Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Is That Real Danger or Just a Guy Who Needs to Pee?

Yesterday, for the second time in several months, my husband was accosted in a public place and accused of being a threat to children, simply because he's a man.

As a home health physical therapist, he's out and about all day long.  His car is his office.  A few months ago he parked in front of a vacant lot doing paperwork in between appointments when a woman knocked on his window.  She angrily informed him that she'd taken down his license plate number and was calling the police because a man sitting alone in his car was "suspicious".  He explained that he was a home health physical therapist, had an appointment down the street in a few minutes, and was just doing paperwork until then.

She insisted, "You can't be here.  There are kids in this neighborhood."

"Ma'am, this is a public street. I parked in front of a vacant lot so I wouldn't be in anyone's way.  And I'll be moving on in just a few minutes when it's time for my appointment."

She stayed by the car for several more minutes, continually threatening to call the police, until it was time for my husband to go to his next appointment.  He drove the two blocks to his patient's house and went in.

A few minutes later he looked out the window and this same woman was standing by his car, peeking in the windows.

My usually mild-mannered husband was now quite angry.  He excused himself to the patient and went outside.  "Ma'am, you are way out of line.  Step away from my car now, or I will be the one calling the police and reporting an attempted car theft and continued harassment from you.  And you'd better believe I will press charges."  She backed off pretty quickly.

Yesterday he stopped to use the restroom at a public park, as his car/office doesn't come equipped with bathroom facilities.  There were four moms there chatting while their kids played on the playground.  As he was walking directly to the bathroom, one of the moms intercepted him and told him that as a man without children with him, he shouldn't be there. "Why would a man come to a park without kids?" she asked aggressively and rhetorically.  He pointed to the bathrooms that she was blocking him from reaching, "To use the public restrooms, maybe?"  She huffed a bit and stepped aside, but stood there, hands on hips, watching him until he got back in his car and left.

Now, I completely agree that it’s important for people, especially women, to be aware of their surroundings and feel comfortable speaking up or questioning people who seem to be out of place. And I completely agree that our society and culture encourages women to be “nice” and “not offend” and that that hamstrings and endangers women in many, many ways.

But we are learning to be afraid of the wrong things, almost to the point of paranoia. If we become used to thinking that everything is scary, it's far easier to miss the truly dangerous situations. There’s a middle ground between constantly being suspicious of everything that’s even a little out of the ordinary and ignoring our intuition when it warns us of a real threat.   And there's a very real difference between actions that just make us feel safer or think we're safer and actions that actually make us safer.

In Gavin de Becker's The Gift of Fear (read my goodreads review here) the author discusses this very phenomenon.  Anxiety or worry is not the same thing as fear.  We are becoming a society that misidentifies one as the other and that confusion is making us less safe.  We need to hone our intuition so it becomes more accurate and useful in keeping us out of danger, rather than indiscriminately identifying anything "different" as "bad" and "potentially harmful".

Similarly, in Free-Range Kids (which I recently reviewed here), Lenore Skenazy affirms that "Mostly, the world is safe. Mostly, people are good. To emphasize the opposite is to live in the world of tabloid TV. A world where the weirdest, worst, least likely events are given the most play. A world filled with worst-case scenarios, not the world we actually live in, which is factually, statistically, and, luckily for us, one of the safest periods for children in the history of the world."  If we teach our children by example to be distrustful of every adult male in a public place, we are doing them a disservice.  We may think we are keeping them safe; in actuality, we are crippling them from being able to function in the real world.

I know people come from vastly different backgrounds and may, based on their past experiences, have very legitimate reasons to be suspicious of others, and men in particular.  And I, too, have walked up to people I didn’t know who were sitting in cars parked on my street, and asked what they were doing. I have also started conversations with people at parks and in other public places for the explicit purpose of determining why they were there and if they were a threat, so I completely understand why these women spoke up.  I very well may have, too.  I'm not at all bashing their instinct to make an initial contact so they can better assess the actual risk posed.  Their methods and direct accusations, however, were completely uncalled for.

Because I identify as a feminist, I've been accused of hating men by people who don't really understand what feminism is.  So I'd like to go on record here.  Feminism is about believing that men and women should be treated as individuals, not as stereotypes of their sex.  It's about supporting a person's right - whether woman or man - to speak up and be heard.  And it's recognizing that judging a person based solely on their gender is wrong.

No comments:

Post a Comment