So, yesterday I was doing my daily lunchtime walk at the Wildlife Preserve across the street from where I work. This is a low-crime suburb area (I have a long train commute out of Chicago), so I don’t carry much trepidation with me. But yesterday I passed a questionable character – you know, you just get that “uh-oh, psycho” feeling and put your guard up a bit as you pass.

Nothing new. It’s called being a woman.

But this time, as I passed him, I flipped through defense moves. Got my elbow strike to the face ready, focused attention on my gut, where – if you do it right – you should actually feel the force of your strike. Elbow to the face, turn, right cross, clamp your hands around the back of the head, knee strike to the face, front kick to the groin, and if he’s willing to fuck with you after that, he’s a serious pyscho, so you should probably run. If he tries to tackle you, jab out his eyes. I also know a couple of ground moves, should things progress to that point.

But, no. I wasn’t attacked; the liklihood of that happening around here is pretty nil. But I realized I had my confidence back.

I haven’t been jogging in two months, because it’s dark by the time I get home now, and though crime rates around where I live are average, I’ve grown up with that Woman’s Fear.

You know it: those raped, mutilated, murdered female joggers. The stories we all get bombarded with so we stay at home, or don’t go out alone, the ones that tell us we better get ourselves an escort.

It’s always female joggers.

The entire reason I started fighting was because I was really sick of being afraid. Somebody like me, who does a lot of traveling and spends a lot of time on her own, can’t afford to sit around her flat all night being afraid. Granted, in South Africa, a lot of this fear was warranted, and I don’t know that I’d push my luck there again even with some more self-confidence, but Uptown Chicago is another matter entirely.

So I went jogging last night, my usual route to the lakefront, under the suprisingly well-lit tunnel that goes under Lakeshore Drive, and onto the not-so-greatly-lit jogging path at Lakeshore Park.

There weren’t a lot of women there at 6:30 at night.

There was some trepidation at the lack of light along the pathway, but I’d made sure not to wear my headphones, so I could hear pretty well, and I was still my usual vigilant self.

And, of course, I went jogging and came home and did just fine.

I could have been jogging like this for two months, of course, but you know… it sucks to be a woman. It really fucking sucks, to grow up with these stories, to know that yes, it’s statistically unlikely that anything will happen to me (more women are attacked by people they know than strangers), but damn, I’ve been fed so much fear, had it so ground into me. Sure, I’d wander good areas of cities by myself, and backpack major cities by myself, but jogging at the park in the dark? Oh, how cliche that episode of America’s Most Wanted would be!

I needed to feel like I knew what to do if something happened. I didn’t want to feel like prey. Even if I’m full of crap, and not a super ninja or anything like that, I needed to feel that I had the strength and at least a little of the knowledge about what to do if something happened, however unlikely it might be.

I don’t think you really realize how much you internalize all the social bullshit that actually controls you. When I was 19, I finally started framing questions about my doubts for doing what I wanted to do this way: “If I was a guy, would I do it?” If the answer was yes, I did it.

Because you know what it felt like to me, going jogging at Lakeshore Park in the dark, alone?

It felt like freedom.

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