I’m addressing you directly, here, because I feel that’s what is appropriate. It always feels awkward to read about yourself and not have people directly talking to you about whatever it is they think is going on with you. Also, I think some of the conflicts going on that are related to you in the blogosphere are mostly because of you misunderstanding some elements of what is transpiring and I think that people trying to explain these things to you are missing important elements that might help you. Thus, I’m egotistical enough to think I can help.
In the United States, and in many other places around the world, some of the most terrifying crimes are crimes of opportunity. They don’t happen often for each individual, but they happen often enough that most of us are aware of at least someone who has experienced such a thing. Because of this, many of us are well aware of when we are vulnerable.
When you commented on Rebecca Watson’s experience, you pointed out that Rebecca was unharmed. You were not right, but you weren’t wrong, either. Instead, your response was rooted in a lack of understanding of the problem. No, she wasn’t hurt. She didn’t obtain a single physical injury from the encounter. Instead, she came away creeped out and a little afraid. The person who asked her for coffee may not have meant any harm. They probably had no idea that their desire to have coffee with her meant anything to anyone at all. That doesn’t mean, though, that Rebecca’s complaint was invalid. Her complaint is rooted in the fact that she was vulnerable and she was painfully aware of it. While it may not seem like it is the responsibility of this man to be aware of how uncomfortable he made someone, if he wants to have positive social interactions with women, in general, he should try to be aware of that kind of thing.
Rebecca’s complaint is not invalid because she thinks she should have some say over someone’s independent actions, her complaint is valid because in this context, in one where people are aware of what happens to others, even if it isn’t common, she was afraid and it is rational for her to have been afraid.
As for elevators, individuals don’t always have control over them. Just as alleyways can hide people from the view of onlookers, elevators can as well. And while there are buttons for an individual’s use, that pretty much assumes that in the event of someone being in danger, those buttons will be reachable and workable by her. That’s a pretty unfair assumption, isn’t it? Rebecca’s fear is based on what could possibly happen because she has reference points to similar things happening. In our society, people have been attacked in elevators; people do get harmed in situations that seem innocent. It may be rare, per capita, but it happens all the time. To make matters worse, there is no way to measure which person is well-intentioned and which is not. We simply don’t know. Not knowing is another reason why, even though she was safe, it is actually reasonable for Rebecca to be concerned.
In reality, everyone should be aware of things like this. There is an abundance of men who take inappropriate action when they feel attracted to women. If they want to get to know someone better, their best chances are when they can be comfortable knowing they haven’t made the person they’re interested in uncomfortable. If she’s uncomfortable, she’s not going to be receptive to anything he has to offer.
It isn’t men, alone, who have to be aware of this problem, women might cross the same boundaries as well and that isn’t OK either. Being aware of the needs of others, including respecting personal boundaries is important to our social well being. A part of that includes being aware of if we could be perceived as dangerous.
As another example, imagine people who are out playing baseball. While it isn’t terribly likely that someone might be hit by a ball when they’re spectating from behind a fence, we don’t think they are worthy of ridicule when they move away as a ball hits the fence. We are aware that is a reflex and that it is there because accidents can happen and a ball flying at your face is a rational thing to be concerned about. Rebecca’s experience may have been extremely safe, but that doesn’t make her irrational for flinching, nor does it make her worthy of your ridicule.