Despite how squirrely I may come across, I'm actually a fairly levelheaded person. I don't scare easily and I don't often find myself worrying over situations. Walking late at night doesn't bother me. I maintain my wits in stressful situations. And I love men. I mean, they are a great group of people with lovely assets and many even having winning personalities. I know several amazing individuals who are literally the best people I have ever met. While this all may seem pointless, I do have a reason for stating these obvious things. It's to remind you I am not a timid, easily frightened man-hater.
This morning, I decided to take a walk down to the lake. It's about five kilometres away and takes about forty minutes to get there. There are two ways to go, the roadway, which I usually run and the trails just over the bridge of Perseverance Creek. I decided to go the latter, because I needed to reconnect with some old growth foliage. As soon as I hit the treeline, I pulled out my earphones and listened to the nature around me. Not only because I love hearing the birds, but because this is cougar and bear territory. If I'm going to be eaten, I'd like to have a fighting or fleeing chance. There were a couple concerning noises in the thick underbrush, so I found myself a good poking stick. Granted, a stick isn't going to do much against a hundred and thirty-six pound kitty, but I felt a bit better having twig in hand.
When I emerged from the trees and set eyes on the lake, I noticed three guys off to the side packing up their stuff. As soon as I stepped forward, they all turned to stare at me and watched intently as I made my way down to the water. Turning my back on them, I heard one say, "Like that stick will help you." And laughter. The comment irked me because I didn't understand the meaning behind it, or why the other guys thought it so hilarious.
At this remark, hellos were out of the question, mostly because I was instantly uncomfortable. I veered to the left, figuring if they were getting ready to go, I could poke around the lake for awhile, take some pictures of the breathtaking scenery, then head back home without being under their scrutiny. I ventured around the bend in the lake and took in the expanse of water and trees.
Except, knowing I had to go back the way I came put a damper on the amazing fact I live in such a glorious place. As I retraced my steps, I had a sinking feeling the guys were still going to be there. Coming around the corner, some twenty minutes later, my sinking feeling was confirmed. There they were. All three. Just standing there. Waiting. Hoping to go unnoticed, I slipped into the trees, but they were paying attention and followed close behind.
Because I'm a fairly speedy walker, I managed to get a fair pace ahead without all out running away from them. Here's when they started yelling at me. Calling out to me. Taunting me, really, even though it seems dramatic to use the word. Cat calls. Asking if I was alone. Whistling. Screaming at the stop of their lungs. Demanding to know where I was going. Why I was walking so fast.
Remember the part where I told you I am a levelheaded person. Well, I am, which is why I found myself reasoning their behaviour. They were probably harmless. Probably just having some fun. They were probably nice enough guys. Except, I didn't really like how discouraging the word probably felt at the time. I didn't want to count on probablys. Bad things happen and it's my responsibility to keep myself safe, right? Wait a minute, how could I jump to such crazy conclusions? Surely these guys were only joking around. They weren't going to hurt me. They were just giving me a hard time. Acting foolish. Heck, they probably didn't even realize the sickening feeling in my gut, or how intimidating three guys are to one girl who is in the middle of the forest alone.
But we've all seen enough horror movies to know how terrifying that particular scenario is.
I did the whole glancing back over my shoulder. Second guessing my decision of going to the lake. Kicking myself for not bringing Dixon. Worrying whether I was walking fast enough. Contemplating hiding in the bushes until they passed. Instead of sticking to the main path, I decided to climb the embankment and take the logging road, figuring my knowledge of the forest would benefit me, and I ran right out of there. Not stopping or slowing. Feeling relief as their shouts and laughter faded.
And it all seemed crazy and weird. Crazy to feel that fear and weird to be worrying over the choices I'd made.
When I reached the main road and slowed my pace, I felt stupid. Silly for blowing the whole thing out of proportion. Except, the staring, watching, following, shouting were all intimidation tactics and not just a good time. Sure, they might have been 'goofing off' or 'being boys' but there are repercussions to their actions, ones I highly doubt they even considered. Yes, I am rational and know the forest, but I worry about how the same situation could have afflicted someone else. Let's say someone who had been sexually assaulted in the past. What kind of emotions would they have felt? How would they have reacted?
The simple fact is, we don't live in a day and age where rationality pays. Yes, I told myself these men were probably good guys out for a morning swim and were just harassing me a bit, but I still got myself out of there. Because one against three isn't good odds. I didn't slow my pace to see if my levelheadedness was accurate. And honestly, even a bit of harassment isn't an acceptable amount.
If a man emerged from the forest alone and saw three women at the lakeside, would he feel the same way? No. Would the situation have unfolded the same way? Probably not. Chances are those girls wouldn't act the same way. This was a strange situation for me. Entering the forest worrying about being eaten by bears and cougars, only to leave frustrated over the excuses we make for guys, claiming 'boys will be boys' and not taking intimidation tactics seriously, when they are seriously worrisome.