Stranger Danger

In one of my previous incarnations I was walking home from the bus stop after a late shift. When I turned the corner and approached our quiet cul-de-sac I was surprised and a little alarmed to see two suspicious characters lurking on either corner, their cigarettes a tiny glow in the dark night. Dressed in black leather jackets they looked like East European gangsters. What could I do except look straight ahead, pretend I hadn’t noticed them and head for my house.

Then a voice said ‘Hi Mum.’

It was my fifteen year old son with his friend, who was waiting to be picked up by his mother. Their leather jackets were the ones the friend’s mother had ordered from her Littlewoods catalogue.

You don’t have to be female for groups of more than one strapping teenager to look threatening. Hanging around with mates and walking aimlessly in town is what teenagers do. Some may show off to their mates by calling out to hapless passers by, most are harmless. Real gangs armed with knives or selling drugs are more likely to be harming other young men.

The males that women have been complaining about recently … and for centuries … are those who don’t just hang about, but call out abusive remarks, follow lone women, slow their cars down or touch them in crowded tube trains. And of course far worse.

For many of us these perpetrators appear to be a totally different species from all the men in our lives. From our dads who made our pet cages to boyfriends, brothers, sons and work mates who fix our cars and washing machines, give us lifts, husbands who are lifelong companions; why would we want to hate men? It is a truth not often acknowledged that many of us preferred men teachers and male bosses. Women are not a united single species any more than men are and what girl hasn’t dreaded working with the bitch in the office or feared the nasty nurse on the maternity ward?

Little girls who have no reason to fear men adore them, batting their eyelids innocently when the firemen come to visit their playgroup, clutching the hand of their friend’s dad. When we visited my friend’s parents once, my little girl said to the mother ‘I like your Daddy!’

I once read an article by a woman who said she was thrilled when her first baby was a boy, because although she couldn’t be a man, at least she had given birth to one. Though it is the man that determines the sex of the baby, some women still feel proud if they manage to present their husband with a son. Perhaps there are simpler reasons why many women are secretly hoping or delighted when they have a boy first; maybe they always wanted a big brother or working with children has endeared them to little boys. Little boys are adorable and though they may hit their younger siblings and the other children at nursery and may not turn out quite as angelic as those choir boys that we all love, they are not often insidiously nasty and spiteful to each other as little girls can be.

Liking men and enjoying their company does not mean we assume they are superior, it just means it would be a dull world if we were all the same. It will be a sad day ( maybe it is already ) when men and women can no longer have a laugh at work, fearful of crossing the ever moving boundaries. When women would rather suffer a back injury than gracefully accept help with something heavy from the chap next door. When girls consider sewing a button on a male friend’s shirt as an insult rather than just being helpful.

But none of this takes away the fear. Why some men see a broken down car and worried female driver, a woman walking home from her late shift at the hospital or a very drunk girl losing her friends and attempting to walk home as an obvious opportunity to rape and murder them remains a complete mystery. It doesn’t feel helpful that crime dramas are so often about young pretty women being kidnapped and murdered, but that is not a cause; terrible crimes were being committed long before cinema and television were invented.

We still have to remember all the times we have walked our dog round the park, chatting to male dog owners who don’t try and molest us or say anything inappropriate. Recall that time your windscreen smashed on a deserted road and the truck driver kindly stopped to help without bundling you into his cab. Remember those times you went on dates with guys who turned out to be very boring or at least not interesting enough to want to see again, but who saw you safely home and accepted your invented polite excuses for not arranging another date and didn’t turn into a stalker.

We shouldn’t have to, but perhaps girls will always have to learn to develop their instincts as to who the bad guys are and sadly that will not always work. But it will be a long time yet before we figure out how a sweet little boy might turn into a monster scarier than our worst nightmares. In the meantime let us stay united as humans who respect and look after each other.

14 thoughts on “Stranger Danger

  1. Your post is heartfelt and you make many good points. My problem is that I’m just not buying it. Of COURSE we all know good guys. And we all know there are bad ones. The problem is that it’s only women who have to make adjustments–to almost every aspect of our lives–because of that bargain we never made.

    When the (young, beautiful, white) Sarah Everard disappeared in London, police went door to door to issue warnings–to WOMEN to stay home. When MP Baroness Jones suggested the answer to the problem was to curfew males, she was the subject of jokes and ridicule. But when I look at the price I and other women of my generation paid to have a career, it makes me ill. And even worse, when I look at how we failed our daughters and granddaughters, who are still paying for that very bad bargain, it makes me furious and ashamed.

    I have four children. When they were born, I felt there was a promise of a good life for each. I didn’t realize that for three of them, this promise has caveats. Yes, daughter #1, you can be a journalist as long as you stay away from spots that are dangerous for women, and as long as you never ever allow pictures of your daughters to appear in any form because you’ve already gotten death threats. Yes, daughter #2, you can be head writer for a late night political talk show, as long as you’re super careful about being followed, threatened, and promised assault because you’re a nasty woman. Yes, daughter #3, you can be a software programmer, as long as you don’t try to muscle in on boy-geek territory because they will publish your address and threaten you with rape and really nasty forms of death. Oh and by the way, none of you should take a walk anywhere after dark, answer your door, drink in public, carry a purse, or ever ever ever make a career move that involves travel. If you speak up at work, you’re shrill. If you try to argue a point, you don’t understand the situation. If you are one of the 8 out of 10 women who has been harassed at work, you’re welcome to report it, as long as you’re prepared for the response from the abuser(s) to be that you can’t take a joke, you’re not a team player, you’re not one of the guys—and as long as you know it will be the end of your job and probably your career. You okay with that? Just remember, my daughters, you’re absolutely the equal of all males out there, except for the bargain you never agreed to in the first place. You go girl.

    I might, possibly, be feeling just a teensy bit like ranting. Sorry.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Too true Barb and well pointed out that a lot worse can happen to working women than dealing with their bitchy boss and social media has added a whole new insidious threat to women. I suppose we can defend the door knocking because there was not time to change society, and there would have been complaints if women had not been warned. I heartily agree that women can never be equal – success means nothing when the smartly dressed clever woman with a university degree is raped.

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  3. Bravo, Janet, for posting a fair and balanced approach to an age-old problem. Men who engage in unacceptable treatment of women need to be held to account and I suspect this will only happen when men take responsibility for their part in changing their own attitudes and behaviours, educating their sons and making it clear to their mates that they will not tolerate abusive behaviour. However the major mountain to climb is that, to do so, men will have to ‘out’ themselves for their past behaviour, confront it, apologise for it and start again, a task made even more difficult because this is an issue of power. I am not now, and have never been, a stalker, a rapist, a murderer or a groper. However I have been guilty (especially as a young man) of inappropriate ‘humour’, sexism in the workplace, ogling women etc and I have done my very best to eliminate those things from my adult behaviour. Just like alcoholics, drug addicts etc, men will only change when their behaviour is confronted and they accept the consequences for that behaviour, without blaming their father or their poverty or the fact that they may have been a victim themselves. In the meantime, I’d like to go about my community without apologising for my gender or engaging in elaborate demonstrations of my harmlessness.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thanks Doug, while the good blokes are soul searching it is still hard to understand what is in the mind of real criminals who commit violent crimes and perhaps harder to get our heads round people lurking anonymously, threatening successful women like Barbara’s three daughters in her comment.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The fear felt by women is real, and should be addressed. However, speaking as someone who worked for the police in central London for 12 years, I can tell you the truth of the actual statistics. Men are far more likely (up to 10+ times more) to be the victims of random violence, serious injury, and murder, on the streets of any big city. If you are a man in a large town or big city, walking home alone is just as scary, believe me.
    But as far as sexual assault and general harrassment goes, women are, and have always been, the main victims. That needs to change.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Thanks Pete, yes as the mother of two sons it is also very worrying when they are teenagers and out and about; firstly are they going to do something stupid like drink too much and fall in the canal or secondly get attacked or knifed. As for harassment and sexual assault can we really make changes this time?

    Like

  7. it’s sad that we live in a world where both men and women have to live in fear. I’m not sure what it would take to eliminate that fear, but being a role model for our children as to what appropriate behavior looks like is a good place to start…

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  8. I mostly jog alone and sometimes I do not feel completely safe. I often wonder how the women feel who are jogging alone. I always feel better when I see them in a group or with a big dog. I still vary my route if I am behind a lone woman just in case it would ruin her run to feel followed. I have to laugh a little because at age 73, I could never catch up to one and I should be more concerned for my safety if I did!

    Liked by 1 person

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