So I don’t talk about exercise on my blog because I have a personal policy against contributing to a conversation that pressures women, however subtly, to use diet and exercise as a means to chase down the ideal body, look, or life. This post requires me to admit that I run, but try to look past that.
I packed for my overnight trip to Ann Arbor in a backpack: suit, toiletries, and running shoes. I always pack my running shoes when I travel, even when they take up half of the room in my bag, on the gamble that the mood and opportunity will strike at the same time. It’s my favorite way to become acquainted with a city’s streets and landmarks and hidden corners, if you can get over being stared at by locals when it’s the kind of place where people don’t exercise in public. Ann Arbor is not a place like that. It’s the kind of place where people run when it’s five degrees and snowing outside, where people cycle through blizzards, and row in the rain. I dripped sweat on every path in that town during my second and third years of law school when I trained for the Chicago marathon. I had to; it’s a small enough city that you practically have to circle it twice to stretch a run out to over twenty miles.
This week, I was so ready for another Ann Arbor run that, after less than five hours of sleep, I hopped out of bed, laced up my shoes, and hit the pavement. It was early, but I was alert and in tune with the morning. It was quiet for the first time since I moved to Chicago. The cracks and curves in the road were familiar. I was home, or at least in a place that used to be home. I started to settle in.
And then my heart stopped. A conversation from last weekend came rushing back to me and I almost turned right around. You see, last weekend, when Bob and I had a friend from Ann Arbor in town, she told us about the Ann Arbor rapist. I don’t mean to be a sensationalist, but this guy has attacked six women since mid-July. The attacks are usually at night, but also in the very early morning. They’ve happened near campus, downtown, in residential areas, and in the Kerrytown district. One woman was assaulted walking down a driveway. From my hotel on the corner of State and Huron, there wasn’t really anywhere safe to run, especially given that before 6:00 a.m. in Ann Arbor, the sky is still pitch black and the streets are empty.
My mom will be upset to know that I didn’t turn around. I thought about it, but it didn’t seem fair. I’d waited so long for this run, crammed my big shoes into my little backpack, dragged them all over downtown Chicago before driving five hours to Michigan, and then I’d woken up at the crack of dawn. Instead of heading up Huron and hanging a right in the direction of the river, my go-to run when I was marathon-training, I turned left and did laps back and forth on the short stretch of Main Street that’s well-lit and dotted with coffee shops that were just starting to open for business. Instead of releasing weeks of tension, I darted around like a caged animal, wary of every early-riser, and boiling over with anger.
I’m feel like I’m always trying to explain why it is still difficult to be a woman. Forget about glass ceilings and gendered expectations and sexist jokes. How many men taking their trash out at night or trying to squeeze in a morning workout have to seriously worry that they will be violently assaulted and violated in their own community? I mean, I’m willing to and capable of taking precaution. I don’t run after dark in Chicago. I don’t go out alone. I often don’t even carry a purse. But it enrages me that, even with my best efforts, I still occasionally find myself in a situation that is not safe and the reason it is not safe is because I’m a woman.
I know, I know, I’m super fun at parties. That’s another thing that enrages me, by the way, because I am actually fun at parties, but the moment I suggest a way to make the world a little better for women, I’m suddenly a buzz-killing bitch. I can tell that it’s not just men that think so, also.
What’s that you say? I haven’t yet suggested a way to make the world safer? Fine. Here’s an idea: the Ann Arbor police could start taking the twenty-one other rapes that have been reported this year seriously. It’s certainly plausible that the man the police are looking for now has done this kind of thing before, to someone he knows under less clearly violent circumstances. Here’s another idea: the Ann Arbor police should always take it seriously when a person reports an assault, even if the person reporting implicates herself in a crime at the same time (back story: when I was in law school, a woman was assaulted by a man from whom she solicited sex on Craigslist — the police made fun of her for trying to turn him in).
I know, the criminal defender in me starts to come out when I blame the police for perpetuating violent crime, and the criminal defender in me is not someone who a lot of you can relate to. So my next suggestion is for rabid consumers of popular media (remember when Chuck Bass attacked two women in the first episode of Gossip Girl and then everybody, myself included, loved him?) and anybody who is reading this blog and writing it off as making a big deal out of nothing: stop trivializing rape. And my last suggestion of for the perpetrators: Dudes. Stop. Raping. Women.
Before I wrap this up, I want to point out that, despite my gendered discussion, I recognize that women aren’t the only victims of this kind of crime. I live in the heart of an LGBTQ-friendly neighborhood and this summer there’s been a rash of crime targeted at young, gay men. Heterosexual men are certainly crime victims, too. They are shot, beaten, and robbed all the time in Chicago, probably more than women. Rape is different, though. For one thing, I can’t stop it from happening by leaving my wallet at home. For another, even on the extraordinarily slim chance that an offender is caught, there is no restitution court of law can order that would make me whole.
Here is what I know: when I was a teenager, I couldn’t run around the block after 9 p.m. without my parents sounding the alarms, while my younger brother roamed our neighborhood like he owned it. Today, Bob can take the dog for a walk at night and feel safe, and I can’t. And that, in my estimation, is supremely effed up.