Men, Please Don’t Do This

I ‘ve just read a story on Upworthy.com, about what men need to do to make women feel safe in public spaces. Among other things, it said that if a man needs to pass a woman on a street, he should first give her a verbal warning that he’s about to pass her, then, give her a wide berth and cross to the other side of the street, while keeping his face visible (but not looking at her).

As a woman, and a survivor of sexual assault, I’m here with this message for men: Please don’t do that. If I assume that every man I see intends to assault me, that’s my problem, not yours. If you cross the street to avoid encountering me and carefully avoid looking at me, it won’t make me feel safer. It will make me look down to see if I accidentally left the house with no pants on.

There’s a lot of talk in America these days about empowerment, but I don’t understand the current need to equate empowerment with insecurity. If I am an empowered woman, why do I need men to take care not to frighten or offend me? If I am an empowered woman, why do I need to fear hearing words or opinions that I don’t like? That’s not empowerment. It’s insecurity.

As an empowered human being, I take responsibility for my own thoughts, acts and emotions. When I walk in a public space, I’m capable of maintaining situational awareness and carrying out rational threat assessment, and it’s my responsibility to do that. It’s not the responsibility of every man in my vicinity to interrupt his life to reassure me that he’s not a rapist. As an empowered human being, I don’t feel threatened if a man looks at me because he finds me attractive (though that’s less and less likely these days!). I’m not so hypocritical as to pretend I never look twice at an attractive guy on the street. As an empowered human being, I’m strong enough to hear your opinion without feeling threatened, even if I disagree with it.

So, to any man reading this — I don’t need or want you to be overly sensitive to the fact that I’m a woman. I don’t want you to tiptoe around me in meetings for fear that I’ll feel threatened or offended. I certainly don’t need you to treat me like a frightened child if you meet me on a public street. If you intend to assault me, we’re going to have a problem. Otherwise, please just go about your business and assume that I’m a rational human being. Your gender does not make you terrifying. Mine does not make me fragile.

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