“I’m a good guy.” I’ve been thinking about this oft-repeated claim. It implies that good is a constant state, rather like one’s height (after reaching adulthood) – I’m a tall guy. I’m a short guy. What if we tweak this just a little, and instead imbed in the phrase a sense of action “I am being a good guy.” I am actively engaged in the thoughts and actions necessary to be a “good guy.” What would that look like, and how is it different from the passive “hey, I’m a good guy!” defense?
Recently I went for a walk while my mother watched my children. About a mile from her home the heavens opened and I was soon soaked. I was walking on a path through a grassy field in a park, and noticed that about fifteen to twenty feet behind me there was a young man. Immediately I was nervous. No one else was in sight. I glanced back a few times but he maintained his exact distance and placement directly behind me. I came to a road and darted under the shelter of a large tree, ostensibly to hide from the rain but also to have a protected back near possible witnesses in cars to allow him to pass me. I was frightened and seeking protection, but also needed to somehow make it seem like that wasn’t what I was doing because acting fine when no one has openly threatened you is what you do in society. He passed me. Unbelievably slowly. Inwardly I cursed when I saw he took the route I was hoping to take, a path that continued on the other side the road a bit further down. I waited as he plodded and peered through the trees to try to assess which way he went and whether he was well and truly gone. Of course I took note of his clothing, bearing, coloring, weight, age and distinguishing characteristics. He had stopped along the new path and wasn’t continuing. It was now out of the question that I finish my walk as planned. So I took the street instead, forcing me to pass his path junction. He was there, and he looked at me. I walked briskly and kept looking over my shoulder to see if he was following me, and I saw that he had come out again to the street but was not actually following me, just standing there. At this point I sent a video to three friends describing my location and his appearance with as much detail as I could. I changed the course of my walk so that I could pass my Dad’s apartment (my parents are divorced) so he could walk me back to my Mom’s house. My father is in his seventies and severely asthmatic. There is no way he could actually fight off any attacker. But as any woman knows, merely appearing to belong to a man is often enough to deter men who would otherwise harass and pursue. I made it back to my mom’s house, wet but safe.
This man did nothing “wrong.” He broke no law. He said nothing whatsoever to me and did not act in an overtly threatening way. All of his actions have perfectly plausible explanations. He was walking slowly because that is how he walks. He stopped on the path ahead to shelter himself from the rain under the trees. He waited by the road because he had called a friend for a ride. All of these things are totally appropriate for the “I’m a good guy” guy.
But if you are being a good guy, then you are actively making effort to help people around you. Every woman I know would have been as hyperaware as I was and likely would have made the same choices – acting to defuse possible antagonism, by pretending to be fine while also being as safe as possible. It completely ruined my walk, my only child free time at all, but that’s what it means to be a woman in public. So hey, good guys out there, maybe it is time for your brain to set aside some space to constantly guess what the women around you are thinking and feeling, the way we do about strange men. Exist in as non-threatening a way as you possibly can. Here are some ideas for how to do this:
- Don’t walk or run directly behind someone, matching their pace. Slow way down, or pass alerting them clearly to your presence and intent. Do not lurk in that person’s blind spot so they constantly have to try to peek to see you.
- Don’t yell out of cars or honk at people, even if they are your friend. I walk or bike a lot of my errands, and honks scare me every single time. Your friendly call out the window may go by so quickly she won’t recognize you and won’t know the thing you said was “see you on Sunday” and not “smile, darling, you’d be prettier”
- Notice subtle cues. A woman who glances twice at you over her shoulder is probably nervous, not attracted. If she picks up her pace, she is not suggesting a fun flirty race.
- Consider announcing your intent if the person seems concerned. Take that fake phone call explaining what you’re doing “oh I’m just headed to Safeway, I’ll be home soon, wife!” Sound stupid? Virtually every woman you know has feigned some kind of social connection to try to secure herself, whether that is faking a call to get away, acting overly enthused to see an acquaintance etc. etc. Join the club.
- In a dark parking lot, stay away from women, even if that means standing by the store until you see that the car next to you has pulled away safely. Do not deliberately park right next to isolated cars. I sure as hell never would, and possibly a woman parked there precisely because no one was parked right next to it.
- Don’t strike up conversations with isolated women. Saying hi as you run by is one thing. Protracted conversations can feel entrapping and scary. It’s one thing to shoot the breeze in the checkout line. If she cannot easily get away from you or be protected by another person, she does not want your conversation.
I’m sure commenters could come up with a long list of things they’d add. Perhaps all this sounds like an exhausting amount of effort when all you’re doing is going for a walk. It seems like it would take up a lot of space in your brain to remember all these rules. It would distract you from the beauty of the nature, from this small instant of time you get to yourself. You might forget items on your shopping list. You might end up having to change your plans in such a way that you’re severely inconvenienced.
But hey, a good guy wouldn’t be bothered by the actions that it would take to actually be good.