June 7, 2007

Surreal Life

Posted in real life, women's issues at 5:35 pm by nevavegan

This post is just kind of something that’s on my mind that I need to write out and get out of my system before I can tackle any more complex topics.

Yesterday I was walking my dogs and a man pulled up alongside me in a beat up white van, leaned out his window and started telling me how beautiful I am and how pretty my dogs are and how he had this feeling we were supposed to meet. And when I said I wasn’t interested he kept talking, and I tried to walk away and he followed. This is of course the point where Kyra decided to put on her scary dog act. It’s funny because Kyra growls and snaps and barks, and Nikita just stands there staring fixedly at the potential threat. But I think Nikita is probably the dog to worry about. She might not give any warning, but if someone was coming toward us she’d probably do something.

Finally the guy in the van gave up because he couldn’t speak over Kyra anyway and she does have big sharp teeth. At that point a guy came out of some underbrush, zipping up his pants and shouted over to me “That’s a good dog, protecting you like that!” Kyra redirected her barking at him. “That’s right!” he exclaimed “Good dog! Keep growling!”

My life. Always weird.

But as much as I’d like to say that this is an isolated incident, it really isn’t. I think I mentioned before that there are times when men will bother me throughout an entire trip to the store, following me aisle to aisle, repeatedly asking me out even after I’ve made it clear I want to be left alone. Sometimes when I’m walking my dogs men honk and yell at me. Sometimes the men honking and yelling things like “Ooooh baby, lookin’ good” are actually cops in siren cars. Yeah, reflect on how safe that makes me feel in my own neighborhood.

For what it’s worth, not that women ever bring harassment on themselves, but I’m not exactly wearing attention-grabbing clothing here. I wear huge t-shirts and sweat pants to walk the dogs.

I’ve had friends suggest that I need to get a large wedding ring and start wearing it. But of course there are reasons why I don’t wear a ring. Besides I should have a right to not be harassed all the time, even if I don’t “belong” to someone else. Funny, there’s this guy at the gym who harasses all the women, but not me, because I always go in with Sean. Being with a guy is a legitimate reason to be left alone, but just preferring to be left alone is not.

Sometimes when faced with this stuff I wonder what these men hope to accomplish. Do they think a woman should not be out walking her dogs and so try to intimidate me into staying inside, or does some part of them honestly expect me to say “Wow, nobody ever called me pretty before” and jump into their shady looking van with them.

There have been times when this unwanted attention has taken on sinister proportions, with men following me in their cars over long distances, or getting out of their cars and coming toward me on foot. And here I’m just talking about the people I’m giving the benefit of the doubt and leaving out the obvious abduction attempt.

It also reminds me how dysfunctional attitudes cut in all directions. The man who judges his manliness on shouting things at women from his car no doubt has trouble relating to women at all in any circumstance. Women feel intimidated and reluctant to do normal things. After all of this, I would not be outside walking if it weren’t that dogs need walking and also discourage people from approaching me. Men who have trouble relating to women as fellow human beings might wonder why none of their relationships work out. They might be lonely and angry or even depressed, but they are likely also unwilling to examine how their own behavior and attitudes might be contributing to those problems.

I think a typical response from people when they’re told they have to change is “Why do I have to change?” For a man who harasses women who are unlucky enough to walk where he’s driving, he’s likely thinking “I’ve always done this. It’s normal.” But the answer to why people have to change is “because it’s hurtful to others.” There’s the added answer of “it clearly isn’t doing you any favors either.”

I started more recently to think of behavior more in terms of reinforcement or withholding reinforcement. So when I think of things that way, I wonder if bothering random women out walking or at the grocery store is self-reinforcing behavior. Do they not care what our response is, because it is the act of harassing women that makes them feel manly and powerful. What gives?

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3 Comments »

  1. Deb said,

    That really is surreal! I felt like I was reading the script to a weird movie, probably starring Johnny Depp (as Kyra? Or shawn? heh). cue: man in bushes.

    Not to make light of it. I don’t get this kind of thing often, but when it does happen, I have these same thoughts. If I tell someone to leave me alone, what makes them think it is okay to keep harassing me?

    And to think of it in terms of reward is interesting too. The only thing that would fit is if once in a blue moon, this approach works for them. So then maybe they keep pestering women, all women, because you never know which one it will work on…

    My other thought was that this is a great reason to wear AR message shirts. Not only does it scare off most people, it puts an activist spin on the whole situation.

    “Well, that was creepy, but maybe he won’t hit the meat aisle after I ditch him because he’s read my shirt.”

    Okay, that was mostly joking, because they’re not going to read your shirt, and they’re not going to pay attention if they did.

    “vegan, that’s like pagan, right?”

    It is not at all the same thing, but for some reason it reminds me of a friend of mine telling me how her neighbor takes it upon himself to mow the side of the road on her property. HER property, as it happens. She has told him, repeatedly, clearly, firmly, to not mow. She has had to physically stop him from mowing. He will go out there at 5am on memorial day so he can get it mowed before she’s up.

    WTF? He does it because he knows she doesn’t want him to. There is simply no other reason. She has tried calling the cops, and resorting to other officials to stop this guy. Of course it is completely ineffective. We were talking about it, and we agreed that if she did the same to him, she’d probably be arrested. I think, in this case, it is the vegan/AR thing, not being a woman, but then again, it is probably both.

    In any case, it sucks when you have to deal with this kind of behavior, one that society apparently accepts.

  2. Rachael said,

    I’m not sure if I should be glad or offended that that is not something that has happened to me any time in recent memory. Huh, weird. I could go all women’s-studies on this, but I’m working on 2 hours sleep and my brain is out of commission, so I’ll just say that it is abnormal that anyone would harrass someone walknig two dogs, especially when one is acting aggressivly and the other is giving the death stare. Seriously, do these people have any basic instincts towards self-preservation? Ugh, I’m sorry!

  3. Neva Vegan said,

    Thanks for the comments.

    It was actually suggested to me since I posted this that there may be cultural aspects to this. I live in a lower income community that is minority-majority. While I still find the behavior disturbing, and I will add that the vast majority of my neighbors DO NOT act this way, the suggestion was that this behavior is more tolerated or even encouraged in a community like mine.

    Still I don’t know why some people won’t take no for an answer.

    Deb, I have had people start conversations with me about what my “vegan” shirt meant, only to realize that wasn’t really what they were interested in. So I don’t think it makes any difference.

    Thanks Rachel. As far as why someone would approach me with my dogs, I have no idea, but it seems to happen a lot. Both of my dogs are only about 45-50 pounds, so not huge. However, a dog that size could still hurt someone. Because I live in an area with a lot of pitbulls, mastiffs, and rotweillers, I think some people just are not very intimidated by my dogs, though that seems silly. Since Kyra’s fear aggression has gotten worse I have to stop unsupervised children from just running over and hugging her. So far nothing has happened except that she barked right in a little girl’s face and made her cry. Still I do wonder why people think they can just go up to any dog, much less one that is sending out “get away” signals. People seem to not pick up on Nikita’s signals at all because she is less vocal. But she is part german shepherd, and her ears-up stance should look intimidating, but people don’t always seem to take her seriously.


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