You may prefer this VERY updated version of this post: HERE.
I am not afraid of dogs, and most women are probably not “afraid of men.”
Except I’m actually afraid of dogs and most women are justifiably afraid of men. If you get what I’m saying so far, go away and do something useful because this post is not written for you. If you are puzzled, especially about the idea of women being afraid of men at all, then sit down, shut up, and allow me to slap you across the chops a couple of times1 with a little reality because that is what you need. Assuming you are a sentient adult and still have no clue.
I admit that I see “pit bulls” as potentially dangerous.2 When I was a kid, it was German Shepherds (or similar dogs) that were routinely trained as “one-man” guard dogs or attack dogs, and if you saw one either it was on a chain (not a rope, a chain) or on your leg (in a bad way). Seriously. These days, Shepherds are kept because they are good with kids. Go figure. The point is, I’m fully aware that almost 100% of the danger level of a dog is based on its training and treatment and not on its breed. So, when I see a “pit bull” I know intellectually that this could be the most gentle beast I’ll ever meet in my life.
I live in a place where mullets are not a fish that swims upstream and Jeff Foxworthy is regarded as a philosopher. If people around here see me with a compact florescent light bulb they look at me funny. We avoid having bumper stickers on our cars that reflect our politics just to avoid getting bumped by people on the exit ramp. Their bumper stickers usually involve urination. And so on. Dogs in this neighborhood are often bred for sport, and I’m not talking about duck hunting. Well, that too. But fighting dogs or guard/attack dogs are bred to be nasty, as often as not, judging by what I see in people’s yards and on the ends of chains … not ropes … in my neighborhood.3
So the other day, I walked outside and found myself utterly alone. Surrounded by garage doors and closed windows in a sort of cul-du-sac, I knew that you could probably pop someone with a small caliber handgun and no one would hear it or see it. I wasn’t thinking that exactly at the time, but I could sense the loneliness and remoteness as I closed my garage door behind me, heading for the mail box, with the medium-term intent of hopping in my car (which was not in the garage) to head off and pick up Huxley from daycare.
That’s when the dog showed up. It was a pit-bull like dog, though I have no idea what the actual breeding history of this animal was. It was tall, almost as tall as a Dane, but had the pit-bull head and a boxer-like body. Some sort of Frankendogish mastiff derivative, perhaps. A massive mastiff, indeed.
The dog was un-chained and frenetic. The first thing it did was to run at me and bump its head into my leg. Then it ran around in the cul-de-sac, running up to doorways and then turning instantly away each time. When I say running I mean mainly walking very fast. The dog was only bounding into the air now and then. It came towards me a couple of times but almost as though I wasn’t there, it would just pass me. Instinctively, I employed the usual voice and hand gestures one employs to bring a dog to a spot and have it sit, so I could look for ID on its collar, but it would have none of that. This dog was not receiving any of my signals.
That, and the fact that it was foaming at the mouth, gave me pause.
Different instincts suddenly kicked in. I’ve had encounters with dangerous dogs, and if you’ve read the Lost Congo Memoirs you’ll know that I’ve had dealings with rabid dogs as well. After the fourth or fifth time that the frenetic zombie-like (but fast-style zombie, not slow-style zombie) frothing beast passed by, having made my way to the car, I quickly unlocked the door, hopped in, and slammed it shut.
That is when I noticed that my heart was racing and my adrenalin was pumping. I had just encountered a rabid dog that, once it freed itself from whatever trance state the brain-eating disease hat put it in, was going to turn on me and bite me in the face (last place you want to get bit by a rabid dog).
Or not. Probably not. The foam was surely just drool. Its frenetic behavior was probably just because it was lost. Its failure to understand my commands was probably … well, that was actually a real problem because a well trained dog would obey any person’s dog-talk, and if you don’t train your dog that way you’re either a moron or you’re not training it to be nice to people but rather, to be a killer or fighter or something! OMG! Oh, wait, sorry, my fears are getting the better of me again … That’s totally irrational, of course. The dog was probably just confused. I suppose. Maybe.
So, I usually keep what happens in my house private, or at least if I write about it check first with the involved parties, but I think I will be forgiven for spontaneously telling you about a conversation I had with Amanda last night.
