Wednesday, November 03, 2004


From Mrs Du Toit

Women are afraid. I know that men are sometimes afraid, too, but it is a different kind of fear. A man is at a higher risk of assault (getting into a bar fight, getting mugged, etc.), but women are at higher risk of being attacked, just because they are women. It's about hurting women, not robbing them--totally different animal. Rape is a reality for women that exists in much greater percentages than male rape.

The other difference between men and women is that we are, by size and strength, more vulnerable.

All of these things contribute to a type of daily and routine fear that men just don't experience. A woman walks to her car from her office, goes into the quiet and desolate parking structure, and a man is walking towards her. Regardless of how he looks or dresses, there is a sense of panic and hope that he isn't going to hurt you. Until you've passed him, until you're in your locked car, you are afraid.

It's constant. It isn't debilitating, in the sense that we don't go out or do what we need to do, but many of us think about the neighborhood we might have to drive through, if we really need that milk at 9:30 at night, or if it can wait until morning. In essence, we are driven by fear, or limited by the realities of what is out there, behind that bush, down that alley, or hiding behind the garbage cans.

We go out anyway. We have to. We have to function in the world. Most of us operate in a sense of denial, choosing to put it out of our minds because there isn't a whole lot we can do about it. Women don't talk about this subject very much, if at all. Some women refuse to even think about it. They still have the tummy flutters in the parking structures, they still decide to stay home rather than attend the party on their own, or defer going to the mall after dark.

Tummy flutters. Loss of feeling in the legs when confronted with a scary looking man in an alley. A knock at the door, after dark, or the thought that you heard someone open a window or a door handle jiggle. Light headedness verging on an absolute panic attack. We know what these are, physiologically. They are fight or flee responses. Our bodies are responding to the situation, despite our denial or the conversations we have in our own heads, convincing us we'll be OK.

If we did think about it, if we did actually come to terms and let ourselves feel all that anxiety, expressed all that pent up fear, we'd never go outside. We'd check out from the world and hide under the covers--until we heard the door handle jiggle and we'd be right back where we started.

I never knew another way. I never knew there was any other option. I remember having scary moments like that with my mother--hearing a noise outside and cowering in fear, or holding the telephone, ready to dial 9-1-1. I remember putting a chair under the door handle of my apartment. I remember buying a baby's toy, that rattled when it moved, and putting that by the door, too. It becomes normal, common, the way you deal with life. You don't think about these things after they've happened. You just continue on, as if nothing happened. It just didn't occur to me that all women didn't go around dealing with all of this, but never actually thinking about it.

Until I became armed.

It happened, literally, the day I left the range for the first time. I knew how to fire my own gun. I knew how to defend myself--and was "equal" to the strength of any man with that gun. It didn't matter that it was a small caliber. It didn't matter that I wasn't an expert marksman. I knew I had a better than fighting chance and it was a feeling I'd never had before.

I knew I'd never have to choose my route to avoid the bad neighborhoods, even if it took me way out of my way. I knew that if I heard a noise in the backyard, I go could out to investigate, rather than cowering and hoping the noise would go away. I knew I could protect my kids and that no one, NO ONE, would ever be able to harm them without getting past me.

It was the most exhilarating feeling I'd ever had. And, despite banners, arguments, slogans, and chants, spent in support of women's rights and the E.R.A. all of my life, it was the very first time I was a liberated woman. I was liberated from everything--from fear, from the requirement that I be protected by someone else, and I gained a sense of empowerment I've never felt before. It made all my past dalliances in liberation seem petty, and stupid.

I could take care of myself, in every sense.

You don't have to take up gun sports as a hobby. You don't have to become a gun geek or understand the various powder densities or ballistics formulas, or any of the other gobble-de-gook the gun geeks talk about. You just have to know how to handle your own gun. You have to learn about proper gun safety and feel comfortable enough to rely on the gun you own. Riding a bicycle is more difficult. Driving a car is infinitely more detailed. A power lawn mower is more complicated to operate.

Imagine, living without fear. Freedom!


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