Misadventures in the city
By Beth Connors-Manke
Last summer, I wrote a column entitled “It’s getting dangerous around here” about being bitten by a dog in my neighborhood. The result of the incident (besides the aforementioned column) was that I bought pepper spray as a mild attempt at holding off canine attacks.
From that Misadventures dispatch: “When I get home [from being bitten by the dog], I’m pissed. I’ve spent the last year and half negotiating the hazards on N. Lime so I could make the streets safer for myself, and now someone’s damned dog has made my walks dangerous again. Seriously, I’d rather have a drunk yell profanity at me three times a week than have some lame-o’s loose dog take a big chunk out of my calf.”
Let me give some context for my anger and fear. I’ve been bitten before by a loose dog. Two of my brothers have been bitten by Pit Bulls. In one case, the brother was bitten in the face (there’s a slice out of his lip); in the other case, the brother owned the dog. I wasn’t scared of dogs before these incidents, but I am now — and for good reason. In my childhood, everyone had a Lab or Collie. Anecdotal evidence tells me that people now tend to own meaner, more muscular dogs (Pit Bulls, Rottweilers) or smaller, more frenetic dogs (Chihuahuas). In both cases, the dogs often aren’t well trained or controlled by their owners.
Consequently, I’ve developed the habit of carrying my pepper spray in hand from my back door to about N. Lime and Fourth. Along that route, there are the dogs that roam my neighborhood. There are the two Pit Bulls behind a low fence across from KU; next to that house is a haphazard penning of a yip-yip dog (breed unknown). Then, there’s Duncan Park, where a friend’s daughter was bitten by a Pit Bull with an unrepentant owner.
Last week, I was walking north on Lime, enjoying the late summer loveliness. I step out into the intersection to cross the street at Fourth and hear three guys passing behind me. One says something to my back. The entire phrase registers as I get to the other side of the intersection: “She so scared in this part of town, she carrying mace.”
I’m pissed, so I turn around and start yelling at them about dogs. They keep walking, unwilling to look at me or respond, and I’m sure they mentally scoffed at my explanation. I’m fuming for the rest of the walk home, but not really about the dog thing. Smoke is coming out my ears because I’m tired of men trying to shame women when we show concern about our safety. And because I do—women do—have reason to be wary of men on the street. Case in point, an interaction I had over the summer on Elm Tree.
I was walking home on Elm Tree and heard a guy yell “Hey! Hey!” I don’t know him, he doesn’t know me, so I ignore him, assuming he’s talking to someone else. Then the yelling becomes more insistent: (deepening his voice) “HEY!” A quick side glance tells me no one else is up the street. Having no other choice, I look at him to try to get him to stop yelling. Doesn’t work. I hear: (a deeper, more commanding voice) “COME HERE.”
Deafening warning bells are going off in my head. A man who speaks to a female stranger on the street as if she is 1) his dog or 2) his “ho” is a red-alert danger to any woman. Trying to show as little reaction as possible, I walk at a faster clip and make sure I have my pepper spray. Approaching me is a group of men coming from another direction. They may know this guy, they may not. I keep walking, make noncommittal eye contact, and pass them as quickly as possible. I get home safely, but it takes a while to shake off the instinctual fight or flight response.
This is only one of two incidents I’ve had on the northside when I knew my safety was in question. That’s a pretty low ratio, considering how far and how often I walk on the northside. Regardless, a woman has to protect herself every time because our culture doesn’t safeguard us nearly enough—instead, we’re made to be the victims of men’s rage, confusion, and fear. And the guys who made the snide remark about my pepper spray, they wanted me to feel shame for that.