Tu sí Puedes

(un)safe on the streets

Before I came to Brown, my dad taught me how to flip a grown man over my shoulder.

He’s an advanced black belt in Karate and taught me how to properly throw a punch before I was ten, and how to do a solid kick when I was in my teens. But, as I accepted Brown’s offer of admission and prepared to move across the country, he was worried about my safety. I was moving to Providence, RI, not to Caracas, Venezuela where my parents grew up and my uncle was robbed at gunpoint while holding my two year old cousin. Yet, the prospect of me being far from my family was terrifying for my dad.

He taught me how to flip a grown man over my shoulder on a beach. I got it on my second try and my dad tumbled onto the damp sand. My mom told us to stop or someone would think something was wrong. I have thought long and hard about whether I can do it while wearing a backpack. If I were scared enough, I think the answer would be yes.

Why is it that, even on a school campus, women still need to be afraid?

I do not mean for “afraid” to describe a state of paralyzing terror. Rather, that silent warning bell that makes us cross the street to see if the person behind us is really following us, or when we call safe-walk rather than make the three-block trek from Keeney to Perkins on our own in the dark.

I have been followed by a car on Brown’s campus four times. After the third, I was so scared to walk around by myself after dark that I would refuse to do things unless I knew someone would be willing to walk me home. At the time, I lived in Perkins, which felt so far off-campus for a sophomore student used to living on main campus. I often just refused to join my friends if they contacted me after dark. We are a campus that is monitored by both a police force and private security. If I, a young woman, cannot walk alone in the dark for fear that I will find myself alone and cornered here, then I can scarcely imagine the reality faced by young girls and women in cities with fewer street-lamps and more crime.

At the end of sophomore year, my faith in humanity was restored quite a bit when. Upon hearing that I wouldn’t be joining a birthday celebration because I was afraid of walking by myself in the dark and safe-walk was, some reason, not working that day, about half of the party (that’s ten people) came to get me from my dorm room. Not only did the antics of this large group make me start laughing the second I saw them, it was wonderful to know that I had people I could rely on.

People who talk about how men and women are now equal–who point to 1920 and say that inequality disappeared with the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution–do not understand the inherent difficulty of being a woman. They do not understand the feeling of hesitation before you leave the house because the shirt you are wearing dips just a bit too low, of wearing a sports bra instead of a push-up so that people won’t call to you on the streets. They don’t understand why you ask male friends to put their arms around you while you walk down a street where the light has gone out and you can hear voices slurred from drink when all the other streets are under construction and and it’s starting to rain.

In the face of this ever present fear, hope keeps me going. Determination, faith, hard work, confidence and sheer stubbornness – that is how girls become engineers and CEOs and presidents. My mom used to tell me, whenever I was particularly discouraged by anything from tying my shoes when I was two to when I was on the phone complaining about multivariable calculus as a freshman in college: “Tu sí puedes.”

“Yes, you can.”