Conversations with my Hairdresser

Gone are the days of the $14.99 haircut. I started spending a fortune on my hair after 1) going to Supercuts for the 3rd time in three weeks trying to get them to fix the mullet they’d given me 2) getting dumped – for the second time – by the guy I was dating here in Dayton.

At some point, you just realize you have too much self-respect to spend the rest of your life looking like Raggedy Anne.

In any case, I’ve ended up with a hairdresser that reminds me of my sister. She’s short, mouthy, bleached blond, and meaty, with the chatty naivety of somebody about four years younger.

As we got to chatting, she asked if I lived in the apartments just across from The Greene, where I was getting my hair done. I pointed my building out to her (yes, it was just across the parking-lot construction going on right outside the salon windows) and she laughed and said. “That’s what I thought! We live in the same building. I saw you a few weeks ago and I was like, `I think I did her hair!'”

She moved in in May, and I moved in in April.

“You must love the commute,” I said. “Being able to just walk to work.”

“Oh, I don’t walk,” she said. “I drive.”

This gave me pause. It’s a ten minute walk across the nearly-constructed parking lot to get from my house to the salon. It will be five minutes as soon as the construction is done and they tear down the fences.

She drives to work? God, how Ohio, I thought.

“I was going to walk,” she said, “but my dad pointed out that if I did that, it would be easier for people to follow me from work, you know? So you get clients or weirdos following you home after work, and then they know exactly which apartment you live in.”

Ah, yes. It’s so fun to be a woman.

Actually, I thought, it’s fun to be a *young* woman, when you’re still ruled by (sometimes very valid) fear of the world at large. And men in particular.

This was another one of those little daily concerns that guys just never have to think about. There’s no concern about walking to work from you house. Or walking around after 9pm. Or trying to decide if wearing a tank top will be considered an invitation to harass or assault you.

But see, the thing is, I don’t think about those things so much anymore. Rightly or wrongly, I don’t know, but I don’t think about them as much. I’m confident enough that I could put up a fight. But more than that: I got tired of living in fear all the time. South Africa burned me out on that. I got paranoid and weird. And you know what? 99% of my freak-out fears were unjustified. I spent far more of my time worried about all the bad things that could happen to me than I did being in actual danger.

I always wonder where you draw that fine line. How much is too much caution? Sure, bad shit happens to people, especially women, cause people think we’re “easier” targets. Some of my confidence comes from knowing that I’m not an easy target. But am I any more or less safe than the woman who’s afraid to walk to work because some psycho will follow her home? Does the fear really save us, or does it oppress us?

When curfews get called because some guy is going around a college campus raping women, the curfew is on *women.* When we get assaulted or menaced, the first question people ask – the first question we ask ourselves – is what did I do to deserve this? How could I have avoided this? What did I do wrong?

This is oppression. It’s the worse kind of oppression because it’s the kind that’s so close to us, so tightly wound up in our society, in the way things *are* that we see it as normal. Obviously, if someone attacked you, you were doing something wrong. Don’t you read all those e-mails you get telling you how to avoid being raped in a parking lot? You should have checked your back seat before you got in! You should live in terror every time you unlock your car, carry groceries, walk to work. You must be ever vigilant! FEAR THE WORLD, PUNY WOMAN!

Well, you know what?

If I lived in the woods in some kind of uncivilized, barbaric conglomerate of loosely aligned clans, yeah, you’re right, we’d *all* need to be hyper vigilant. But you know what? This is a civilized fucking society. We should all watch out for each other. We shouldn’t put up with some rogue guy’s bullshit behavior. And we shouldn’t punish women’s freedom because of one stupid asshole.

I have always been an advocate of teaching women to fight back. We get so socialized to be fearful, to go quiet when menaced, to be good, meek, docile, nice people, because nothing bad ever happens to nice people. And it makes us easier to fuck up and fuck over.

I don’t want to raise women to live in fear. I don’t want that to be our first impulse. I want us to raise our sons to be good human beings and teach girls that telling that guy to get his hand the fuck off us isn’t “inconveniencing” him. It’s asking for your body back.

Fear makes me sad. It makes me look at all the fantastic things we could do and say and be if we weren’t crushed by fear. Everybody’s got fear, yeah, and there’s such a thing as being cautious, but “I can’t walk to work (in broad daylight, across a parking lot!) because I’m afraid of being assaulted in a posh part of town.” Wow, seriously. The Greene is in fucking Beavercreek. You pay $100 for a pair of jeans (I just paid $140 for a FUCKING HAIRCUT!!). There’s security everywhere. To not even feel safe *here*? Really?

Wow. Just… wow.

That’s not the world I want anybody living in.

Again, South Africa screwed up my standards. I’m not afraid of walking around downtown. I’m not afraid of walking around downtown after dark (which I have done). This is small potatoes compared to Durban. Does that mean I’m not aware of the risks? Of course I’m aware. I’m also aware that the risks are a lot less than we make them up to be.

Fear is one of our biggest oppressors.

I hated not feeling comfortable in my own skin. I hated feeling weak. It’s why I work out, speak my mind. I tried so hard to be a good, little, docile woman when I was a teenager. I tried so hard, but my body was all wrong, and I talked too loud, even then.

At some point, you have to realize that if trying to “fit in” is killing you, then maybe you’re not the problem. Maybe it’s the model. If trying to “be safe” feels like it’s choking you, maybe what you’re doing doesn’t make you as safe as you thought it did.

Safety is a joke, anyway. Fearing things… you know, it’s like fearing a chronic illness. Shit happens. You can sit around in your apartment being terrified of getting hit in the back of the head with a shovel, but illness sometimes does that. Oh, sure, there’s stuff you can try and avoid. You can not be stupid. Don’t try and walk four miles home, drunk, at 2am, and avoid the possible asshole who would take advantage of that. Don’t have sex with 12 different people over the course of a year and not use a condom, and avoid the higher possibility that you’ll get AIDS (or some other, less threatening disease). Don’t be stupid.

Not being stupid will certainly help reduce the possibility of you getting assaulted or getting a chronic illness. But it will never *eliminate* your risk.

So live your damn life. Don’t be stupid. But live.

Cause a lot of the shit that happens in our lives, we can control it. And some of it, a small but sometimes significant part, we can’t.

So have a beer, but don’t get drunk every night. Walk the fuck to work, but don’t tell all your clients your apartment number. Eat some cookies, but do something later to get your blood pumping again.

I’m all about not being stupid, but there’s something to be said for living without fear.

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