Look, I don't do memes. I've turned my nose up at going with the crowd since I was eight or ten, at least. And that, I suspect, has protected me from a lot of the shit that women put up with. I've had a resting bitch face since the seventh grade, and predators tend to have an instinct for which targets will make a fuss. But I developed my fuck-off attitude because seventh grade was when the girls started wearing bras and the boys decided it was fun to snap them. Eighth grade was when I had a guy grab my ass in the stairwell for no apparent reason. I gave him a look of death and ran, and to this day I wish I'd shoved him head-first down the stairs. But that's the thing—so often you can't believe anyone could be that uncouth, and by the time you think to react the societal restraints have kicked in and you know an altercation is going to cause you more trouble than simply swallowing the insult.
I had highly protective parents. Overly-protective, a lot of people think, when they hear how I was raised. But I heard things too, about the closets and bedrooms and church camp outhouses in which other girls found themselves cornered. My parents protected me while I was too young to know my own intentions, much less read other people's, and from this vantage point I'm not sorry. My dad taught me early on that my body was mine and I had every right—indeed, a duty—to defend myself. He was the first to show me how to use knees and elbows, leverage and quickness, knives and rolled-up magazines.
Since high school I've been both lucky and very, very careful. I am cool with strangers. I distrust men who try to do me favors (and I've hurt some feelings along the way, but oddly enough the good guys always seem to understand in the end). For a long time I had a string of boyfriends who were weak in some way, whom I could stave off emotionally or physically. I'm not proud of that. It wasn't healthy for me or them, but in retrospect I know it was the self-protective instinct doing its job.
It's telling that my husband, the Sparring Partner, is the only man I've been in a relationship with who doesn't pooh-pooh me when I tell him about the shit I put up with in every venue: the mansplainers in writer's groups/kung fu class, the smarmy fans at conventions, the condescending/inappropriate coworkers, the curb people pestering me in the park when I'm trying to work out, the precautions I take while walking to my car or working conventions or staying in hotels. The time a couple of guys "interviewed" me on a deserted street and apparently decided I was too much of an unknown quantity.
I like to think I'm invulnerable. I'm not, of course. As I said I've been both lucky and careful. But I'm forty-three now, and I have to wonder if anyone's luck can last a lifetime. I wonder, how long before I start to look like a frail older woman, a target, a stuck-up old bitch who needs to be taught a lesson? Or I just happen to get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time with a male (not a man) whose sense of entitlement outweighs his sense of decency, civil restraint, and/or self-preservation? Even if I come out of said hypothetical altercation physically unscathed, I'm not such a fool to think that it won't leave scars. Because how can anyone be that uncouth? And how could I have failed to see it coming?