Wednesday, October 30, 2013

To the Guy Who Followed Me Across Campus Tuesday Night

Hi there.  You might remember me.  We spoke on Tuesday night in a poorly lit, somewhat desolate and isolated spot behind the student union as I was walking to my car.  I have to say, I feel somewhat badly about our interaction.  But maybe I'm getting ahead of myself.  In case you don't happen to remember me, let me briefly remind you of the situation, my memory of it anyway.

I was just leaving one of the classes I TA for on campus.  It was about 6:30pm, and it was starting to get dark out.  It takes me about 20 minutes to walk to my car from the building I TA in.  I don't recall walking past you at any point in my walk, which suggests that you were either behind me, or you were in a very inconspicuous spot somewhere along the way.  When you first stopped me, you were about 20 yards behind me which also indicates you had followed from some distance.

You shouted "Excuse me," twice.  As I realized more fully I was walking toward an even more desolate and isolated parking ramp, instead of ignoring you completely, I stopped and turned around.  As you approached, I notice four things right away.  You were wearing a hoodie with the hood fully up and tied, both of your hands were in your pockets nowhere to be seen, you weren't wearing a backpack of any kind (a tad unusual for a student), and there was no one else around. I have to admit, these observations led to a very distinct sort of fear.  And this is where I start to feel badly about our interaction in some ways.

I lied to you, a lot.  It was not only disrespectful to you, it was beneath me, and I represented myself and my personal values poorly.  You asked if I was in a specific program and commented that you thought you recognized me.  I did not believe you, but I honestly replied that I was not in that program.  I started to back away from you and head toward a more populated, well lit area.  You followed.  You then asked my name as you came around my front and blocked my way.  Somewhat alarmed, I chose to give you a fake name.  You asked what program I was in.  Perhaps you didn't notice it, but I dropped into a moro-ashi dachi stance, a classic karate fighting stance, and placed my bag behind myself so my arms would be free.  I gave you a fake program.  You twitched and looked around quickly, almost as if you were watching for someone or something.  Then you asked what kind of work I did in my program.  Feeling very uncomfortable, but preferring non-violence or confrontation, I again lied and took a step away from you.  But, hey, there you were again with the small talk!  You turned quickly as two girls walked by at the far end of the square.  You stepped closer and asked what I liked to do for fun.  I pointedly stated I was too busy for fun, and what little time I do have I often spend with my partner (that was genuine truth).  I stepped into the potential view of a group of guys hanging out in a room on the ground floor of the building next to us as you stepped closer and asked my name again.  While glancing at the window into the room of guys hanging out, I gave the fake name again.  When you looked up and noticed the people in the building, you visibly frowned, looked around, and took off.  I waited until you turned the corner, and then I waited a few more minutes.  Finally, I ran to the parking ramp, ran to my car, and drove home.  

I should be up front in noting that I'm really angry that my natural response was fear.  I'm mad that I have to be on guard when walking alone in the evening or at night.  It really sucks that I can't just walk to my car without thinking about my personal safety.  I'm angry that I was put in a position to feel intimidated, scared, and unsafe.  You shouldn't just be able to stop me and ask personal questions!  Or should you?  Actually, that is part of the problem-- maybe you should be able to approach me without my reaction being about fear and safety.  I'm upset that you were automatically a threat in my mind.  After reflecting on this, I realized maybe you would be angry about this too, not only on my behalf but in regard to the fact that you are automatically a threat just because you are a guy.  If you aren't angry, perhaps you will reconsider based on my reflections.  I should be able to walk to my car anytime, anywhere without so much as a second thought about safety.  You, however, should also be able to approach a woman, or any person actually, without being stereotyped as a threat simply because you're male.  My partner, father, brother, nephews, and male friends should be able to move through life without being seen as an inherent threat to female safety as much as I should be able to live without being seen as a pair of breasts and nice smile.  While my reaction is very consistent with my personal experiences and the messages I receive as a woman in US society, I'm guessing some of your behavior was the result of your experience as a man and messages you receive about what that means.  This is hypocritical and a double standard, and I missed an opportunity to share a different message with you.
I realize I did not treat you respectfully.  What I should have done was stated I was feeling uncomfortable and asked you politely to step away from me.  By not doing this, I did not give you the opportunity to correct my assumption that you were a threat.  Instead, by not saying anything, I may have given you the impression that I was interested in speaking with you.  Not only that, but I disempowered myself by not being honest.  Also, if you really thought you knew me, I responded quite rudely.  In addition to this, I suppose it is possible you just wanted to talk to me and were unable to think of a better way to introduce yourself.  Regardless, I made a potentially unfair assumption about you, and I apologize.

I am not sorry, however, for being mindful of my surroundings.  I am not naive, and with the influx of crime alerts coming out on campus not attending to my surrounds would be foolhardy.  If you were an actual threat and demonstrated that, I would have done whatever was necessary to protect myself.  Had you attempted to engage in any sort of physical contact with me, I would likely not be expressing as much concern for the situation.  No, I think my general concern about our interaction is centered on respect as you did not demonstrate you were a threat beyond some agitated, nervous behavior, a very poor location, and a poor opening line.

I appreciate our interaction as I think back on it despite the fact that I was fairly terrified the entire time we were talking.  It has highlighted some of my own thinking and some potential blind spots.  I think the assumption of men as inherent threats is a blind spot for a considerable number of people.  Until society is ready to support interactions that are not based on fear or poor assumptions, however, I might recommend approaching people in well lit areas, hands visible, and with honestly.            

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Random Things That Made Me Smile Today

First, I got an email from Statistician with this link in it today:  I wish I could come up with a witty something or other about Skeletor but I just can't-- my mind is wiped...other than to say, good mental health could lead to an Eternia of happiness for all of the Masters of the Universe, yuk, yuk, yuk.

Second, one of my little sisters has a pretty serious and long standing obsession with penguins.  She actually answers to both, "Penguin Pete" and "Penelope Penguin" in the course of a conversation.  This is what you do with literally 6 feet of snow in my family:

Apparently, his name is "Parry."  Parry happens to be wearing my tie.  I don't know exactly why Parry was chosen as the name, a name fail if there ever was one.  I would have gone with Philbert, Polonious, or Pascal.  Regardless, Parry the Penguin is pretty amazing.

Third, in order to make it through my PhD program without completely decompensating, my use of Star Wars references has spiked, as has my now irrational desire to watch the un-besmirched versions of the Original Trilogy to cope/avoid life (a decades old coping skill for me).  Most of the time, I manage to contain them to my own head; however, sometimes I can't help but share them.  I think this was particularly evident when I had to abbreviate Empire Strikes Back (ESB) in a post, and I ended up with the very acronym of the building my program is located in.  Of course, this was absurdly amusing to me because I can identify a fairly accurate proxy for most of the characters using people in my department.  It was less funny when I had to explain to my cohort-mates why it's so amusing that SharkFox is Jabba the Hut, my primary advisor is C3PO, the Dean is Sarlacc, and the main office is almost as bad as the pit of carkoon.

Smile.  Random things are happening.