Of Dogs and Men

By the time that I had reached the park I wanted to relax and exhale. The streets in my neighborhood were busy, and the sidewalks narrow (as always). Women refused to give even an inch to the foreign girl running headlong towards them and I was forced off the curb, into traffic, and occasionally had to slow to a walk. It was not a glorious first kilometer and I longed for the soft mud of the wooded path, the silence of the park hidden only a few meters from the busy street, and the sound of my breath, feet, and mp3 player. Instead, as I rounded the corner and mounted the steps I was greeted by an unfamiliar small yapping, and a set of fierce, bared teeth.
It took me a moment to realize what was happening. I had stumbled upon a dog protecting her two very new, adorable puppies. I slowed to a walk and backed away from the dog, deeper into the park. A few meters up the hill I saw another dog, not growling at me but very aware of the situation. I sighed and resigned myself to a steady, slow walk until I hit the main park path, well out of the dogs’ territory. I was sad and frustrated to have lost my anticipated release, but it was an understandable situation that in some way made me happy. Although it conflicted with my personal desires it showed enough of love and protection, not to mention the cuteness of the puppies, to ease the edge off of my disappointment.
I got away from the dogs and began the ascent to the central loop of the park. The central loop of the park is only 1km long, but my run was only supposed to be 10km. I spent the uphill section debating whether the dogs would be gone or if I should alter my route home to take the main road instead of the park, and it passed quickly enough. I had slipped my earbuds into my ears once again and was preparing for a quick but hard workout when I noticed a man running behind me. How I noticed him I am not sure. Sometimes you can just sense a presence around you. Sometimes that sensation is a good one, and others, like that day, they make your skin crawl.
The man had jeans and a leather jacket on. It was obvious that he wasn’t out for a run. But he was jogging along behind me, increasing his pace until he was beside me. He started talking to me in Turkish. I told him that I do not understand Turkish. He continued with the most basic phrases- You do sports. Friend. Now, perhaps I would have found this conversation appropriate if he was dressed in jogging gear. Maybe he wanted a running partner. But it was quite obvious that he was headed for the metro and the only reason that he was running was to talk to me. I told him that someone was married (my Turkish had left my mind and I could not think of how to claim that I was married.) and tried to show him my ring, which I had unfortunately left of the bedside table the night before. He continued to run beside me, insisting that we should be friends. I shrugged and put my earbud back in, signaling that the conversation was over. He thought otherwise, reached around my head to my far ear and took the bud out, touching my cheek and shoulder and trying to pull me towards him when he returned his hand to neutral territory. He then looked at me with those big brown eyes- full of sex and playfulness- and made a clear motion of “me, you, kiss.” I very firmly said no, and increased my pace, beyond what I could hold for very long. Thankfully I was to the metro turn and he was left behind at the bottom of a steep hill.
I did two laps of the central loop, trying to figure out what about the interaction bothered me so. I could tell that I was bothered because my chest was welling and I was short of breath, and I really didn’t want to run anymore. My first reaction when I saw the man was fear, and that bothered me. For the most part in Istanbul I feel safe, and I like to think that I am safe, and yet my first reaction was fear. I found a certain unfairness in that reaction and I am not sure if the unfairness is to me as a woman, that I have to constantly consider my safety, or to Turkish men (or men in general) that I assume the worst from them. After the initial fear, but while I was still pumping with adrenaline my thoughts turned more logical. I thought of escape routes and whether I could outrun him, or overpower him, and whether anyone would hear and/or come if I screamed. All of these thoughts were before he even talked to me, and again, they are unfair both to me and to men. Once he began talking to me my thoughts changed. For a moment I was hopeful. I love interactions. I love friendships. Also, I felt the need to be friendly and encouraging of his interest in me. After all, it can be hard to approach someone that you don’t know. But there was something in his speech and in his eyes that quickly ruined that interest and I started to become fearful again. Then he touched me- reached into my space without permission with what might have been a very innocent motion, and that fear became anger. I became rude and left.
I left the situation but the situation wouldn’t leave me. It stuck in me. With each loop I continued to assess exit routes and the danger of running in the park. Was it worth the risk to be off the main road and away from cars? Was there really any risk? Usually there were construction workers in the park. Surely their presence assured my safety, or did it make things worse? In the end I cut my run short and decided that it was a form of social gaslighting. We talk about gaslighting as a current act imposed from one individual onto another, which it can be, but we rarely look at gaslighting as a social phenomenon. As a woman I am completely set up for gaslighting. I am constantly told that women over-react to simple things, dramatize events, and make things about themselves. If I had pushed the guy away surely the response would have been that physical force was not necessary as his action was obviously harmless. Even my rude response of, “No,” was unmerrited as I couldn’t really understand what he was saying and maybe he did just want to be friends. However, if I had done nothing and let things progress then it would be my fault if anything happened as I had obviously encouraged the interaction in a secluded place.
Running home I decided to change my route in order to avoid the stray dogs. I cut my run short by 5km and decided that enough was enough for one day. On the way home I debated whether or not I would write about it. It seems kind of pompous to write about it at all; to assume that the guy was even interested in my sex seems very egotistical. Yet somehow to keep silent and not write about it seems worse, because there is obviously an issue if a woman who is as strong, confident, and optimistic as I tend to be, can be frightened and put so off her balance by such a simple encounter in a park. I ran by the entrance of the park and the puppies were no longer there. I was disappointed, partly because the puppies had been cute and I wanted to see them up close again, but partly because the dogs were a violence that made sense to me. Everything was clear and strait forward in those flashing teeth, and I needed something simple that I could understand to settle my nerves. I decided that it is indeed a sad world when a woman would rather face a pack of stray dogs than a single man.

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