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Saturday, 17 November 2012

The little mugger that wasn't

So the Weekly Moment of Mortification was a bit different this time around.

I was walking from the tube station to work, and not paying as much attention to my surroundings as I should have. My body was stomping along the pavement, my ears were being treated to some pretty good old Queens of the Stone Age, and my mind was trying to catalogue everything I wanted to do when I got home from the office.

QOTSA gave way to The Killers, and I was absently humming along to it (as you do), when a large gloved hand descended in front of my face. (It's pretty easy for anyone's hand to do this to someone who is smaller than the average twelve year old. Just saying.)

My reaction? Raised back-fist to push the hand away, and pull my other hand round to punch my would-be mugger - who turned out to be our fairly new team-member, looking horrified and making squeaky "Nonononono!" noises. Ahem.

On the bright side, as I pointed out to him once he stopped dancing all over the pavement, I never actually touched him. I never threw the punch either, since I realised who it was almost immediately. (The other bright side would be that as he's over 5'10", and I make 5'3" by the skin of my docs, I'd have to be standing on a box to actually do severe facial damage. He didn't look convinced.)

I apologised for nearly smacking him, and advised him firmly never, ever, to do that again. He just looked confused, because he didn't understand why my first reaction was to get physically defensive. He's a really nice guy, and I didn't have the energy to explain the whole lone female on a street dynamic, because I think this is something I could tell him until I was blue in the face and he still probably wouldn't understand it.  Most nice guys wouldn't. In case any of you read this blog, this is why:

As a female walking alone on a street, you are always aware that you are vulnerable. It's not so bad in daylight, surrounded by people. After dark, unless you are cataclysmically inebriated or utterly stupid, you are hyper-aware of this. And even surrounded by people, you never lose that sense of vulnerability.
(If you really want to understand what this feels like, strap a couple raw steaks to your shirt and wander through any large group of dogs, cats, or carnivorous beastie. I don't recommend wild-life parks for this one though. I'm not trying to say males are like any of these, btw. I'm trying to say this how vulnerability feels. Alternatively, you could walk down your main street naked, which will get you arrested, but might get my point across without someone screaming about me comparing them to a beast.)

So when a very large, very male hand enters into your field of vision unexpectedly, obviously headed for your shoulder or neck, and you are a female walking by yourself, your first response is fear. That's it, in the simplest possible way.

My only concern was not letting that hand land on me; it was moving fast and I'm a small girl. You don't need to punch me to knock me off my feet; an open-handed slap would do just fine.  When you're looking up at a descending limb it's hard to discern the difference between a potential slap and someone waving to get your attention.
Quite a few women would have screamed at the top of their lungs when that hand appeared. (Personally, I prefer saving my breath for running like hell - which would have been the step immediately after delivering that punch I was winding up for.)

The thing is, I don't think that most guys can comprehend the fact that someone they know - a friend, a colleague, a relative - can ever be afraid of them. They might "get it" on a logical level, but when they tap a woman they know on the shoulder and she jumps, or shrieks a little, or steps sideways and raises her arms defensively, their reaction is puzzlement. Because its them, and they know you. Most guys don't go through life knowing that there is a portion of the population who sees them as prey, as easy pickings.
Most women never forget this, because forgetting it will get you hurt or killed.

So guys, here's a bit of advice: if you see a female friend by herself in the street, don't run up behind her and grab her arm or shoulder. Call her name. If she doesn't hear you, walk until you're in front of her, in her field of vision, and get her attention that way. The response is likely to be a lot friendlier.