A few weeks ago Jerimiah and I went to switch our tags from North Carolina to Georgia. It’s a lengthy process that involves lots of paperwork, phone calls for titles, insurance, and inspections, and a shit ton of money. This was our second time attempting this, and we were pretty sure we had all our ducks in a row that day. We didn’t, and were there for over an hour, but people were all very nice. That wasn’t the thing that stuck with me from that day. What stuck with me was what happened while I was in line to get into the Motor Vehicle Office.
Jerimiah and I had walked in together, then as soon as he was about to go through the security checkpoint my phone rang, so I stepped back outside to answer it. It was the dog groomer and we had just dropped Duke off for a trim, so I knew it was a question. I was only outside for about five minutes, but by the time I got back inside the door, Jerimiah had a number and was seated inside, and a long line had formed at the checkpoint. So I shrugged my shoulders and prepared to wait. I knew our number wouldn’t be called anytime soon, so it was no big deal.
As I was waiting in line I noticed that in front of me were three young women. They were not together, and they were all carrying folders with paperwork, their car keys, and their cell phones, with crossbody bags slung across their shoulders. At first I didn’t pay much more mind to them. I just noticed, as I do, their presence, as well as an older couple in front of them, and a few single men and women starting to line up behind me.
It wasn’t until the first of the young women walked up to the checkpoint that I made a realization. She gave her purse to the officer to look through, she put her keys and phone in the bowl, and she walked through the metal detector. She reached back for her purse, keys, and phone and the officer said, “You can’t take your mace inside. You want to just leave your keys with me?” She hesitated for a minute, then said, “Sure,” and walked up to the number queue. That’s when I noticed the girl behind her fumble with her keys. She walked up next. Same thing. Keys, purse, phone, metal detector, did she want to just leave her keys? Sure. Third woman, the exact same. So by the time I got to the checkpoint with only my phone, I put it in the bowl, walked through the detector, eyed the three sets of keys sitting with the Sheriff Deputy, and walked to find Jerimiah.
When I sat down next to him, he saw in my face something was up, so he asked. I explained that three young women in front of me all had pepper spray on their key chains and had to leave them with the officer. He shrugged his shoulders and said something like, “Oh sure.” Then I got really mad at him, even though it wasn’t his fault. I got made cause he’s a guy, and for him sure, yeah, that makes sense. You can’t carry pepper spray into the MVD, but that wasn’t what was bothering me. I had already jumped three steps ahead of him. He must have seen the anger flash in my eyes because he said, “But I mean, it’s sad that they have to carry it at all.” Good save, husband.
Because yeah, it is sad, and it’s also total fucking bullshit. It’s total fucking bullshit that as women we know we have to always be on the lookout for someone, ahem a man, to hurt us physically. Or want to. We can never rest. We can never not think about walking to our cars in an empty lot late at night. My husband doesn’t think twice about it, meanwhile I’ve been told countless times, since I can remember, to kick at the groins. To stick my fingers in eye sockets. To hell, “Fire!” To kick headlights out. To never let them take you to a second location. I’ve been those young women. My mom bought me my first can of mace when I was 16, and got my first job. I’ve been scared in a hotel hallway alone with a man I didn’t know walking my direction. I’ve nestled my keys in between my fingers to use as a possible shiv in a moment of panic. We all have. It’s what we’ve been conditioned to do. And it’s such fucking bullshit.
I don’t have an answer here, y’all. Never usually do. But I do want to say that rape culture is real. And we need to start believing victims. We need to start teaching our boys about consent. We need to start teaching our boys that just because a girl wears a short skirt, doesn’t mean anything to you. We need to start having these real, tough conversations. And we need to get people like Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh out of our high offices. Because it starts from the top. I know there is a lot to be mad about right now, but there is nothing more important than helping people feel and be safe. Especially women and children. Especially women of color. Especially transgender women. Especially those who can’t defend themselves. Especially. Especially. Especially.
Take care of yourselves ladies. I wish you didn’t have to carry that pepper spray, but please keep doing it, cause change takes time. Remember to be vigilant. To watch out for yourselves, and for others.