Strong and unbreakable. Powerful and resilient. Brave and valiant.  

These are some of the things I think it means to be a woman.

I grew up with more women influences than men. I wasn’t ever made to feel inadequate or incapable because of my gender. I was always empowered, even as a little girl, because I had a powerful mother who made me feel that way. 

It’s no secret we aren’t treated the same as men.

Because we are women, we are taken advantage of and we’re seen as weak. We are not chosen for a job because a man would better suit it. Our qualifications are often pushed aside and our looks, personality and superficial qualities are instead considered. Other times, we are given an opportunity solely because of our looks.

It wasn’t until I was a teenager I started to understand women live in a different world than men. Men can go about their days doing the same things women do but have a completely different experience. 

We can hardly go in the gas station without being looked at up and down or hit on by a man. I can’t count on my fingers, toes and hairs on my head how many times this has happened to me, even grocery shopping at Walmart. Most of the time I will purposely look as unattractive as possible — no makeup, haven’t showered in two days, looking like I lost my hairbrush with a baseball cap, sweatpants and a long-sleeve shirt on showing no skin — and it still happens.

I remember grocery shopping one time and a man trailed behind me on the ice cream aisle and said, “What are you so covered up for? I bet you look nice under that hat.”

I’ve been stalked in our local Walmart three times since I moved to Alexander City two and a half years ago. Each time it started out with a man staring at me endlessly and continuing to appear on the same aisle as me. Then I’d redirect myself to the complete opposite side of the store in a section full of things that weren’t even on my list just to get away from the man then see him pop up again and follow me my entire shopping trip. 

I’ve felt panic in a way a man has not felt. It is not OK for a woman to have to think so hard about doing such a mundane thing as grocery shopping or pumping gas, but that is how we live every day and is not even half of our worries. 

Why do I have to fear a man hurting me or assaulting me while I’m simply running errands? I’ve called my mama or boyfriend to talk to me on the phone as I walk to my car, and I’ve almost reported these stalkers to security but I didn’t. Why? Because I know I probably won’t be taken seriously — because I am a woman.

I’ve vowed to go the store only when it’s daylight out but even that won’t keep me safe. According to the Department of Justice, two-thirds of rapes occur at night with the largest proportion occurring between 6 p.m. and midnight. However, rape attempts are twice as likely as rapes to occur during the daytime and only half as likely to occur between 6 p.m. and midnight. 

I often make my boyfriend come with me to the store so hopefully the creepers leave me alone but all that does is make them target a different woman they decide to lay eyes on instead of me. 

According to statistics released from the DOJ, the majority of sexual assaults happen while a female victim is either sleeping or doing other activities at home but 35% happen while a woman is running errands. The rest occur while a woman is working or attending school. Most happen at a victim’s home at more than 50%; others at a friend/family member’s home at nearly 20%; and the rest in a parking lot or parking garage at more than 15%.

These are all basic activities in a woman’s life. They are the same basic activities in a man’s life. But the risks and consequences for a woman living her life are much higher than those for men. 

If a man walks into a gas station, he buys his Coke and tank of gas then goes about his day. If a man goes grocery shopping, he roams the aisles with no fear of being harassed, stalked or hurt. Carefree, he checks out and walks to his car.

Social researcher Jackson Katz has performed an experiment with hundreds of audiences in which he asks men, “What steps do you take on a daily basis to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted?” Katz said many laugh and jokingly say, “Stay out of prison” while the vast majority candidly says, “Nothing. I don’t think about it.”

The answers — plural — from women are much different.

“Hold my keys as a potential weapon. Look in the back seat of the car before getting in. Carry a cell phone. Don’t go jogging at night. Lock all the windows when I sleep, even on hot summer nights. Be careful not to drink too much. Don’t put my drink down and come back to it; make sure I see it being poured. Own a big dog. Carry Mace or pepper spray. Have an unlisted phone number. Have a man’s voice on my answering machine. Park in well-lit areas. Don’t use parking garages. Don’t get on elevators with only one man or with a group of men. Vary my route home from work. Watch what I wear. Don’t use highway rest areas. Use a home alarm system. Don’t wear headphones when jogging. Avoid forests or wooded areas, even in the daytime. Don’t take a first-floor apartment. Go out in groups. Own a firearm. Meet men on first dates in public places. Make sure to have a car or cab fare. Don’t make eye contact with men on the street. Make assertive eye contact with men on the street.”

We can take precautions — have weapons, you name it — but it won’t stop assaults from happening. The estimated number of women who have been victims of rape since 1998 is 17,700,000. Ninety-nine percent of sexual violence perpetrators will walk free. Nine out of 10 rape victims are female. 

To the men reading this, take a moment to put yourself in a woman’s shoes. And don’t assume she’s wearing high heels because she likely has on a ratty pair of old tennis shoes. Remember we put ourselves at risk every day in a different way than you do.

We’ll always be looked at differently than men. Here we are 47 years after the Equal Rights Amendment was passed but it seems we’ll always face injustices and wars of inequality. 

Because we are women, we will push through and carry on despite our struggles. Because we are women, we will fight for equality and try to make a difference. Because we are women, the bravest of us will speak up for those who are too scared to say something.

We aren’t the same, no. But we dang sure aren’t different enough to be unequal.

Santana Wood is the interim managing editor of Tallapoosa Publishers Inc. Monday is National Women’s Equality Day.