Normally I don’t bother too much about the fact that I’m a woman. It’s just another thing about me, like my height or weight. But this weekend I felt particularly noticeably female, in an uncomfortable way. Here’s what happened.
On Saturday, after wearing my bike shorts for most of the day, I decided to wear my favorite sundress. It’s super comfortable, sleeveless with straps that cross over the back, form-fitting around the torso and top, and skirt a few inches above my knees. The weather was perfect for this dress, and it was definitely the last time I’ll wear it until probably next July, so I made sure to bring it and wear it on this trip.
After freshening up from my ride, I had about an hour and a half until dinner, so I decided to go out for a walk around Santa Rosa to kill some time and stretch my legs.
I started in Juilliard Park, which was mostly empty except for a couple homeless guys who leered from a park bench at me as I walked by. That kind of set the tone for the rest of that walk.
Thereafter I found Santa Rosa to be a mix of affluence and poverty cheek-by-jowl. One block you’d find tidy old houses, beautifully kept up and seasonally decorated; the next block, dilapidated homes, unkempt yards, cars on blocks. I walked from the adorable Railroad Park area, with its tourist shops and boutique hotels, right past a shelter for homeless people nary a block away.
As I went by the homeless shelter, a bunch of homeless men were standing or sitting around the outside of the building. As I approached, pretty much all of them stared at me. A couple of them stood up and watched. I hurried by, and looked back a couple times. They kept watching until I got around the corner.
After that, I found my way back to the bike festival area and stayed there until I met my friends for dinner. As I waited, the plaza slowly emptied and more and more homeless guys came out. One cadged some food off a guy eating; others just wandered around.
We finished dinner after 9:00, and I had left my car down by Juilliard Park, several long blocks away down some darker roads. The guys outside the homeless shelter, and the guys in the park, and the guys who live in the greenbelt down by the river that ran through town all came to mind again. I don’t want to be prejudiced or make unfair assumptions about people… but I also didn’t feel comfortable out by myself after dark.
I asked John to escort me to my car.
And that, right there, is being a woman. I felt like I needed to bring a man along with me as I walked back to the car after dark, just to be safe.
PS: I know gender, sexual identity, being a woman, #MeToo, the Kavanaugh hearings/confirmation, the President’s behavior towards women, even police shootings… all these and more make this a fraught topic. I also know I’m a fortunate, nay, privileged white woman, my life was probably never in danger, and I may be making a mountain out of a molehill — a molehill that some women deal with every day. But I also know I’ll think and act differently after this experience; I may not wear that dress again with confidence, because of those looks and that feeling. So I wanted to share.