Strangers in the Night
The sexes aren’t just different biologically. The sexes are divided by a chasm — those who live in safety versus those who do not. Most men can walk the streets at night. Men answer their doorbells without feeling panic. Men step onto an elevator and don’t worry about who’s on board. Men are free to live their lives without fear. Women don’t have this luxury of being careless. Women need to be on the lookout at all times. Women must on the defensive, always, not only wherever they go, but who they talk to and what vibes they give off. Women must be cautious, even inside their own homes. While men are free, women are not.
One of my senior cats got loose the other day. He ran outside, jumped over a fence, and disappeared into a neighbor’s yard. Then, the cat jumped another fence and another.
My cat ended up in the backyard of a house around the block. So, I went to the front door and rang the bell expecting to be greeted by a neighborly welcome.
There was no answer. Then, a middle-aged woman looked out the front window and peered through the drapes. She stared at me. I looked back at her and saw something strange. It was a look of fear, laced with confusion.
“What can I do for you,” she hollered through the window pane.
“I lost my cat. I think he’s in your backyard.”
The woman appeared confused. It was obvious, she didn’t know what to do. Frankly, I was a it annoyed by the incident. “Hey, just go into the backyard, open the door, and give me my cat,” I thought to myself. Okay, I didn’t say that, but that’s what I was thinking.
The woman on the other side of the door had an entirely different perspective from me. It’ a perspective I hadn’t ever contemplated before. It’s probably a perspective oblivious to most men, including some of you who are reading.
After reflecting on the incident, I came to the realization the woman was simply protecting herself. She was maximizing her very best chance of staying safe. She was smart. Opening the front door to a stranger might not seem like it poses much of a danger, but certainly comes with some element of risk. What’s the risk exactly? Five percent? Or, even 1 percent? Does it matter? Is it worth it? The percentages of risk are certainly higher when the potential victim is a woman and the stranger is a man. Robbery or rape must be a serious concern for nearly every woman at some point, whether it’s in the workplace, walking across a parking lot late at night, and even when driving. This is true especially when she’s alone.
After some verbal haggling with the lady, I ended up getting my cat. I also learned a lesson firsthand that made me think more deeply about what I’d experienced and what precisely women have to go through almost daily, well, just because they’re women.
In this country, White men are freer than all other demographic groups. I don’t mean freer in the political or economic sense since the advantages in career and finance are obvious. I mean the far more essential aspect of what constitutes a much broader definition of “freedom,” which means going through daily life without worrying about being harmed by someone whom we may or may not know.
Fact is, women have to make judgments about their safety every day. Most men (including myself) cannot grasp this. We can pretty much walk down any street day or night and not worry about being robbed or raped. We can enter a deserted parking lot and not fear what might happen just around the next corner. We aren’t really much concerned about our personal safety if the car fails to start or it breaks down along the road late in a so-called “bad area.”
One of the casualties of America’s increasing awareness of sexual harassment, physical assault, and abuse of power inside the workplace has been losing our focus on all the seemingly mundane interactions that take place between men and women, usually who don’t know each other, who are forced to interact together in all kinds of social and casual situations. In virtually all such circumstances, it’s the woman who’s at risk, not the man. Think about this.
The best example of this is the 30-second elevator ride scenario. It goes like this: A woman is working late at night. She leaves her office and presses the elevator button. The elevator opens up and a strange man is standing there on board, alone. Does she enter?
Women must assess situations like this very quickly on an everyday basis. Should she get on the elevator? It depends. Does the man’s appearance matter? It shouldn’t. Some rapists can appear very normal. Ted Bundy wasn’t just normal — he was good-looking. After killing at least 30 women, Bundy later admitted he used his appearance to gain their trust and prey on victims. What about his age? What about his race? These are indeed tough questions to ponder. For men, these questions are purely academic, and for myself — what amounts to a writing exercise. For women, these questions may be a matter of life or death.
Tim Wise, writing in Medium recently, discussed the 30-second elevator ride when just such an incident in a hotel late one night triggered significant anxiety for the solo female passenger [READ THE STORY HERE]. Some men reading this are sure to dismiss women’s fears, either as irrational or an overreaction. Perhaps some are likely to revert to an even more crude reaction.
Nonetheless, married men, and certainly all men with daughters and sisters, would be the first to say that women closest to them cannot be careful enough in these types of situations. We don’t want our wives, daughters, or sisters walking down dark streets late at night. We don’t want them getting on elevators alone when such a thing might be avoided. So, on one hand, many of us refuse to accept the gender divide that men aren’t burdened with nearly as many precautions and fears in life. Yet at the same time, we lecture our dearest loved ones and insist they can’t be too careful.
Having two different positions on the 30-second elevator question — one in general and the other for your own loved ones — is duplicitous.
Gina Fiore lives here in Las Vegas. I don’t know her well, but she’s a Facebook friend.
Yesterday, Gina posted a short story about a knock on her front door. She peeked out and saw a man she didn’t know:
Gina’s decision was made much easier by seeing something she perceived to be unusual and dangerous. The man was holding a brick. That’s not a normal thing to do when knocking on someone’s door. In fact, that’s probably a good enough reason to dial 9-1-1. What man wouldn’t insist that his wife, daughter, or sister call the police in such a scenario?
But returning now to my earlier story about me looking for a cat, how is a woman able to make distinctions between normal everyday activities that we all encounter — versus real danger? Is it the time of day? Well, no. Most robberies happen during the daytime, often in nice neighborhoods when people aren’t at home. Should decisions be based on the appearance/gender/age/race of the person knocking on the door? This is certainly a factor for most people. Most of us would be quick to open our front door to an elderly lady. Then, there’s the obvious counterexample which many won’t admit: A young dark-skinned person probably wouldn’t be as trusted, nor extended those same courtesies.
There’s no easy answer about how to deal with situations at front doors, on elevators, an in parking lots. One size doesn’t fit all. Whatever the question, it almost never does.
However, given the very real risks that all men pose to women in their perceptions of situations viewed as potentially dangerous, it’s probably incumbent on us all to do what we can to make women feel more at ease.
I’d like to hear from women as to how we can do this. I think it’s important, and so should you.
Please join the discussion either here in the comments section and/or on Facebook — CLICK HERE.
I look forward to reading and learning more.