Sunday, March 30, 2014

When Creepers Come Calling

If I ever write a horror novel, I think I'll call it "When Creepers Come Calling."  Unfortunately, I can't even read the jacket of horror novels without losing sleep for a week, so there's no chance of me ever writing such a thing.  However, that does free up the title such that I can use it for this blog post without risking plagiarizing myself later, so that's a definite plus.

This title in this context is partly because of my nerdy enjoyment of alliteration, and also, unfortunately, true.  Last Sunday, I found myself at home, writing some notes for work and watching a movie when, around 7PM, the dog started barking.  I looked out the window and saw two men walking up to my door.  My blinds were open because the sun was still shining, and they waved as they saw me on the couch and continued to the door.  They knocked, and I answered, opening only my door, and leaving the storm door closed.  These two men looked about my age, maybe a little younger.  One was tall and a larger guy, the
other short and thin.  The dog continued barking, they started talking, and I couldn't hear a word they were saying.  I opened the storm door and the dog tried to get out, so I pushed him in and closed the door behind me. 

"This one's mine," said Short Guy.  "She's short like me, and her hair's super sexy."  He then introduced himself, speaking very rapidly in a very heavy Southern accent that I struggled to understand, explaining that he and his buddy were selling magazines to pay off their student loans.  He asked to come inside, and I told them no.  When I told him I was not interested in ordering any magazines, he said, "well in that case, can we just come in?  I think we got off on the wrong foot here...let's start again.  My name's Short Guy, I'm a Taurus and I like long walks on the beach and even shorter walks to the bedroom."  He continued a song and dance routine between him and Tall Guy that made it hard to get a word in.  While Short Guy fiddled with his magazine list for 0.2 seconds, Tall Guy jumped in: "How about we just forget him and you and I get together for some heavy breathing later?"  I ignored him, told them again that I was not interested in magazines and moved to go inside.  Short Guy again asked to come inside -- they were cold, he said, from doing this all afternoon, and he could just use my kitchen table to write down my order while they got warm.  I said no.  "Well in that case, let me just take you out to Red Lobster and kiss you, because you're super sexy and I love your hair."  I moved again to go inside, he kept talking about his magazines and how I should want to help him, and couldn't I just order a magazine for my husband?  Boyfriend?  "Don't you have a boyfriend?!" he asked.  I deflected the comment, said thanks, and moved to go inside, "but Doll, don't go...I love your hair and I'm super cute and good in bed...and you KNOW that's better than you got right now," he drawled.  I told him no and opened the door.  They asked me the direction of Second Ave.  I pointed and closed the door, and they walked away.

It took me exactly 0.7 seconds to start telling myself that I should have handled that differently.  That, in spite
of the fact that I could feel my anxiety starting to rise, that it was Nothing.  No Big Deal.  That I should just sit back down, finish my movie and note-writing, and move on. 

I tried that -- but it didn't work.  I couldn't focus.  My chest felt tight and my body was all twitchy and uncomfortable, and I kept thinking about those things they said.  What right did they have to come to my house and say those things to me?  Did they realize it was threatening?  Did they realize it made me uncomfortable?  Did they REALIZE the impact they just had on me?  Did they realize I live by myself?  I live at the end of the street and my neighbors are Deaf.  Did they realize this?  Why did they come all the way down this little street, right to the very end, to come to my house?  What if they come back?  Were they really selling those magazines?  Was it all a front for some awful assault scheme I just narrowly avoided? 

Ultimately, I decided to downplay it and post about it on Facebook, because...ya know...what else are you going to do with this thing-that-happened that feels like a big deal but shouldn't be?  I posted it, and then stared at the notes I was trying to write thinking, "you're so stupid.  Nothing happened.  It's no big deal.  People say things like that.  Guys say things like that.  It's just a guy thing.  Why are you so stupid?  You're just reacting to things that happened in the past.  That isn't now.  Nothing is happening now."

But -- I have awesome friends.  Although personal history told me folks might say, "huh, that's weird," or
"were they cute!?" or "sounds like a missed opportunity to me..." or "nothing bad happened," or "did you get his number?" my friends did none of that.  Instead, they indicated that what had transpired was decidedly Not Okay.  They encouraged me to call the police.  There was no joking.  It wasn't funny.  It was decidedly wrong.


After much thought and deliberation, I did call the police (in spite of my fears that he/she would not believe me, would think I was overreacting, would be upset that I called about something so small and wasted their time).  They sent an officer out quickly -- and he was nice.  He listened, took a description of them, said he would like to "run them out of town," and offered to continue to patrol the area until he went off duty at 4AM, if I would like.  I felt silly, but I said I would like that.  And I did.  I did like that.  Feeling supported and protected was a novel experience that was uncomfortable, purely because it was not what I expected. 

And really, that's it.  That's the whole story.  That's all that happened.  Weird guys showed up at my doorstep and said weird things, and I felt uncomfortable and called the police, who did what they were supposed to do.  It's a simple story, on its face.  But in reality?  It's so, so complicated.

So here's a little unpacking I've done of this complicated issue.  It's not new news.  It's not new ideas.  It's not going to shatter any thinking you've done about this issue before.  BUT -- I think it's important, because so often we (and by we, I mean me) understand issues when they are presented to us abstractly.  When we see the issue in a book, or an essay, or a blog, we can say, "oh yeah.  I get that.  Rape culture is definitely a thing.  Violence against women is totally normalized, I see that.  And yeah, patriarchy and oppression of women is totally an issue!  Rock on, book!" we think.  Then when issues come up in our conversations with others, we can say, "I read this article on rape culture the other day..." and we feel like we've done something good.  We feel like we have been educated, like we've shared that knowledge, like we know what we're doing and we're well-versed in being a good person, or standing up for ourselves and others. 

