In order for me to be safe in that situation, I had to ask a man to help me. Why on earth should I feel so unsafe that I need another person of the opposite sex to help me be okay. I am still upset with the experience. I do not want to need another person to help me protect myself. I still feel paranoid when I am traveling alone. I feel hypersensitive of the gazes that I get when walking down the street. This blog will end in a cry for equality. Men and women are equally human. I should not need to ask a man to stand up for me because my independence was taken by someone else. That is not equality, but I hope this upcoming year we can move closer to finding what is.