BY ARIEL KAPLOWITZ
Published October 28, 2013
To the man in the pink bathrobe who tried to get into my house Saturday night:
You probably don’t remember any of this, so let me remind you. You were in my neighborhood around 1:15 a.m. There were a few parties down the street, but you were walking on a dark, poorly lit road. My roommate was biking home from work when you saw her. Her bike lock wasn’t working, and as she was struggling with the combination, you approached her. She hurried toward our door. You followed her into our building’s hallway. She could hear your footsteps behind her. She started running. She made it to our door before you did, slamming and locking it in your face. You pounded on the door. You waited. Inside the apartment, my friends and I, all women, held our breath. After a few minutes, we could hear you turn and go through the unlocked door of our female neighbor’s apartment. We didn’t know what to do. No one had our neighbor’s number, and we were terrified to open our door, in case you would come in. Although there were four of us, and you were alone, we were afraid of you.
After a minute passed, you left our neighbor’s apartment. She was OK, and we were OK. You were probably just another drunk guy who had gotten separated from his friends and was lost. You probably meant no harm. But, despite your intentions, you terrified me.
As a feminist, I’m struggling with how to process these feelings. I want to be able to say that I wasn’t afraid of you, that I stood up to you and told you to go away. I want to say that I never hesitated, that I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Poor dude, he must have been wasted,” like my male friends did when I told them. I hate that I felt so afraid of you — and so vulnerable. I especially hate that the first thing I did was text my boyfriend in case I felt like he needed to come over. It was scary to have a stranger trying to get into my house, but the scariest part of it was that you made me feel instantly helpless, needing a man’s protection. Long after you left, I couldn’t stop thinking about how small you made me feel.
The fact of the matter is that I have every right to be afraid. One in five women in the United States report being sexually assaulted, and around one in four women on college campuses have experienced rape or sexual assault. I am wary of strange men because if I weren’t, I might be putting myself at risk. I seek a man’s protection because I know that I am truly safest when strange men see me as “claimed,” as someone else’s “property” — it makes me sick to write this. I have been socialized to be afraid for my own self-protection. I know too many women who have experienced sexual assault; I myself have experienced sexual harassment far too often.
I could go on about rape culture, problematic language and gender oppression. I could go on about how sexism is hurtful to men, too. I could write about how all day I’ve been wanting to take a self-defense class, buy myself some pepper spray and keep the door locked, even when I’m home. There’s so much more to say.
But this is what needs to be said: The man in the pink bathrobe frightened me last night, and my feelings of fear are justified. Women are not safe on this campus. But the solution should not be that we must turn to men to “protect us.” The solution should not be for women to lock our doors and learn karate. What we need is an open, honest dialogue about gender relations on campus. What we need is for men to be taught not to rape, not to sexually assault and not to see women as property. What we need is a change in the oppressive system.
Ariel Kaplowitz is an LSA junior.