….minding my own business…

12 Apr

What happened during my lunch break today:

I was out for a walk, just getting some fresh air. On the way back to my office I took a detour through a short alley behind a library, when a large white SUV pulled up next to me. The man in the driver’s seat said:

“Hey, I like how you walk. Can I give you a lift?”

It was a WTF moment that lasted longer than a moment. I said No.Thanks. And kept walking. He continued to slow roll along beside me in his car, window down, asking again, and again, and again if he can give me a lift, take me to lunch, take me to dinner… Red lights are going off in my head as I begin to gauge how much further it is to the outlet at the end of the alley. If he cuts me off with his car, which way will I run. He is a big man, could I outrun him? Scream? Pick up a rock? ((Looking around for rocks…))

It didn’t come to that. He finally drove off leaving me to finish my walk, jumpy and looking over my shoulder.

I was dressed in jeans, a long sleeve hoodie, with a baseball cap on my head.

Does it matter what I was wearing? Would this incident have “made more sense” if I was wearing a short skirt?

I don’t really have it in me right now to make a nice wrap-up and take away for this post. But, I will leave you with two other articles that are bouncing around in my mind right now as somehow being related:

Ashely Judd fights back against the media’s misogyny towards women’s bodies.
And Any Sundberg rages on behalf of wicked smart women.

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15 Responses to “….minding my own business…”

  1. Jenn Dunne-Bach April 12, 2012 at 10:24 pm #

    While I think it is worthwhile to examine the larger gender milieu that this incident happened in, I think in the end, that person that approached you was simply a disrespectful, selfish and possibly dangerous human being. Making rude or gender-presumpteous remarks about your looks as a conversation opener at a party (for example) is one thing . . . following someone along while you are in a vehicle and they are not, is another. *Hugs*

    Regarding women’s clothing and other looks as invitations to be treated as a sexual object or otherwise objectified. I recently received a bachelor’s degree from a western states university and because of my subject of study, my mind often mused between Mormonism and women’s clothing and Islam and women’s clothing and Hollywood and women’s clothing, and similar thoughts and things in relationship to women’s clothing, all in juxtaposition to each other. But I observed that as we sat around a table in the upper division classes where each man and woman (about equal numbers in most classes) knew their subject and discussed incisively and intelligently etc with ease among each other with no discernable difficulties base either in gender NOR what they were wearing. Which is where I bring up why I mention that it was a western states university, where slippers, pajamas and bed head was acceptable attire for at least your 8 a.m. classes, and where even the upper division, filled-with-smarties classes involved ladies in tank tops, summer minis (if they like those styles, some were in camoflauge or just jeans and t’s) and men with muscle shirts and mohawks (or jeans and t’s). The clothing had no bearing whatsoever on their desire and ability to speak and be heard. Only the joy of the subject matter. Nobody jumped across the table to have sex with each other because they could see a woman’s thigh or shoulder. They were able to look each other in the eye and have apparel be a non-issue. Did this translate outside of class? I don’t know. But it seemed to me to be at least an indication that relating properly among the sexes is not dependent on clothing choices nor the amount of fabric that covers the surface of the skin. If we choose it. But sometimes we find ourselves consenting to or at least unwittingly tangled in more unfortunate paradigms :( that have serious consequences for our socities and our peace of mind.

  2. Jules Godson April 13, 2012 at 6:02 am #

    That’s horrible. Some men don’t get it that intimidation is not flattering, not that that’s an excuse. Others might engage in a sort of “aggressive flirting” when it’s clear they’re not going to get anywhere. Again an abuse of power.

    While I think it’s a good idea to keep a low profile, it sure didn’t work for a young man in Florida. Clothing is used as a lame excuse for bad acts after the fact (“it’s not my fault I chose to do the things I did”). Everyone is vulnerable, women more so.

    Kudos for confronting what happened and defending your rights. Impressively you thought out your options, reflected on it later, and came away proud though shaken. I kinda like the rock idea (as a last resort!).

    Whose fault was it? HIS.

  3. KaralynZ April 15, 2012 at 12:52 pm #

    I said No.Thanks. And kept walking.

    I found this particularly interesting. You were polite and tried to avoid confrontation. Because we’re taught that’s what “nice” women do – women who confront, who yell, who get angry- they are bitches.

