I had an experience today that got me thinking about the way we treat each other, the things we expect from one another, and the things we do to take care of ourselves in an uncertain world.
My train of thought led me back to this old post trying to explain the concept of Schrödinger’s Rapist. That attempt largely failed with the very people it was meant to educate/enlighten/help…
Maybe today’s experience will prove a better example.
See, the premise of Schrödinger’s Rapist is that anyone could be a rapist – and no one knows if you are, or aren’t, until it’s too late. Thus, certain people who fall into categories that are historically, socially, statistically and physically more vulnerable to rape are right to take extra precautions around people who fall into categories that are statistically, historically, physically more likely to be rapists until they have sufficient evidence to believe they are safe.
This concept upsets a lot of people, primarily men, because they believe it amounts to saying that all men are rapists. It doesn’t. It says all people are potentially rapists, we don’t know until we “open the box.” (To stick with the Schrodinger theme) It further says, since men are more likely to be rapists than people of other genders, it is not unreasonable to practice caution around men until you feel you can move them into the “not a rapist” box.
Still, men are upset about this.
So, let me try again with a more tangible, real life example.
This afternoon I was leaving the grocery store. While I was shopping my car had gotten boxed in by three really big trucks, severely limiting my visibility as I tried to back out of my spot and head home.
I backed out very cautiously, moving slowly, checking my mirrors and turning my head to check all my blind spots frequently as I inched out. Once I broke free of my parking space, I saw an elderly woman walking up the aisle toward the store. The nose of my car was pointing in her general direction and as I straightened out my car it was clear I would be driving right past her. She was just on the other side of one of the large trucks that had been blocking me in. I cranked my wheel a little further to make sure I could swing around both her and the truck and leave enough room for her to feel safe and comfortable.
Instead of continuing to walk forward, she froze. Then she slowly inched her way closer to the bumper of the large truck, hugging it, and staying on the other side of it from me.
Now, I had a couple of options – I could take this personally. Didn’t she know I was a good, safe, nice driver? Hadn’t she seen me cautiously and slowly backing out? Why on earth would she be scared now and move to protect herself from me and my vehicle? It’s not like I was going to run her down in the King Sooper’s Parking Lot. I DO NOT COMMIT VEHICULAR HOMICIDE, DIDN’T SHE KNOW THAT?
I could appreciate her caution for what it was – an act of reasonable self-protection based on decades of social training that told her that cars CAN BE dangerous. Cars have the potential to harm or even kill unwary people. Sure #NotAllCars are driven by homicidal, or even just hurried and harried, or absent-minded and distracted drivers… But, a few of them are – and YOU NEVER KNOW UNTIL IT IS TOO LATE.
While most drivers in most parking lots drive slowly and cautiously, respecting the fact that parking lots are filled with pedestrians of all stripes as well as other cars trying to maneuver their way into and out of spaces, we’ve all seen the person who mistakes the parking lot for a race track, who cuts off pedestrians and other drivers to snag that prime spot, or who backs out and then tears through the parking lot as if Gotham has sent up the bat signal and they are Batman’s ride to a dubious and destructive heroism.
In fact… Many of us have been that driver at one time or another. In a hurry, distracted, running late and desperately trying to get through one more f’ing chore on our way to the place we’re supposed to be.
Or, perhaps, you’re like me, and you’re hungry and you’re pretty sure that getting in and out of that store AS FAST AS POSSIBLE is the only thing keeping you out of prison for mass murder, so scaring a few people in the parking lot is a small price to pay, you were paying attention, you were focused – THEY”RE STILL ALIVE AREN”T THEY!?! No matter that if a small child had wriggled free of their adult (as mine once did) and runs out from between two cars (as mine did) and dashes in front of your car (as mine did) and then panics and STOPS instead of running out of your path (as mine did) you wouldn’t be able to react in time and you’d be the bad driver we’ve been taught to fear after all… (luckily the driver my kid ran in front of was one of the much more common cautious in parking lots sort. Which did not stop me from soundly scolding said child and making sure she understood that SHE ALMOST DIED!)
No matter, you’re a good driver. You’re safe, you’re nice, considerate. You don’t commit vehicular manslaughter.
You’re not a monster.
Most of us aren’t.
And yet… We teach our children to be cautious around cars – in parking lots, on streets, even on sidewalks – looking both ways, paying attention to reverse lights, looking around when they are riding their bikes, listening for cars as well as watching for them. We teach our children to hesitate first, to be hyper aware, to assume that drivers do not see them, and will not stop for them – even when the driver SHOULD stop for them. (Because sometimes drivers fail to stop. Sometimes drivers fail to obey the traffic rules. Even good drivers sometimes fail.)
So, when people exercise caution around cars and take steps to protect themselves against being harmed or killed by wayward drivers and their vehicles – we don’t take it personally. We don’t throw up our hands in disgust and wail, “Why don’t pedestrians TRUST ME? Why are they always so cautious? It’s rude. It’s profiling. Don’t they know that I’m a nice driver? I don’t commit vehicular manslaughter. #NotAllDrivers!”
Instead we respect their caution. We respect that they have been trained since birth to understand that pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists (and smart car drivers) are all at a distinct disadvantage should they fail to be cautious at the wrong moment or let their guard down around the wrong driver. And we respect that they can’t actually know if a driver is dangerous UNTIL IT IS TOO LATE, so it is okay for them to exercise caution around ALL DRIVERS.
We understand that there is a power differential there that favors the person in the car, and so we allow, we encourage, people to exercise and express their caution. We applaud them for it.
In the same vein, there is an inherent power differential between men and women and people of other genders in our society. This is something that has been trained into non-male people. We have been taught, since birth, that men are stronger, faster, more aggressive, more powerful – physically, financially, politically… We have been taught to respect, and fear, the power differential – the same way we’ve been taught to respect the power differential between a pedestrian and a car. We’ve been taught to exercise caution, because we are at a disadvantage.
So, while #NotAllMen are rapists, men hold more power and are statistically much more likely to be rapists than people of other genders. Therefore people of other genders should not be shamed, browbeaten or yelled at for exercising caution around men in the interest of protecting themselves. Especially not while we live in a society that continues to blame the victims of sexual violence – they asked for it, they were in the wrong neighborhood/bar/club, did you see what they were wearing, they were drinking, they smiled, etc.
As long as victims must accept social responsibility for the violence inflicted on them, it stands to reason that we should allow them every and any self-protection remedy they see fit to employ, including exercising caution around all men.
We cannot simultaneously tell people in parking lots that they are responsible for their own safety and then yell at them when they press themselves into corners to avoid oncoming vehicles.
We cannot simultaneously tell people that they must protect themselves from rape, and then yell at them when they aren’t relaxed, fun, nice, flirty, whatever with all men… Or even with all nice men – because they don’t know you’re nice until you show them – and getting upset at them for protecting themselves… Yeah, maybe you’re not quite the nice guy you thought you were.