I don’t want to need protecting.

Like a lot of women, I have a can of pepper spray in my bag. My mom gave it to me a few weeks ago. I didn’t ask for it. I haven’t had to use it yet. To be honest, I forgot it was even in there.

The pepper spray lives in a navy blue and white striped case with a bright pink anchor on it. A full-figured silhouette of a woman with a raised arm overlays the bottom of the anchor. She kind of looks like Princess Peach. The whole design is absurd, frankly.

Along the bottom of the case are the words “Damsel in Defense” — the company that makes the pepper spray and other self-defense aids for women. Take a quick look through their website and one you’ll find photos of stylish, clearly affluent White women with various purses and close-ups of pepper spray cases in a variety of patterns clipped to matching handbags. The company also sells reinforced straps for purses to prevent snatching, stun guns with “ergonomic” grips to fit into small frail female hands (also in an array of colors), and handbags with pockets for concealed carry handguns. Because as we all know, that’s all we’ve been asking for to feel empowered and safe.

The “Damsel in Defense” spray is at the bottom of my book bag under pens, lip balm, a mini stapler, loose change, hand lotion, and tampons. I’ve never had to use it, and if I wanted to use it, I wouldn’t be able to. It would take a good twenty seconds to unzip my bag, root around, get the pepper spray out, take it out of its nautically patronizing case, and spray the eyes of whatever man is harassing me.

The pepper spray is there but I’m never gonna use it.

I don’t want to need this pepper spray. I really don’t. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s branded “Damsel in Defense” (I’m not a fucking damsel.) Maybe it’s the fact that I have avoidant tendencies and like to pretend harsh realities don’t exist. But I don’t want it.

This isn’t to say I feel completely worry free walking around by myself. I’m a young woman who lives alone in a city — of course I’ve had moments of fear walking down the street. Again, nothing serious has happened. A few catcalls here and there. But nothing to warrant pepper spray.

The possibility is in the back of my mind. Of course it is. The possibility of being dragged into the nearest alley, being burglarized out of the blue. Of course.

I take steps to stay safe without having pepper spray in hand. I don’t go out at night alone often; I walk the busy streets instead of the side streets even though it might take longer. Just like plenty of others. I’m lucky enough to have a 9–5 schedule and live in a relatively “safe” neighborhood.

I do not feel in danger most of the time. Hardly ever. Is it because I don’t want to feel in danger? Because I don’t want to face the reality that everyday, women are in danger out on the streets? That it doesn’t matter what clothing you wear, where you walk, whether you have a pink stun gun with an ergonomic grip or not, you can still be harassed, raped, or kidnapped? Even murdered? I don’t know. I put my hood up and keep walking. I’m not on the defense. I’m tired of being on defense.

I don’t want the pepper spray. I’m certainly not a damsel. And I don’t want to need protecting.