On my first day of work, I and two male new employees received a key ring with a fob to access our office suite. Excited that I had fob that signaled my permanent, full-time status and not simply a temporary intern accessory, I noticed something different about my key ring and those of the other new hires. Whereas theirs only had the fob attached to the ring, mine included a key.
At first I did not think anything of it beyond perhaps that it was a master key to different areas of the office that my position gave me privileges to access. But alas, when I inquired about the source for the key I learned it simply gave me access to the ladies’ room.
Within my office, all the female employees have a key on their fobs and any female guests must ask the front desk for a key to use the facilities. According to my supervisor, this is a security measure. To protect women from having someone stalk out or follow them into the bathroom, they must use their key. Apparently, the high risk of someone attacking the men does not apply as they can just walk in and do their business without a key.
Although I can understand the reasoning behind the ladies’ room keys, it also reminds me about the state of women in today’s society. While I have been warned about not walking home alone late at night, I did not think that I would need special security measures for me to go to the bathroom. As a tool for self-defense, the key represents how women must be always on guard and aware of their surroundings, even in the most seemingly secure places.
Admittedly, had it not been for my attendance at the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders in May, I may not have had as such strong reactions to receiving the key. At the conference, I participated in a women’s self-defense workshop. It began with the facilitator, a coordinator at a Maryland rape crisis center, asking the women in the room about simple methods of self-defense. A young woman mentioned carrying keys in her hands whenever walking alone so that she would be equipped with a mechanism for defending herself in case of attack.
Unfortunately, such need to carry any type of self-mechanism highlights women’s vulnerability in today’s society. Moreover, in a culture that slut-shames, victim blames and launches wars on women, the message seems to be that even if we carry keys, or pepper spray, or mace, women are the ones putting themselves at risk. By travelling alone, we become easy targets, and naïve thinking that nothing will happen is not helping.
I will admit to a sense of naivety and feelings of security that led to multiple instances of walking home alone from the Tomb’s to Burleith post-midnight. Fortunately, nothing ever happened, but there was always the thought in the back of my head of what could happen. Texts from concerned friends wanting me to ensure my safe arrival home reinforced this looming fear. Now, as I live outside of Georgetown and spend late nights at places way beyond a few blocks from home, my ability to walk freely is even more restricted.
Maybe it was the Georgetown bubble that gave me this false-sense of security, but an incident on the Fourth of July reminded me how much my sex subjects me to risks. Having just gotten off the metro and bypassing the buses crowded with tourists, I chose to walk the seven blocks to my apartment. With plenty of people still around on the holiday evening, I felt fine with my decision to go it alone—until, less than a block from home, a young man called out “Excuse me.” As I turning around, feeling all the color drain from my face and my heart rate speed up, the man asked if I would come over to the wall by the sidewalk. Responding that I had somewhere to be, I sprinted the next block while making sure I was not followed.
Although I arrived home safely, I felt violated and wronged. What’s more, I felt like my office’s concerns with the ladies’ room keys were justified. Plenty of people were around when that man “excused me,” but that did not stop him; he seemed to have no fears about approaching me, whereas I had every fear boiling up inside when his words stopped me cold. I have no idea his intentions, yet I can only think the worst. That, and the sense of risk that remains for being a woman, even if she just wants to powder her nose in the bathroom.