A few nights ago, I was asleep in bed when my fiancé, Paul, said, “babe, when you go to the library, do you walk there?”
“Yes,” I mumbled. The library is literally four blocks away from our apartment building — silly question.
“Can you not walk there anymore?” He went on to tell me in a sort-of panicked voice that there have been recent rapes and abductions in broad daylight “at the library.”
“I don’t think anybody’s getting raped at the library,” I said, sitting up in bed. “That’s crazy.”
“Well, maybe not at the library. But close to it.”
He had been looking at a crime map of Minneapolis, and there was a heavy concentration of crimes occurring a couple of blocks away from the library. Paul had read that some of the abductions had happened in the middle of the day by a man driving a van and dressed as a police officer.
“Yikes,” I said. “But only busses can drive on the street the library is on. No vans allowed.” I wasn’t willing to admit that anyone was getting raped or abducted while on their way to do something as wholesome as checking out books from the library.
On the other hand, I had seen some possibly sketchy characters in and around the library: thuggish-looking men in big coats, groups of boys yelling obscenities, grubby-looking dudes with crazy eyes. But that’s just downtown for you, right?
Sometimes I feel sad, or conflicted, over the fact that public libraries (especially the downtown branches, it seems) are almost always sketchy. The main library in DC smelled like urine, and the Capitol Hill branch was often filled with loud people eating McDonald’s sandwiches and watching youtube videos on the library computers. The Seattle main library was mostly a hangout for the homeless. And once, as a child, I went into the bathroom at the downtown library in Roanoke, Virginia and found a woman washing her armpits at the sink.
Sometimes it feels like I’m the only person who goes to the library with the intention of checking out books.
I’m not sure how I feel about all this. On the one hand, shouldn’t libraries be a place of reading and learning and not a hangout spot for the homeless? On the other hand, it’s a public space. Shouldn’t anyone and everyone be allowed to use it as they’d like? Park playgrounds are made for children, but Paul and I frequently play on them. Is that wrong of us?
Maybe I’m being stuck up. Maybe the homeless people are using the library to read and learn. Or maybe I’m just calling people sketchy because they don’t look and act like me.
So Paul told me he doesn’t want me walking to the library anymore — he will go pick up my books for me. And in fact, he’d feel better if I didn’t walk outside by myself …ever.
“Uhh… I understand you don’t want me to get raped,” I said, “but you can’t tell me that I can never go outside by myself. That’s unreasonable.”
This is the thing I hate about being a girl. People are always telling me I can’t do things or go places because it’s not safe. Because I might get raped or abducted or assaulted. And perhaps, sometimes, they’re right. I’ve probably been really lucky that all the times I’ve walked alone at night or gone hiking by myself nothing bad has happened. But I hate living my life in fear. I hate not being able to go where I want when I want. I’ll concede to not walking alone at night, but dear god, can’t I at least walk to the library in the middle of the day?
It’s hard for me to know — is this really something to be afraid of, or is this a case of being uppity and fearful of people who perhaps only look sketchy?
Paul showed me the crime map, and I had to admit that perhaps he had reason to be afraid.
“I just love you so much,” he said, “and if you got abducted, I would be devastated.”
So we made a compromise. I could still take walks on the trails along the river, which are often populated with joggers and bikers and which, according to the crime map, are safe. If I walk downtown, I have to take the Skyway, or walk with someone else, or, at very least, text Paul when I leave and then text him as soon as I get home. I won’t walk alone at night, and I will try to save my trips to the library for the weekends so that Paul can come with me.
I guess it can’t hurt for me to be careful, and I know that Paul’s worry is born out of his love, but still, it can be frustrating to hear: a girl can’t even pick up her books at the library without worrying about getting raped.
This makes me really annoyed.
I’m not sure what to do about it, but like everything, it probably has to do balance. I have to accept that as a female I need to be more careful — that’s just the way it is (for now). But I’m not going to keep myself locked up in my apartment either. I’m going where I want, even (heaven help us!) to the library, and no matter what, I refuse to live my life in fear!
“The moment that I step outside, so many reasons for me to run and hide. I can’t do the little things I love so dear! It’s all those little things that I fear…. ‘Cause I’m just a girl. I’d rather not be. Cuz they won’t let me drive late at night… I’ve had it up to here!”