But too often, when it comes down to the real life application of these principles/ideas/issues, we don't see it.  We can't see it.  When it comes down to the fact of the matter, as it applies to us as we live our daily lives, we don't see it.  There was an article I read in a social psychology class that asked the question: "does the fish see the water in which it swims?"  The answer?  No.  And what are we, really, but fish in a big sociocultural pond?  The important thing here, too, is that this is true regardless of which fish we are -- if we're the big fish that eats the little fish, we don't see the water.  If we're the little fish that's being eaten, we
don't see the water.  Whether we represent majority or minority status on any particular issue, we need to work to see the water.  And, regardless, we will sometimes be unable to see it.  It's just how the water is.

And that is exactly what happened here.  I have been raised in this water.  I catch glimpses of it from time to time, but when it is a real life experience that is playing out for me?  I am just as ignorant of the water as if I had never seen it.  So creepy guys came to my door, and I, not seeing the water, thought that I shouldn't talk about it.  I thought it was not a big deal.  I thought that I was making a big deal out of nothing, because those lies are in the water.  Those lies are the water.  Those lies are part of what many women are raised to believe, and in the moment?  I fell for them.

I thought, "why do things like this always happen to me?"  Because that is also a function of the water -- making us feel as though we are alone.  Things like this happen all the time, to horrifying numbers of women.  This story is the story of street harassment.  It is the story of bosses that make sexist comments to women.  It is the story of assault, it is the story of rape, it is the many, many, many stories that we don't tell, because we've been told not to.  Because we've been trained not to.  Because we've been taught not to.  Because we've never been shown anything different.  So many of us have never been taught to tell these stories, because the mechanisms that make up the water are the mechanisms that keep these stories in place.  To expose them would be to expose the water, but some of us?  Some of us don't even have the language to begin the conversations.

In talking to a good friend of mine, who has an uncanny ability to not only see the water, but also to name it, I confided, "I feel like I'm making it all up.  I feel like I was just responding to things that happened in the past, and that I just made this whole thing up." 

"I think you may have been reacting to this AND to previous events," she said.  "Think about someone who has been mugged.  If a person starts acting like they are going to mug them, they might be more unsettled than someone who hasn't been mugged before...but they likely aren't 'making it up' or 'overreacting.'  They are respond adaptively to a dangerous situation they have been in before."

Right.  Yes.  There is a message that we're supposed to ignore/suppress/inhibit that adaptation and response.  We don't talk about it, and we're supposed to think (or come to believe) that it is wrong.  Imagine how things would be different if we were all taught to honor that response?  If I had been taught from a young age that you don't have to always be nice and polite to people, would I have been more comfortable with closing the door on them earlier in the conversation?  Would I have been able to tell them they were out of line?  Would I have hesitated in calling the police?  Would I have looked as intensely for all the ways I mishandled the situation?

About a year ago, I had a similar type of situation occur that I posted about hereWhile walking to my car in the grocery store parking lot, I felt two guys following me.  I walked quickly to my car and locked the doors just in time -- they came up to my car and tried to open the doors a second after I locked them.  My first thought?  "WHY did I go to the grocery store at 8:30 at night!?"

That's fucked up.  But -- it's not me.  It's the water.  I was taught these things before I knew what I was being taught, by people who were taught those lessons before THEY knew what they were being taught, and so on, and so forth, for eternity.

I also want to recognize that men are being raised in this same water.  They are given lessons on how to treat women before they are old enough to question it.  They are being taught how to be a man before they can walk.  It is not their fault. 

I don't know what the intentions of those men were.  They may have thought that making comments like that would be the best way to get me to buy a magazine.  Sex sells, right?  They may have been trying to get magazine sales + benefits.  Or, they may not have given a damn about the magazines at all, and they just wanted that short walk to the bedroom. 

However, if the water were not made up with the stuff that constitutes our metaphorical water, they may never have dreamed of walking up to a house, seeing a woman by herself, and making those comments.  If they were not socialized to believe that they could do this without repercussions, to believe that this is just "what guys do," to believe that they hold this power that renders them able to engage in these behaviors, then it likely would not have happened.  There are always deviants, of course, but if this was not socially acceptable on some level, it wouldn't have happened.

Which means, of course, that -- to some degree -- we condone this.  The burden of that responsibility is too much to hang on any one man, or group of men, or even men as a whole.  The burden of that responsibility lies in part in our history, in part with our legislators and persons in positions of power, and in part with all of us.  There are things that women need to see and change.*  There are things men need to see and change.  And it takes us telling the stories and unpacking their ugly truths for any of us to see what constitutes those needed changes. 

*I am struggling to find another way of wording this that reeks less of a "blame the victim" mentality, and I am coming up empty.  What I mean is this: women need to do what I've done here and unpack the stories.  We need to honor our instincts.  We need to stand with one another.  We need to tell our stories and dissect them and reject the pieces that no longer fit for us, and we need to name the infuriating parts where we see them.  We need to find the places where we "get it" and the places where we don't, and we need to try and see the water we swim in.  Otherwise, it passes for status quo, where status quo is, clearly, unacceptable.

1 comment:

  1. I love the metaphor. And I'm glad you called the police. It was the right thing to do. I have a post coming up about rape culture. I love what you had to say.