Safety or Freedom: Which Would You Pick?

This was originally published on another blog in 2014, but is no longer available online, so we’ve republished it on the PDXX Collective.

by Lauren Rother

There’s an impossible choice that we’ve been talking about as a country for centuries: safety or freedom. It is a choice many women make over the course of their lives, often over and over again. And it is a choice I’ve been weighing.

I started writing online music reviews in early 2013; before that I was writing an indiepop newsletter and sharing music over Facebook and Twitter. As time has gone on, I find myself making excuses for why I can’t write a review or go to a show. I conveniently forget to mention on Twitter what shows I am seeing and what bands I’ve been into lately. I don’t even publicly mention when or where my own band is playing. I have a litany of reasons for this: I’m busy with work; I’m stressed out; I’m tired; I waited too long and now it’s too late. But these all only serve to distract from the real reason, which I was reminded of at a Terry Malts concert.

A couple of years ago, I dated a man I’d previously been friends with. We were only together for a couple of months, the relationship wasn’t working for me, so I ended it. It’s a fairly common, uninteresting occurrence, one many people have experienced from both sides at one time or another. But I wasn’t prepared for what happened after.

At first, I wrote off his showing up to every show I was at—for bands he’d never been interested in—as “taking the breakup kinda hard.” His friends thanked me for “doing all the right things” and “being really empathetic,” while they expressed disappointment in his behavior. I figured his looming, moping presence would eventually fade away as time worked its usual magic.

It didn’t.

He showed up to every show I posted about. I would ask bands to come to Portland via Twitter, and within hours he would post on their FB page asking them to come to Portland. It became clear that my social media presence was a source of information. Suddenly, this thing that connected me to a broad community was fraught with potential danger. I hesitated sharing new bands, knowing he’d likely show up if they were ever in town.

I was tempted to write it off as just the peculiarities of one dude. That is, until the man who sexually abused me in high school, who has been emailing me sporadically for years despite never receiving a reply, moved to Portland and started showing up to shows. He emailed me recently to let me know he was around.

This is all complicated by my tendency to go to shows alone. People find my solo attendance surprising, and it’s rare that one show passes without someone remarking about how unusual it is to see a woman out alone. As more time passes and I keep seeing these dudes lurking at every show I go to, I have to wonder whether I am really safe being in dark, loud spaces without some kind of backup.

So I am faced with the choice: Do I do the “smart” thing, locking up all my social media, laying low, not going to shows alone? Or do I continue living my life just as I would otherwise and hope neither dude escalates things?

For a long time, I avoided the choice. I saw no point in pseudonym-ing out or creating a new, public Twitter account, since I’d already started writing under my real name for DtR and it would be pretty easy to connect the dots. Besides, the very act of locking things up presents a big limitation. How do I promote my writing, promote bands, or participate in the music community if I can’t do so publicly as myself?

That would be the point, right? Men have an unquestioned, seemingly irrevocable right to space, regardless of whether their presence is unwelcome or alarming. Almost no one is going to call them out for showing up to shit, because they can always plead ignorance and unintentionality. But few will turn to scold them if something happens to me. Instead, people will shake their heads and say they never would’ve guessed that such a nice guy would’ve done something like that, while I will have to answer the gauntlet of Why did(n’t) you?s. Why did I keep putting myself in danger? Why didn’t I tell some authority? (Which, of course, is the logic behind such behavior: it crosses no overt line so there’s nothing to officially report.) And so, by placing the burden of responsibility and mindfulness on women, I am pushed out of participating publicly in my community by those who’ve never had their right to space questioned.

And so we return to the choice.  Do I keep making excuses for why I can’t do the things I love doing? Do I stop for awhile longer and hope these men go away (and that no others take their place)? Or do I just say “fuck it, I’m going to do what I want,” and hope that they’re mostly in the game for intimidation and not physical violence?

I went back and forth on whether I should even write this, as though talking about it could lend their behavior more power and more legitimacy. As though, maybe, if I could just ignore it for 6 more months, 2 more years, 10 more years, they would go away. But I’m sick of being quiet and staying home and making do with only a shadow of what I love. I’m tired of being quiet about the shitty way some men choose to behave and the way in which it is shrugged off as though it’s out of their control.

I believe men are better, smarter, and far more capable of empathy and consideration than that. So fuck it, I’m going to do what I love.

3 thoughts on “Safety or Freedom: Which Would You Pick?

  1. I hate it that women are put in these situations and I feel for you. There are so many decent men out there, and yet one in four women is sexually assaulted during her lifetime. That’s outrageous. Free or safe? I land somewhere in the middle. I do what I want, but in the safest way I can, and sometimes that means compromising. Ugh.

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  2. I agree that most women face this issue at one point or another in their lives. Do we live in fear or do we live the lives we want to have. It takes courage, it takes spunk, it takes being smart and aware of what’s happening around you. I honor you for your choice. Stand tall, walk with pride and be who you really want to be.

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    1. I agree completely with your choice for the simplest point…you can’t back down. If you cower back and stop doing what you enjoy then they got you. You have to live for you not them. Just be safe!!

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