This morning, both my girlfriend and my sister told me the same story. They each had been outside, one working in the garden, the other just walking down the street. I’ve heard their story many times before, from my mother, aunt, and cousins. And my daughter, too. 

All the women I know experience a completely different reality when they leave the front door and head out into our neighborhood. Out into the world. 

They get hit-on constantly. Groped. Grabbed. Propositioned. Unwanted attention. Flirtatious bantering. Lewd comments. Leering stares. Cat-calls. Whistles. The list is quite extensive.

Our neighborhood is one in transition, from a past of drug-dealers and pimps to a gentrified future. But we’re not there yet. We still have one remaining problem:  Men

The level of harassment from men is ubiquitous in women’s lives, and I believe we have no idea, even when we are unwittingly the perpetrators. 

My girlfriend was visibly upset after gardening in the front yard. “Some guy just asked me the most inappropriate question!”

“Let me guess," I said, trying to be funny. "He wanted see your tits.”

“No, that’s stupid. I would have slapped him. He asked me if I lived here.”

I’ve probably said that to many of my neighbors, just trying to be friendly. I try to make people feel welcome in our little community and I’m curious if they live nearby. I have never thought that I was possibly making women feel unsafe in the homes.

“Oh, that’s not bad,” I said defensively, because I'm a white male and I tell everyone where I live. My home is my castle, as English common law dictated and gave landowners the right to use deadly force. Americans call it the Make My Day/Stand Your Ground Law. But I think that only applies to white men with guns

And I was defensive towards my girlfriend because if the male stranger had been overtly rude or physically aggressive, then as a man I would have to respond with hostility. Because men only respect the anger of other men.

Which raises a point: Women get hit-on, men get hit.

I’ve taught karate for 20, maybe 30 years, and I’ve noticed some traits about the men and women who walk into the dojo. All the men have a story of how one time they got jumped in high school or beat-up outside a bar during college or punched by a homeless guy at the gas station. And they want to learn to fight back, to defend themselves. To answer the age-old question of pride that every young man asks himself: Am I tough enough?   

The women who appear at our studio are survivors. Survivors of domestic violence. They’ve been assaulted. Verbally, physically and sexually. Raped in college, high school, middle school. Not a one-time attack, like the guys, but a lifetime of suffering abuse. They don’t want to fight, instead they just don’t want this to ever happen again. It’s not a matter of pride, it’s a matter of survival.   

My own past physical punishment from the street has left me not damaged but rather vulnerable. There is a powerful line from Henley’s poem “Invictus”:

     Under the bludgeoning of chance

     My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Unfortunately, the result of constant verbal and physical assaults, either getting hit or hit-on, leaves us bloodied and bowed.

Bowed, but not broken.