For the course of much of Rebeccapocalypse (the maneno with Elevator Guy, Rebecca Watson, and so on) Amanda was out of town while a friend of mine visiting from out of town and I huddled over our computers down in the blog cave, or visited SkepchiCON where, coincidentally, the Actual Rebecca Watson and other Skepchicks were hanging out, where the two of us fussed over the problem. So, Amanda missed all of the run-up, hadn’t read any of the blog posts, and had gotten only the briefest overview of events from me after her return. The story of Rebecca and Elevator Guy was low priority for her at the moment and the story thus went to the back of her head (well, probably, actually the front, but that’s not how we refer to it) for processing. Then, last night, the whole thing rushed forward and Amanda ran down to the blog cave to tell me something. I should say, this is a rare event. She was kinda freaked out.
“Do people get it?” she asked me, kinda freaked out (as noted).
“Get what?” I was distracted and unclear on the point she was making.
“Do people get what it is like for a woman to have a man join her on an elevator in the middle of the night? Do they understand that this is ALWAYS something that raises one’s stress level, even if just a little?”
“Sometimes more, sometimes less, it depends on your state of mind, the time of day, all sorts of other factors, but if I’m in a hotel somewhere in the middle of the night and some guy I don’t know gets on the elevator, my stress level goes up and stays there until one of us gets off. If he says something to me other than ‘nice weather we’re having’ I get much more stressed. That’s true to some degree for all women.”
“Elevator? What?” She was going fast, almost upset.
“If the guy did what that guy did, asking me to his room, I’d totally Freak.”
Ah. She was talking about Elevator Guy. “Yeah. Desiree said would punch him in the face.”
“That guy’s gonna have a bloody nose. Hey, did I tell you about this dog the other day?”
Anyway, in life I was not as clueless as the above dialog suggests. Amanda hadn’t really been thinking about the issue at all, and the moment she gave it any thought she immediately concluded that Elevator Guy did the wrong thing and that Rebecca Watson, in pointing this out to the clueless, was doing all women in the West, where there are elevators and a chance of some equality, a service. And every other woman that I’ve spoken to about this has said the same thing, more or less.
Guys (and some gals) who are not getting this are making two mistakes. First, they consider the event post hoc and say that no one was attacked or raped, therefore there was no threat of rape or anything else serious. If it didn’t happen, it couldn’t have happened. (I will assume you get why that is stupid.) Second, they think of this sort of thing generally and figure that the chances that Elevator Guy was a real threat was low. Why or how they assess this is beyond me, since they weren’t there, but I suppose statistically it is a reasonably valid guess … chances are the foam is just drool, chances are the frenetic behavior is just confusion, chances are the zombie-like state of the 160 pound dog is just … oh, wait, sorry, I was talking about Elevator Guy. Right. Chances are that Elevator Guy was just a socially ignorant slightly drunk dweeb of no consequence.
Or not. And it is the “or not” part that a woman MUST pay attention to in order to live her life as long as she can before her first sexual assault, or to increase the amount of time spent between her last sexual assault and her next one, or to make the next sexual assault hopefully non-fatal or something that she can get out of quickly or minimize in some way. Because very few women get away without something happening in their lifetime. (It occurred to me some time ago that my knowledge of a woman having been sexually assaulted in the past is correlated with how much I know about that woman generally. I quickly add that correlation is not causation. The point is that if you know a woman and don’t have knowledge of her prior sexual assault, that may not be because it didn’t happen. It just may be because you don’t know.)
When I was about 14 through 17, hanging around in an urban environment, with no car, and spending a lot of time at night on foot going places, I learned to do this trick. Say I’m walking down State Street and it’s 1:00 AM and there’s a woman walking in front of me in the same direction. With very few exceptions, I’ll overtake her, and there will then be this long, maybe one-third of a city block long period when I’m right behind her, then right next to her, then just in front of her.
From any of those three vantage points, I could grab her. From behind, or from next to her, or by turning around and grabbing her from the front. Then I could push her to the ground and drag her into an alley or whatever.
But I would not do that. Therefore, the woman walking alone at 1:00 AM in the morning downtown has nothing to worry about, right?4 Well, actually, since she does not know me she has a great deal to worry about because the chances that some guy walking (fast) alone down State Street in the middle of the night is a perfectly nice guy who will do no harm (me) vs. the chance that the guy is some sort of sexual assaulter or mugger is hard to assess, and the chance of the latter being the case is far from zero.
So I learned this trick. Cross the street about a block back and “pass” the lady that way. Same with a potential head-on encounter. If you see a woman walking towards you in the middle of the night on a lonely urban street, my practice in those days was to cross the street to not stress her out.
