Anyway, the point is, up until recently, I'd never really seriously feared for my personal safety qua woman; not even this incident induced that much fear. This changed, and then caused me to see my area in a different light, sometime last week when I went for a run at 7am. The sun doesn't rise in winter until about 8am, so it was still dark, and the roads were deserted because it was the holiday season and so nobody would be up at 7am, and I didn't think anything of it, just went about my run like normal.
I had felt like running along the canal towards Little Venice, and so I ran down Shirland Road. I turned right onto Formosa Street and, a few steps later, saw a homeless guy gesturing towards me. My first thought was that he wanted to ask for money; since I had no cash on me (or ever), and even if I did have cash on me, I wouldn't have wanted to give him any, I ignored him and kept running.
Seconds later, I sensed that someone was running after me, chasing me. I turned my head slightly backwards and saw, from the corner of my eye, that it was the homeless guy whom I'd just ran past. A foreign sensation shot through me and caused me to react in the only manner appropriate to that sensation: I ran faster. And I ran faster because I was scared.
Just out-run him, I thought. I'm probably fitter than a homeless guy. Just run faster, keep running, out-run him.
But it was dark, and although the street lamps shone an artificial brightness on me and him, there was no one around to see us. There was no one around to help if I couldn't out-run him, if he suddenly lunged at me from behind and caught me, if he had a weapon, a knife, and pulled it on me. There was no one around to witness or stop it if he attacked me; that is, tried to rape me.
My mind kicked in and decided that I was putting myself at more risk by trying to trust a physicality that had never been put to the test; that is, I had never tried to out-run a male potential assailant, simply because this had never happened to me before. I decided that I needed to try to gain control of the situation and engage him; if I kept running, I would be running from him, which meant that he had power over me. So I stopped, turned around, and he stopped too.
'Hey,' I said, panting. 'What's up?'
He said his name was Ben. He asked for my name; I stupidly gave it, and so thankfully my name isn't a generic English name but something Chinese that most people don't remember. He said it was nice to meet me, said the usual shit about how he thought I was unbelievably beautiful, and out of nowhere, hugged me, complete with a slight squeeze.
The relief that I felt when he let go was surprising, and spoke to the degree of fear that I was feeling in the moment. I still had no idea if he was harmless, or came at me with ill-intent. I wanted to get out of the situation as fast as I could, so I said that I was in the middle of my run and I had to keep running. He asked why was I running; I said I was training for a marathon. He said, 'I can train you.'
'That's very sweet,' I said. 'Look, I'll be running back this way later, so I'll catch you later, okay?'
He said that he would run with me but he had all his stuff on the pavement which he couldn't leave. Eventually--I don't quite remember how--I managed to get away. I ran up the bridge, crossed the bridge, and turned back a few times to make sure that he hadn't followed me again. He hadn't. He was gone.
Those few seconds during which he ran after me were maybe three or four seconds tops; and in those three or four seconds, I felt fear like I had never felt before. For what was probably the first time in my life, I experienced what it feels like to fear for my personal safety, and my personal safety as a woman. Of course, he could have been perfectly harmless; it seems, in retrospect, that he was probably either lonely or high, or both, and wanted some company.
But the sensation of a man, a complete stranger, running after me, a woman, when the sky hasn't come up and the streets are filled with the absence of people still holed up in their homes is one that can only be described as fearful. The funny thing was, I found that I was unable to fully talk about it later, when I got back and E asked me how my run was. Attempting to recount the experience to him, a man who would never hurt me, was like trying to talk underwater. It was only hours later (or maybe a day later) that I could talk about it freely and openly.
I think it is rather a travesty that women aren't given self-defence classes as a matter of course. This nasty experience alerted me to the fact that, in a very real physical way, and all things remaining equal, I will always be weaker than a man. He will always have a higher chance of winning a fight against me. If a man chooses to assault me, chances are, he will succeed; even if I put up a fight (and hell yes I will put up a fight), the odds are in his favour, not mine--simply because I am physically weaker, and so whether or not I am respected as an individual and as a woman is entirely up to him. The arbitrariness of character, of a man's whims and fancies.
These days, I don't feel very safe in my area. Yesterday, some random guy said something like 'hey beautiful' or whatever to me when I walked past him to get home after my run--and just like on that 7am run, I was in my unglamorous running attire. There are generally a lot of men on my street, some who sit outside a couple of Middle Eastern cafes opposite where I live. I'd noticed one of them looking at me a few times when I walked past, and once, one of them said hi to me.
Thankfully, when I do come back in the evening, it's usually with E. I honestly wouldn't feel safe walking back by myself at night--and I am someone who doesn't think much about such issues, who had never felt unsafe in a big city before.
On another note, I ran almost 12.5km on the track today. While I was satisfied with my time and pace, that's not the point; the point is that I survived running in circles for over an hour.
Probably won't be repeating this anytime soon. Running on the track is great because no traffic and it's a flat surface, but it is mind-numbingly boring. I honestly don't know how I got through it.
I've also noticed that the gap between my thighs, which I took to be a sign of slimness or fatness (obviously there is nothing in between), is pretty much gone. This is actually quite upsetting.