Category Archives: Violence

Dear men-in-my-life…

This evening I had to work late, and took a cab home because I was tired and didn’t want to spend an hour on the train.  I got into a cab without thinking much about it. We started down the street and the door automatically locked.  I noticed the cab smelled bad: as if someone had been smoking in it.  And that it was filthy.  I told the driver where I wanted to go the corner of “Sheridan and XXXX”.  He said “I’ll take you via Ashland.”  I told him I normally go on Lake Shore Drive when I take a cab, but he argued with me, in a very patronizing tone, that he thought traffic would be better if we went his route, and that the last time he took Lake Shore (my route), he got stuck and had to ask his passengers to get out of the cab.  Slightly alarmed,  I asked “you aren’t going to leave me stranded somewhere, are you?”  I would gladly get out and hail another cab, if that was the case.

The next thing I know I’m on I-94 (quite the opposite direction) heading north and feeling quite panicked.  And my anxiety went through the roof.  He didn’t talk, he just drove erratically and very fast and turned the radio up.  He didn’t answer my questions.  He finally got off on Peterson and then drove east over to Clark and then to XXXX, running lights and take curves too fast.  I was almost in tears, feeling like I was being kidnapped, wondering how to roll out of a moving car without getting hurt.  I pulled my cell phone out and had the emergency number under my finger tip.  By the time I got home the fare was about $10 more than it normally would be, and I was a mess.

When we arrived, he said “See.  This was quicker than Lake Shore.”  When I got out, I stood there next to the car with the door open and lost it with the driver, yelling and ripping him a new one.  “You NEVER ignore a woman and take her or a route in the dark that she’s not familiar with, and you NEVER refuse to talk to her.  You NEVER lock a woman in your car like that!  YOU NEVER DO THAT AGAIN. How dare you!!”
I was so upset when I got inside that the doorman came over and hugged me out of concern, afraid I’d been assaulted. He also went out and yelled at the driver once I explained in gulping sentences what had happened.
And now I’m embarrassed.  But angry. It just didn’t feel safe at all: very vulnerable in the hands of some strange man who wouldn’t listen.  And all in an attempt for some complete stranger to prove a point to me.
Now I recognize these are unusual circumstances, and that the guy was a jerk.  But let me be clear to all the men-in-my-life: women experience vulnerability differently from men.  
In a society where 1 out of every 4 women experiences rape, you need to learn that women spend a great deal of their time being ‘careful’ and guarding themselves.  The world is a potential hazard: so we have learned to be cautious in ways you don’t think about.  I have a good friend who finds it silly that I don’t like to walk alone to and from the train stop near my building after dark: he sees it as no big deal–just a couple blocks.  He also laughs because I’ll walk way around a parking lot to go somewhere, instead of between parked cars, especially at night, as I don’t like the shadows and feel unsafe.  I’ve tried to talk to him about this: that women have a very different perception of what is and isn’t safe… but he never quite gets it.  “Aren’t you feminists supposed to be tougher than this?” he asks.  Or he jokingly comments “Oh, Donna… you’re a big girl.  You could take him.”
I have been quite shaken by the cab incident.  And I unreasonably feel foolish about it.  I say ‘unreasonably foolish’ because I have every reason to have been shaken.
I had to take a cab again this morning, and found myself in silent tears in the back seat: this time, for no good reason.  This time, the driver was polite, asked the route I wished to take, ensured I was comfortable in the car, etc.  But my irrationality… my ‘hysteria’… my nervousness was rooted in a real cause.
So please remember: when we ask you to walk us to the train, or out to our cars, or whatever… we are not looking for etiquette.  We are not envisioning some romantic perspective on the world, where men hold doors open, throw their coats down in the rain to keep our shoes from getting wet/dirty, always pick up the check, and bring us flowers.  We are asking that you acknowledge that the word is a dangerous place: more so for some than others.  And to do your part.

Imagining the worst…

When you grow up in the so-called ‘third world’ you never ask Rabbi Harold S. Kushner’s famous question of “why bad things happen to good people.” Catastrophe and disaster are known entities, and when posed with this sort of question, the only reasonable response is “and why wouldn’t they?”  Kushner’s is a question borne out of privilege and luxury–where safety is an assumption: societal structures are in place to stave off most predictable disasters and most crimes are located on some ‘other’ side of the tracks.

