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How To Make Friends and Not Get Raped

August 18, 2013

I have a friend who moved to D.C. after undergraduate around the same time that I relocated to Chicago. We both are from Houston and went to San Antonio for school before moving up north to our respective cities. Reading her blog recently to catch up on her adventures I got very angry as I began to feel connected to two of her posts in particular. In one post she describes her quest to make anonymous friends and a run-in with what I can only categorize as thinly veiled harassment (though she may qualify it differently). In another post she describes an encounter she had on the metro that I hypothesize would be familiar to many women who take public transit. You should read her posts in full for the stories but here’s a snippet of the topic I’m delving into:

“Hello young lady, how are you? You are looking very beautiful today,” the man said, stepping back to make way for me on the sidewalk. I was in a really good mood because it was Friday and I was on my way to a picnic in a garden, so instead of politely smiling and nodding, I engaged him.

Please note this as Mistake # 1.
Long story short, he boarded the bus and kept talking to me. He was sitting across the aisle at first, but then asked if he could sit next to me. I SAID YES. WHY? For a few reasons, I think:

1. I care what people think of me to a fault. I didn’t want him to think I was rude, even though he was obviously being a big ol’ creeper.

2. I’m on a personal quest to make anonymous friends, obviously.

3. I’m an idiot.

I found myself nodding my head slowly along in agreement with her stories. To put it simply, I am frustrated with the similar tension I feel living in a new city and trying to make friends. For young women particularly it seems a contradictory and dangerous process and this angers me. The rules of thumb seem to be as follows:

1. Be friendly and outgoing with strangers (but only certain ones who look to be your version of safe [unfortuantely usually along racial lines], and don’t be too bubbly or they’ll maybe try something bad or think you’re hitting on them).
2. Be open to new experiences and adventures (but only ones that have you home before dark and not going to the dangerous parts of town).
3. Have the time of your life  (but make sure you’re being safe in all of the above mentioned ways and not opening yourself up to trouble by being too outgoing).

I have lived this dichotomy many times. I have struggled hard to not let past experiences keep me from being the social person that I am, even though my trustworthiness in people, curiosity in the lives of human beings, and general friendliness have gotten me into quite a lot of “trouble” (a frustrating euphemism for me as it tends to linguistically imply the trouble was caused by the subject in question). I am increasingly frustrated with this fine print of how I must go about making friends in a “more safe” and less “Sarah” way. This friend making conundrum usually occurs along gendered lines too as our society remains heternormative at its core.

I want to be able to be loud, happy, smiling and welcoming without having to think about whether or not the situation might require a protective “bitch face” to come out.

I hopped over to read the Red Eye after my friend’s blog for some random news and found another head-nodder from Niki Fritz about harassment on the L. I can’t tell you how many safety warnings I got from friends and family before I moved to Chicago about the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority). And most of them had to do with me adjusting my behavior to be less Sarah-like in order to keep from getting raped, assaulted, or otherwise violated.

I want to be able to be myself. I want to tear apart rape culture and make so many new friends in my newfound freedom. I want my friend in D.C., Niki Fritz, and every other person in new and unknown situations to only feel freedom, fun, and enthusiasm and not fear. I want to live in that world.

This is my favorite videos of Nina Simone. I understand her words in a different way very time I watch it.

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