• Carmen Marie Fabio

Some things are not normal

I’d love to take credit for this idea but it belongs to a friend of mine who lives alone and feels uneasy when a service or repairman pays a visit to her condo. It’s not that she’s immediately fearful for her own safety but is uncomfortable with other people knowing she’s usually there by herself.

So, she conceived the idea of a ‘Man in a Box’ specifically for women living alone. Simply go to an area thrift store and pick up a man’s suit, shoes, work boots and, ideally, a checkered lumberjack flannel shirt, and place them around the apartment. Stop by the dollar store for an extra toothbrush, razor, and baseball cap. Toss randomly. An empty two-four beer case on the back balcony is a nice touch and, if you’re really not into subtleties, a football and helmet.

Sounds extreme, right? For a lot of women who live alone, it’s a necessary extra step.

As we’ve been hearing in the news over the past week in light of the actions of a certain Hollywood executive, flexing one’s power is often in reverse proportion to the level of merit of the person holding the power. It doesn’t make it right but somehow in life, dodging power abuses become our de facto operating mode and we learn to navigate around them.

I once pointed to a random guy at a bus stop, saying he was my husband, to thwart off the drunken dude who was following me making sexually explicit remarks after my late night work shift ended. Thankfully, my new ‘husband’ played along.

Not long after that, I had a co-worker whose parents lived across the street from the apartment where I lived alone. Actually, I shared it with Willard, a cat missing a few teeth who drooled when he was happy.

One evening, the co-worker showed up on my doorstep smelling of alcohol and slurring his words, and walked in before I could properly react. I don’t know what kicked my brain into gear but I thankfully had the presence of mind to say, “Shhhhhh! My boyfriend is sleeping,” as I quickly closed the door to my dark (and empty) bedroom. His shoulders slumped and he quickly made an excuse to leave and though I was shaking afterwards, I was also immensely proud of my instincts that got me out of a potentially dangerous situation.

It’s only now, on reflection, that I realize how sad and, quite frankly, twisted it is that we have to cultivate these instincts in order to protect ourselves against the myriad imbalances of power we encounter on a day-to-day basis. And while this phenomenon is not restricted to women being on the receiving end, it’s statistically the case 96 per cent of the time.

What makes it so disturbing is how quickly we normalize it and easily turn experiences where we fear for our corporal safety into amusing anecdotes, like it’s just another thing we fully expect to deal with on a day-to-day basis. Girls grow up learning how to dodge unwanted comments, jokes, grabs, and insinuations from classmates, strangers, or even relatives that burst our innocent and naïve assumption of safety.

The recent social media movement which saw the explosive trending of the #MeToo hashtag for every survivor of sexual harassment has, at last count, been used over 21 million times.

What would be infinitely more surprising would be if a woman were to actually use the hashtag #NotMe.

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