    I’m going to link the famous post by Fugitivus in case some of you have not read it. It has lots and and lots of swearing. I’ll quote the most important part in relation to this post below.

    http://fugitivus.wordpress.com/2009/06/26/another-post-about-rape-3/

    ———————————–

    Here’s a situation every woman is familiar with: some guy she knows, perhaps a casual acquaintance, perhaps just some dude at the bus stop, is obviously infatuated with her. He’s making conversation, he’s giving her the eye. She doesn’t like him. She doesn’t want to talk to him. She doesn’t want him near her. He is freaking her out. She could disobey the rules, and tell him to GET THE F— AWAY FROM HER, and continue screaming GET THE F— AWAY FROM ME every time he tries to step closer, or speak to her again. And then he will be all, “I was just talking to you! WTF!” and everybody else will be all, “Yeah, seriously, why’d you freak out at a guy just talking to you?” and refuse to offer the support she needs to be safe from dude. Or, the guy might become hostile, violent even. Ladies, you’ve seen that look, the “bitch can’t ignore *me* ” look. It’s a source of constant confusion, as soon as you start budding breasts, that the man who just a moment ago told you how pretty you are is now calling you a stupid ugly whore, all because you didn’t get in his car.

    OR

    You could follow the rules. You could flirt back a little, look meek, not talk, not move away. You might have to put up with a lot more talking, you might have to put up with him trying to ask you out to lunch every day, you might even have to go out to lunch with him. You might have to deal with him copping a feel. But he won’t turn violent on you, and neither will the spectators who have watched him browbeat you into a frightened and flirtatious corner.

  4. Jules Godson April 15, 2012 at 2:07 pm #

    Very good comment & article.

    One might add that men simply don’t get targeted by this sort of boorishness (though some do get raped) and thus (1) don’t immediately understand the intimidation and (2) don’t have to walk a line of “acceptable” response. “F— off” of course isn’t the only option. A good clear “stop” might bring sympathy from those who “get it.” It’s not bitchy or unfeminine to have boundaries, regardless of whether you feel the reflexive need to please others.

    So what to do here? In this case I assume they were alone in the alleyway, so inflicting social humiliation with the loud voice was not a great option. Being nasty right away might have brought aggression not earlier intended. Maybe the second response if things escalate. I note she was considering her options, not just hunkering down and walking fast.

    Of course the most dangerous class of men won’t be deterred by anything but force. They want what they want and there’s no subtle dance of stereotypes.

  5. Eliza R. April 15, 2012 at 4:40 pm #

    As I think back on this incident I wish I had taken his license plate number and reported it. Because the feel of the situation, being approached in an alley in that was was beyond tasteless. I am unsure if it is totally unreasonable to make a comparison like this, but it felt as unnatural as a stranger going up and offering candy to a kid playing by himself on a playground.

    KaralynZ, thank you for that link! Yes, I am inclined waaaaay to often to be ‘nice’. Another thing I wish I had had the presence of mind to do was to pull out my phone and start taking video of him soliciting me from his car, and say something along the lines of “back off assh*ole, or you’re gonna go viral on the internet.”

    As Jules just mentioned: in this situation, relatively trapped in an alley, no one around, I was afraid to escalate hostilities. I was looking for an escape. Or a way to defend myself. And didn’t have it in me to antagonize a would-be aggressor. I was scared. (Not to proud of that.)

  6. KaralynZ April 15, 2012 at 5:23 pm #

    You don’t have to be ashamed of being scared, you were reacting normally to a situation where you *knew* you were in potential danger. Getting in the car, obviously dangerous. Saying something that would cause him to get out and chase you, pull a gun, heaven knows what else, also extremely dangerous. I’ll put in a plug here for Gavin DeBecker’s AMAZING book “The Gift of Fear” which addresses this issue in great depth.

    The problem is that because our society sets up women as passive reacting aggressively CAN put you in danger because it can lead to the offending party needing to correct the aggressive behavior – “putting us in our place.”

    We act as we’ve been socialized to act.

  7. Jules Godson April 15, 2012 at 7:55 pm #

    FWIW I’ve heard it’s critical NOT to let yourself be moved to another place. That’s when bad stuff happens. I taught my kids to at least go limp and yell “You’re not my father!” That makes clear that it’s not a domestic dispute. (One of Dahmer’s victims escaped and was actually returned by police who thought is was a gay lover spat. He killed him.) I would like to hear more on well-informed response strategies.

    The philosophical issue of “being too nice” is also very important. Men rarely apologize for being victims. They have a lot of freedoms simply because they know they are men. But it’s also true that being confrontational can lead to, well, unplanned confrontation.

  8. Eliza R. April 16, 2012 at 11:04 am #

    Wow, do we ever need an in depth discussion about ‘being too nice’. Yes we do.

