The night a pack of guys in Scream masks chased me down the street, I was wearing a bulky sweater, corduroy pants, boots, and no makeup. I carried a backpack and had my hair pulled back in a ponytail. I wore a scarf and gloves. I was 20 years old, and they were mad I hadn’t responded to their calls of “Hey, baby!” and “Nice tits!” and “Come over here!”

I tell you all this because sometimes people think women who get catcalled – or grabbed – or chased down a city street – are “asking for it” by wearing sexy clothes. Now, I like to wear sexy clothes. I like to look pretty. I like respectfully appreciative glances from males and females. I even like to say hi to strangers on the street.

Flowchart: Should You Catcall Her?

But I was not wearing sexy clothes that night. In fact, I thought I looked pretty frumpy. But to these dudes, it wasn’t about what I was wearing. I was asking for it because I was a girl.

I wasn’t flattered. I felt scared, as one might naturally expect to feel when shouted at by a group of big men in masks. So I kept my head down and my eyes on the ground and I kept walking. I thought if I tried to appear small and invisible, maybe they’d leave me alone.

They did not leave me alone.

“Cunt!” one shouted.

“Bitch!” said another.

“Fuck it, let’s go,” said a third, and that’s when I heard the clattering of footsteps after me.

I turned around and they were running at me full-force. I don’t know if you’ve ever been chased by a pack of animals larger than you, but it is not exactly a calming experience. I took off down the street, running as fast as I could, while they ran after me, laughing and screaming.

I looked around for a store that was open, and ran into a Thai restaurant. The pack of guys stood outside, screaming. One came in and yelled something I don’t remember. I do remember the restaurant owner screaming in his face and kicking him out.

Well I got a free glass of Thai iced tea out of it, anyway.

Look, I know you’re probably not the type to chase a woman down the street. I’m pretty sure that type of guy doesn’t read a sophisticated and gentlemanly website like this one.

I know those guys were engaged in a kind of mob mentality and were maybe drunk and maybe high. I know they may not have done anything to me if they caught me. (Though I’m pretty sure they would’ve done a lot of things to me if they caught me.)

My point is this: shit like that happens to women all the time. A majority of women experience abuse doled out by a minority of men. And it always starts with just a “friendly” hello, or a “Hey baby how you doin’?” or a “Nice tits!” or a “Come over here.”

If you say you’ve never seen anything like this, I believe you. Most predators don’t actually move in packs. Shitty dudes act shitty to women and they USUALLY do it out of sight of other men. Why? Because you good guys would call them out on it, or so they believe.

When a strange man grabbed my breasts and screamed in my face at Yankee Stadium when I was 15, he acted alone. I was scared but I wasn’t surprised. After all, when I was 13, a drunk man had started caressing my hair and head and whispering seductively in my ear in front of my mom and little brother, and that happened at a baseball game, too. That man acted alone, too.

Anyway, after it happened a third time at another sporting event, I got the message. Stopped going to games unless a man was with me. Gradually stopped being much of a sports fan until earlier this year, when I got into the greatest of all human activities, puckball (you may know it as “hockey.”) But that’s a story for another time.

“But these things are exceptions to the rule,” a lot of folks say. “Not all men do this stuff.”

Of course all men don’t do this stuff. In fact, most men don’t do this stuff. But a minority of men provides a negative experience to a majority of women. It’s a loud minority, and an active one.

These guys always, always, always start out by just saying hi, just being friendly, just trying to talk to you. That’s why so many of us seem “shy” or “unfriendly” when we pass men on the street. We don’t actually know which way it’s going to go. What starts out as “hi” might actually, no joke, no kidding, no exaggerating, might turn into you grabbing us. It might turn into you raping us. We don’t know you, so we have to assume the worst in order to protect ourselves.

Now after all I’ve written, you may think I’m the kind of girl who ignores men on the street. Actually, I say hello a lot. If you say hi, or tell me I look pretty, or that you like my hair, I’m inclined to smile and say, “Thank you.” I find it flattering.

But you know what happens after I smile and say thank you? I pick up the pace. I keep my head on a swivel. I keep my eyes open just a little bit wider and my ears just a little bit more in tune to what’s around me. My heart beats just a little bit faster.

Because when you’re a woman, you just never know.