(Interestingly I stopped doing that second move when I moved to South Minneapolis a number of years back because because the social context there was very different. It would have been considered very bad form. Instead, you make eye contact and say hello. To everybody. That’s how we roll in that neighborhood, but that is an exception, and this paragraph is a digression.5)
All men. ALL men who have given sufficient consideration to women’s position in our society do this walking trick in the right context (for some that will be common, for others, rare). If you are a man and you do not know about this trick then there is a problem with you.
Here’s the thing. A woman normally possesses a certain sense of caution related specifically to things that mainly happen to women, which does cause stress. A man should respect that and act accordingly, by doing certain things and not doing certain things. Every single person I’ve spoken to about Rebeccapocalypse has had a view of this roughly in the same range: Rebecca displayed normative behavior in being put off by Elevator Guy and it was up to her to decide to speak about it, and generally a good thing to do so. People do disagree on the modus operendus of speaking out, but not dramatically. Everyone understands that a woman should have a certain sense of caution … as should a man but in different ways, for different things, to different degrees … and that a man should respect this and act accordingly. By doing certain things and not doing certain things.
But then there are these people, mostly guys, and also Richard Dawkins, shockingly, who don’t get it at all. I’m thinking that the fame factor has caused Dawkins to live a life in which certain conversations have been avoided, and he is just socially retarded because of this, though in most ways he is a fine example of an English Gentleman. Or maybe being socially retarded and being an English Gentleman are the same thing in certain areas. Oh, right, this might apply to privilege, might-en it? And privilege might be what makes men tend to be stupid about certain things. Get out of my way, Bitch, I’m walking down the street and I don’t care that trammeling past you is going to freak you out. Your problem. What are you doing out in the middle of the night by yourself anyway? Oh, if I was asked over for coffee at 4AM in the morning in Ireland on an elevators, I’d see it as a complement! Yes, yes, I suspect Richard Dawkins has been asked over for coffee and servicing at the wee hours of the morning many times, because he’s a star and that is what happens. So from his point of view, I suppose he was giving Rebecca the highest complement when he figured that she had no brief: “Rebecca, you are one of us stars! You have a groupie! Good show, Old Girl!”
Oh, but sorry, my cynicism is getting the better of me. I want to close by restating my point so it can’t be missed.
I was freakin’ afraid of that dog, even though I know how to handle big dogs. I was afraid of that dog even though I’ve smelled the breath of more than a few wild super-carnivores who were busy contemplating me as a meal or a rival, so a dog should be nothing to me. I was afraid of that dog even though I’m not afraid of dogs. I could not help myself from being afraid, and I have chosen to do the very unmanly thing of not lying to you about that. My heart was beating when I got into the car, into safety.
And here’s the thing, the point you need to get: I can only tell you about the dog. I can’t tell you a story about a sexual assault. I don’t have one. I only have the dog story for you because I’m a 50-something year old man, not a 50-something year old woman. If I was a 50-something year old woman, I’d be able to tell you stories on point for the current discussion, stories about men who cornered me, who touched me when I didn’t want that, who verbally threatened me, who woke me up in the middle of the night or tracked me down on some dark street or who freaked me out in an elevator. If I was typical, that is.
But I only have the dog story to help you empathize with Rebecca because I’m a man.6
1Verbally. I would never slap you across the chops. Unless you followed me into an elevator in the middle of the night and asked me to come over to your room for a cup of coffee.
2Let me be clear. I am not afraid of dogs. There are nuances running through this post, however. Are you afraid of nuances?
3Having grown up in a neighborhood like this, but more urban, I tend to see these subtle cultural features and I find them all endearing except the politics.
4No. Do not even THINK about saying that. Or, I will kick your ass. Seriously. You have been warned.
5Except it’s not really a digression. It’s a nuance. In this post I discuss a woman’s sense of caution. But this little story about South Minneapolis is here to subtly remind you that the nature of that sense of caution is context specific. In South, if I crossed the road, it would be assumed that I was up to something and the neighborhood watch would take notice. Or, I’d be thought of as rude and unfriendly. At the same time the front door of my porch is unlocked and there’s a friendly sign indicating that I’m part of the SAFE program so if any person on the street feels threatened they can run into the porch and lock the screen and bang on my door, or if somebody gets locked out of their house they can use my phone to get help, etc. But in some other context you cross the street. Most importantly, you have to understand the context and its meaning and how it shapes expectations and fears, and if you don’t you are not fulfilling your role in society.
5The use of violent language and themes in this post was done to make you uncomfortable and defensive. Did it?