When you grow up among the poor, you realize that safety nets are illusionary and death is a possibility.

The first few years in Papua New Guinea, we lived in the capital city of Port Moresby.  It was the most modern (and therefore western) city in the country, and I remember when the first stop lights were installed, and the first escalator was built-in an office building.  It was both amazing and amusing to watch a grown man barefoot and in traditional dress (tanget leaves and a bark belt) step onto the escalator and then jump back in surprise when it began to move.  It took him hours to brave his first ride.

Port Moresby was a clash of cultures and climates.  Situated in a coastal basin, it was surrounded by mountain ranges. The heart of the city was almost desert-like, whereas the mountains were lush rainforest. There were no external highways that led over these mountain ranges, so the city remained virtually isolated except by air and sea. There were many highlanders who had heard of jobs and educational opportunities in the capital, and had pulled together enough cash to buy a one-way plane ticket to the city. They left their villages with the promise of earnings and all too frequently found themselves jobless, homeless, and stranded without wantoks (one-talks: people who speak the same language and are therefore from the same village) to help them get started. As such, a growing mass of squatters accumulated in the capital.  And with squatters, crime. Juxtaposed with the extreme poverty of these transients, were the luxury homes of plantation owners and diplomats which dotted the hilltops. As such, white-skinned people were targeted: the assumption of wealth based on skin tone was clear.  We all had security fences, guard dogs, house boys, etc. to maintain our own tenuous facade of safety. But even with those measures intact, crime was something we lived with: I remember buying our own radio back on the black market: our name painted clearly on the top of it for all to see.

One week during fourth grade at the international primary school I attended, Lorraine, one of my classmates, went missing from class.  No one said a word to us students about it, but her desk was packed up and belongings were sent home. I went home and asked my mother about her.  Mom didn’t know, but we pulled out the weekly paper to see if any news would enlighten us.  There it was: Lorraine and her mother had been gang-raped and were immediately removed and sent back to their home country.  Her father was tying up loose ends and would be meeting them there soon.  I remember the look on my mother’s face when she read this aloud to me.  I didn’t know what ‘rape’ meant at the time, but I figured it must be just about the worse thing that could ever happen to you–worse than even death.

That night, I laid in bed and fantasized about what the ‘worst’ might be.  My ten year old mind could not wrap itself around a concept of sexual assault: at the time that was a distant and meaningless reality.  So what could be the worst thing ever that could happen to you? I remember comming to the conclusion that it must mean that someone cuts off your arms and legs (I’d seen folks from the leprosy colony nearby: I knew you could live with one of these missing, but I couldn’t imagine how you’d live with all four gone!).  From that night on, whenever I’d get scared (such as at fortnight when guys got their paychecks and had been out drinking and carousing), I would lay in bed in a ball, facedown on my arms and legs, trying to protect them from being ‘raped’.

While I’d gotten the specifics wrong, it never occurred to me that such a thing couldn’t happen to one of my family members: we all knew someone who’d been touched by violent crime or some other type of catastrophe.  In my head, it was a matter of time: odds were, something awful was going to happen sooner or later–it was an issue of numbers.

And so we lived in expectation of the worst: danger lurked everywhere, but it didn’t keep us isloated nor was it paralyzing: the work of the church was far more important than any ‘thing’ that could happen to us.  And if something bad did happen, it would be “all to the glory of God” (thus enforcing the cycle of the work of the church).  How much money could be raised if something truly bad happened!  It was fascinating to imagine: I could be the armless, legless little girl who brought salvation to New Guinea. Money from the U.S. would pour in!  As would my guilt, subsequently, for fear that if I imagined it–it might actually come true: and I didn’t want to be an armless, legless little girl! I didn’t have the courage to be ‘raped’.

It was this sort of magical thinking that led me in college to, upon spying an utterly disgusting and unsuitable male, declare him my ‘future husband’ to anyone within earshot.  To do so would ‘trick’ God into thinking I wanted it to happen–and I knew that nothing I wanted–my happiness–was the ultimate preventative: God would never give me the desires of my heart (because I failed to focus and ‘delight’ on Him).  Better to pretend to want what repulses me on the off chance that it might produce an opposing effect; God would instead  find someone truly wonderful for me to marry.  God ‘worked’ that way (His mysterious ways).