Monday, May 26, 2014

We May Experience the World Differently

Several days after the fact, I realized I prefaced this with two paragraphs justifying why I was alone. Although I'm prone to copious editing after the fact (is that bad form?), in this case I'm going to leave it, and assure you I did it for all the wrong reasons.

I've never minded going places alone. A companion is fine, but not having one isn't going to stop me from doing what I want to do. This was even more true when I was young and unencumbered. Movies, restaurants, museums - if I wanted to go, I went. I was shocked to learn that some don't enjoy being alone, or are even self-conscious about it.

One thing I did know, though, was that this was considered unsafe. I rarely felt threatened, but I knew I was supposed to.

One night, when I was about 19, I saw the movie Seven, in which Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman team up to catch a serial killer. I was disturbed, but not overly so, and when it was over I walked to my car.

When I was almost to my car, someone summoned my attention somehow. I don't remember what he said, but I truly don't believe it was intended to alarm. I was alarmed. I turned around and there was a man standing behind me. Old. Maybe 30!

"I saw you at the movie, and you looked like you were really getting into it!" Yes, I'm told I'm quite demonstrative with my body language and facial expressions. "I was wondering if you'd like to get a drink?"

Here's what I heard. "I was watching you watch a movie, and you had no idea. When it was over, I could have struck up a conversation with you in the crowded, well-lit lobby, but instead chose to follow you to your car (again, you had no idea) and approach you in a deserted parking lot. I did all this knowing you'd just watched a movie about a serial killer."

"Um, I can't, I'm not old enough," I stammered, and hastily got into my car and drove away.

The age of thinking 30 is old has come and gone, although I'm not sorry my younger self thought it was. But even now that 30 sounds positively youthful, I can't help but wonder if he'd really managed to live that long without developing some bloody sense. Was he really that stupid? Or is it a really, really good thing that I didn't go anywhere with him, and got out of there as fast as I could?

Mid 20s. I was waiting for the bus in the pouring rain. I was freezing and miserable. A man pulled up in next to me and offered me a ride.

A ride would have gotten me home in five minutes instead of 25. I would have loved to be out of the rain. And....no. I could not take a ride with him. I declined. Politely.

He looked insulted and enraged. He slammed his hand down on his steering wheel and slammed on the gas. I felt a little guilty for hurting his feelings.

I shouldn't have. I didn't owe it to a total stranger to gamble with my own life just to prove I wasn't a man-hating bitch. As long as I wasn't in his car, I could make decisions, such as whether or not to get in his car.

Here's the thing, asshole. If I'd decide to get in your car, it may have been the last decision I ever got to make. Even if not, I have reason to believe something very bad would have happened to me. Because you were not a good guy. How do I know? A good guy might have offered me a ride, but he would have also understood why I didn't feel I could take it.

Late 20s. I had a car again. I was happy with it, but it was an imperfect union. The day came when I had to leave it in the shop. One of the guys there offered me a ride home. This time, I took it.

We got on the freeway, and I told him where I lived and which exit he should take. He drove by it. He drove by the exit I told him to take. I weighed my options. I could jump out of the car right here and now. It would almost certainly lead to death, but all the same, in 20 minutes I might be wishing I had.

Luckily for me, I hadn't chosen the wrong guy to accept a ride from. He was a nice person. Even perceptive. He noticed my panic, and although he didn't address it directly, he told me he knew my neighborhood and had his own route. He wasn't lying. Problem solved, this time with a man who apparently wasn't an entitled moron.

These are minor incidents, just three of many. But they're the stories I flash back to when things like #yesallwomen come up. Times when a man I didn't know and I shared an experience that looked absolutely nothing to him like it did to me. The bottom line is, being a woman is different from being a man. The fact that some men have the option of not thinking about it every day, or even ever, doesn't make it any less true. And having that option doesn't mean it's okay to take it.

Years later, I sat in my UU church while a fellow congregant spoke. He was a sturdy man, not huge, but slightly taller than average. The topic was something else entirely, but I'll never forget what he said.

"I walk alone a lot at night, and I'm never afraid. But I recognize that I am scary to others, so if I see someone who would have reason to find me threatening, I cross the street."

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