Today I feel angry.
Angry that being a woman in this world means that, no matter how strongly and carefully I set my boundaries, a solo trip anywhere means I must be “on” at all times.
I must be on alert. Even when I give myself the luxury of having headphones in, my head must turn over my shoulder every few minutes, more if I’m walking, even more if it’s dark.
I must have a constant, underlying inner dialogue: Have I seen that man before? Am I safe? Am I being followed? Where are my outlets to safety? Who is around that can hear me, if necessary? Would any of these people step in if I was being harmed?
I have done incredible work on my nervous system to make it so that almost all of the time, these things happen without stressing my body.
I have confidence in my verbal abilities to de-escalate or escalate a situation as necessary.
I have learned self-defense so that my body understands on a deep level that I could protect myself if it was ever needed.
I know that the boundaries I set with others mean nothing about me – which is not an easy thing to believe.
It takes energy. And on days when I do not have much energy to spare, it can feel draining.
So much so that a trip to the beach alone means a negotiation between: Do I want to feel the cool ocean water in my hair, the breeze on my bare skin, and spend the extra energy contemplating my safety?
Or do I want to stay home on a hot day, safe but stifled in my pleasure, freedom, and self-expression?
It means having to judge whether a man making conversation is being friendly or means me harm.
It means having to wonder whether I’m overreacting, and if my reactions make me safer or could have the opposite effect.
It even means that in making this post, I open myself up to the opinions of people assuming I’m overreacting. To the men who cannot believe it because it is not their lived experience. To the women who deny it as a protective mechanism, so they don’t have to feel the pain of it in their own bodies.
I do not know a woman who does not have this constant inner narrative, at least to some degree, depending on her conditioning and past experiences.
This feeling – this exhaustion, this tiredness – is why I do the work that I do in the world.
It doesn’t go away. No matter how much work you do. That is because truthfully, this hyperawareness is a protective mechanism that serves a really good purpose.
The reality is that the world isn’t safe for a woman walking alone, going to the beach alone, doing pretty much anything alone. It might be safer in Canada, where I live now, as opposed to Los Angeles (where I used to live). But I can’t depend on it being completely safe, can’t turn that piece of me completely off, not unless I want to risk my own well-being.
But what I can do is live my life anyway.
I can choose to not let that voice or that warning rule my decisions. I can choose to let that awareness inform what I decide to do in each moment, while being completely able to discern when the fears are based on my current reality and when they’re based on past experience or my ancestors’ past experiences.
I think about how that voice can be softened. I think about how when I stopped wearing a bra many years ago, my body was on hyper-alert, sure that every person walking by was staring at my nipples, and I contracted and winced when they were, in fact, staring at my nipples.
The voice that used to run through my mind: Do they think I’m trying to send a message? Are they thinking bad things about me? Are they going to attack me and everyone will say that I deserved it?
That voice is almost entirely absent, now, when it comes to the way I dress. It used to mean that I always wore a bra. Then I used to hide my nipples when I deemed it “appropriate,” at funerals, at family functions.
Now I actually just don’t believe that my nipples are inappropriate.
I believe we can do this with that voice. That while we will always have moments and days when we need to be concerned for our own safety, that while we may always be extra aware in each moment when out in public… we can still regulate our nervous systems and do the work to understand what is just conditioning and what is true.
Which pieces we decide serve us and which we let die.
And with that work, comes the freedom to not have to make decisions from the place of the voice.
I want women to feel the joy inherent in giving themselves permission to be their full selves – the joy that has been taken away in centuries of feeling unsafe.
I want them to know that they are allowed to set the boundaries they deserve so that they can feel free to be naked on the (clothing-optional) beach, give their opinion, and ask for what they want.
I want them to know that even though it can be tiring, it is MUCH more tiring to swallow your self-expression in the name of conforming to invisible rules that never get you what you want anyway.
And I want men to feel safe in the world, too. I want men to be given permission from an early age to feel and express their emotions, to know that their softness is allowed and their power has a place. So that some of them do not react to this by creating violence, whether against themselves or against others.
I imagine a world where people feel safe.
Or at least, a world where all people feel as safe as my boyfriend feels when he lays naked on the beach by himself.
If you liked this piece, you might also enjoy: