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Why I’m Not Feeling Charitable This Morning

July 8, 2008

Dear Semi Truck Driver:

Yes, I heard you shouting, “Ma’am! Hey, Ma’am!” at me, and I deliberately did not stop. My woman-walking-alone spidey senses started tingling long before, as soon as I saw you pulled over in the parking lot for no apparent purpose – that’s why I took a wide path away from your cab door in the first place.

Look, I was just taking my 10-minute walk across a deserted lot to try to catch the bus so I don’t get run over by the alternate – walking down the road from my house with the blind hill that has no sidewalks. For a second, I almost stopped – what if you needed help? My grandfather was a truck driver – what would he say? Something in my lizard brain, however, insisted: “Keep walking. Keep walking. Don’t even look.”

I started thinking about all the ways girls and women are conditioned to be “nice” and “helpful” and how that can put them in some pretty vulnerable positions. And I noticed that as soon as I reached the end of the lot, you pulled off and went away with no problems.

This morning’s encounter was rather unsettling. While waiting for the bus, after the first truck pulled out, I noticed another pull in – again, for no apparent reason, not to park and rest, and in a lot that is not there for this purpose. There are many more women walking alone through this area now that our neighborhood bus route has been eliminated, and I really, really hope that this is not connected to the sudden appearance of truck drivers hanging out and shouting at women. I worry about my bus stop friend with her beginner’s English and whether she would stop for them to try to understand what they’re saying. I wonder if I should scrape the rust off my Spanish to knock on her door and warn her, or if this is a paranoid and supremely weird thing to do.

Eh. Here’s a song to go with:
(Edited to add: NSFW lyrics in the song)

[mixwit_mixtape wid=”5fe2dd7185e4461f83884f86ade04098″ pid=”2dcb592c7fc2361a42150877f7a3b4df” un=”rachel_w” width=”426″ height=”327″ center=”true”]

14 Comments leave one →
  1. July 8, 2008 9:34 am

    Never doubt the spidey sense, never.

  2. July 8, 2008 9:57 am

    Mostly I agree with Badger.. Never doubt your gut reaction — people are remarkably intuitive about the subtlest things..

    There is a large part of me that buys into the whole “culture of fear” take: that we’re a society afraid of itself — so afraid that we ignore hitchhikers, broken down cars, or panhandlers, because we’re so in fear of getting hurt or ripped off.

    That said, I don’t really think this is one of those situations.. Dude could have yelled “where is so-and-so street?!” or whatever it was he theoretically needed instead of “ma’am!!” Who knows..

  3. Brandi Tuttle permalink
    July 8, 2008 9:58 am

    I understand your feelings and want you to be safe. This empty lot seems dangerous.

    Personally I usually put myself in danger’s way (according to my husband) as I don’t want to live in a society where I’m always thinking the worst of a situation or people. I know it’s not the best way to go about things. It’s just difficult to maintain a happy balance. If you are looking over your shoulder, evaluating a person’s “threat level”, or other such things-then I think that radically changes a person’s view on life/attitude.

    I’ve picked up lots of people, helped people out on the side of the road and generally not shied away from people. I do have an internal awareness that I actually try to squelch (I blame my overprotective father). I’m probably lucky to be around, but I just choose not to think of it that way. Yes I’ve been taken advantage of (with money or kindness) but I do what I need to do to sleep well at night.

    I want you to be safe and if you your spidey sense is going off, then listen to it and take care of yourself. But also try to temper it with a wee bit of not naive “I’m a nice girl” kind of thinking but a bit of “I’m a human and want to help out my fellow human if I can.” I’ve listened to people and told them no or what I would be willing to do before leaving. Because as you and I know, there are lots of people ready and willing to take advantage of us.

    I wish we all learned how to blend safety and kindness. I only hear about “stranger danger” now. It just sucks.

  4. July 8, 2008 10:06 am

    I should clarify that I do try to be helpful when I can – giving directions, time, etc. Something just struck me wrong about the truck even before the driver said anything. I do tend to make pretty quick judgments when the spidey sense tingles – sometimes people approach me and I feel wide open, “Yes, let me help you” – this time was different, although I couldn’t tell you exactly why.

    Brandi, I have an overprotective father, too! I’m always trying to balance those safety lessons against the real risks, and that’s one reason I wrote this post – wanting to balance (and think about the balance of) the “culture of fear” that Chris mentions/overprotected childhood/woman issue with being available to help fellow human beings from time to time.

  5. July 8, 2008 10:11 am

    I also have to mentally check myself when I have the instinct to be blase about the whole fear thing..

    I had a conversation with a photographer friend of mine who lives in SF, and we were talking about night photography, and she said something about how she can’t go out at night wandering in SF as easily, and I was quickly critical.. “what’s the big deal? I do it all the time, geez” and she sorta stared at me and was like “… you’re not a 110 lb girl.”

    “.. oh.. OH.. right. huh.”

  6. saraclark permalink
    July 8, 2008 10:14 am

    Always listen to your intuition about these things. What if instead of yelling “ma’am” he had yelled a different word “lady”, “Yo”, “bitch” etc., were you being lulled by the sound of politeness? Other than directions, what could you have done for this person? Phone-most folks have cell phones these days. Lifting, hauling or some other physical aid? most likely not. A trucker has GPS and an office that he can call for directions if he needs them.

    A single person is a target in some areas, a single female doubly so and I think that is just a survival issue more than anything. Be careful and get yourself some pepper spray or mace for defense just in case.

  7. July 8, 2008 10:17 am

    Chris, that’s something the husband and I talk about, too. He was shocked to learn that I and most women I know (who I’ve talked to about it, anyway) were taught to always have keys ready and glance under/in the car before quite getting to it in big/dark/other parking lots. He had never, ever been told such a thing, and was pretty sure that most men never hear it. It’s definitely a struggle to sort out the women-as-vulnerable narrative from the real ways in which women are sometimes targeted and real risks.

  8. July 8, 2008 10:17 am

    Saraclark – “were you being lulled by the sound of politeness?” I wondered the same thing.

  9. July 9, 2008 4:10 pm

    It is perfectly valid to call the police and put in a “suspicious activity” report. Get the case number and call back later in the day to see if a cop was able to talk to one of the drivers. If not, call again the next morning. Keep at it until the drivers disappear.

  10. July 9, 2008 6:18 pm

    Elizabeth, really? I will try to do that, then.

  11. July 11, 2008 9:55 am

    Absolutely call the police. Yes, they do spend most of their time responding after crimes have taken place, but they can help prevent crime as well. You can always call for suspicious activity, or “check welfare” if you’re worried about a neighbor you haven’t seen in awhile. Find your depts non-emergency line and program it in your phone for things like this.

  12. July 11, 2008 10:04 am

    Elizabeth, thanks for the suggestion. I took your advice and contacted the Sergeant who is our new community liaison, and it happens to be a woman who worked sexual abuse cases for years, so she was very receptive. Said she’d increase patrols and find out what the trucks are doing.

  13. Susanna permalink
    July 13, 2008 2:27 pm

    I was intrigued by what you said about women being taught to be nice and helpful.

    Men have raped four of my friends and when analyzing their accounts I noticed all four of them had been nice to the guy prior to the attack.

    I think that may be the reason why I have never been raped – in addition to pure luck being wary: I have no inhibition whatsoever to be rude to men.

    I think a certain type of rapist needs confirmation that his company is wanted. Others, of course, don’t need any excuses.

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