  9. bananas April 17, 2012 at 10:54 pm #

    ugh. thanks for sharing your story. i don’t have much to add except that i rarely feel more alone, vulnerable, and marginalized as a woman than when i’m trying to explain this phenomenon to men and it is continually, aggressively explained away. ‘he was just flirting!’ ‘you were inviting it!’ ‘you should be flattered!’ just the other day i was telling my husband that i have conflicting feelings because i’ve recently been losing a bit of extra weight, but now strange men keep coming onto me. his response was something along the lines of ‘you must be so proud!’ NO, i am threatened, nervous, and acutely aware of the way my actions are limited based on my vulnerability to sexual assault.

    there is an essay called ‘schrodinger’s rapist’ out there, discussing how to a woman, every man she encounters is a potential threat. you don’t know if he is or isn’t a rapist, until you’ve opened the box. this reality seems to be very difficult for men to understand. which i get, because they aren’t women. but since men are the primary threat in these situations, it would sure be nice if they could get why women find them threatening.

  10. Jules Godson April 18, 2012 at 7:56 am #

    @bananas: There is a fundamental disconnect between many well-meaning men and women or everything from rape to “aggressive flirting.” The first sees the situation as about sex, the second sees (and experiences) violence. Declaring rape is about violence not sex only confuses many men. Talk about rape fantasies and reallly mess with their heads.

    Once the notion of sex gets in the mix, the train goes off the rails. For example, the term sexual assault is inherently deceiving. If you just shorten it to “assault” everyone is on the same page. Add sex and men get distracted, and sometimes defensive (everyone flirts, right?). Certain male political candidates have been commenting loudly lately what it’s like to be a woman and it’s … spellbinding.

    It is impossible to have an intelligent conversation if you don’t deal with the sex v. violence thing initially. So yeah a lot of men think their hooting is flattering (and some women like it or, more likely pretend to) without getting it they’re scaring someone, or would be scared in her shoes. They’re unwitting accessories to the gutter slime who don’t even care … the maybe dead cats with the actual dead cats, so to speak. (It’s said Schrodinger didn’t actually hate cats.)

  11. bananas April 18, 2012 at 9:40 pm #

    an interesting comment, jules. i like your point that men often see sex and violence as distinct, while for women they are sometimes conflated (maybe you were saying that, or maybe i am just reading it in there). maybe the solution would be to distinguish sex from violence for women, and then situations where the man sees ‘flirting’ and the woman sees ‘harassment’ would be easier to call. maybe make some rules that are easy to consult to know the difference (this is what sexual harassment law is all about, really, although it isn’t simple).

    but i wonder if it’s even possible. with the power imbalance between men and women, both physical and cultural, can we ever reliably extract that element of violence for women? that might actually be an interesting topic on here, the interaction of sex and violence. it’s a common theme in pop culture (twilight anyone?) and of course on the forefront of a lot of feminist theory. how do we get rid of the violence factor in male/female interaction, or should we (as you mention, some women enjoy the ‘thrill’ of a catcall from a stranger, and other manifestations of erotic violence [of course, so do some men])?

  12. KaralynZ April 18, 2012 at 10:47 pm #

    To quote Gavin DeBecker (whose book I shilled above) when it comes to approaching the opposite sex, men are afraid women will laugh at them and women are afraid men will kill them.

  13. Jules Godson April 19, 2012 at 11:47 am #

    @bananas: Yeah, I think you basically heard fine. Now, women do send some complex messages through, say liking the plentiful bodice-ripper novels and rape fantasies — I guess the appeal of “being taken.” Men do have trouble distinguishing, maybe because they typically DO want their fanasies to come true (sex with the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders or whatever — they’re hardly unwilling). SOME women and SOME men feel these things.That’s part of the problem with the this weird Newsweek cover, the implication that all women, and especially the subset with Type-A careers, are alike and crave giving up their acquired (and unsuitable?) power. Frankly I haven’t yet gotten past the strangely posed and photoshopped cover (where did her breasts go?) & my dislike of Roiphe. Stereotypes are risky…. Woman as all victims and subs? Dangerous.

    @Karalyn: Eek! BTW saying you genuinely liked something isn’t shilling, which is a corrupt practice. Or maybe you are profiting. :)

  14. Jules Godson April 19, 2012 at 11:52 am #

    @bananas: I forgot — the example I use is that the combination of machismo and homophobia for most men makes gay rape instantly recognizable as an act of violence. Period. Rape of a woman? A sex act with a guy the woman didn’t want (or secretly did, and protested to protect her image, etc. … “women need to take responsibility for getting raped when they’re drunk.” Whatever that means.).

  15. Eliza R. April 20, 2012 at 4:05 pm #

    “that might actually be an interesting topic on here, the interaction of sex and violence.”…

    Yes. Thank you Bananas.

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