The Fear (Stories About Male Privilege)

I want to paint a picture. It’s very simple but a specific picture.

First, I am 188 cm (6’2″) tall, I weigh 102kg (230 lbs), plus or minus. I am not a small guy. I have not been in a fight since the first year of high school, which was over 25 years ago and I do not naturally have an aggressive personality. In summary, I know that I do not present an easy target. I don’t draw extra attention to this fact, and it may be why it has been so long since I’ve had a physical confrontation.

The following scenarios take place at on an empty side street in a residential neighbourhood. It is 9:30pm on a Friday night in the fall and is dark out, street lights provide some limited visibility. I am walking home.

I’m walking alongside a road, alone, and in the distance I can see a person walking towards me. Because it’s me, I mentally check myself and say it’s nothing to worry about. I keep on walking.

As the person gets closer to me, I recognize that this is a man of a medium build, and they’re not looking at me.

My initial thoughts: first, does this person think I am a threat? If so, should I present myself as a non threat by slowing my pace, moving farther to one side?

The next thought: is this person a threat to me? Is he walking with a stride that would indicate awareness of his surroundings, is he paying attention to changing conditions, is he confident where he is at that moment, and does he appear nervous?

I generally like confident people. Nervous people tend to be unpredictable, and they make me nervous in turn. Whenever I hear a story about someone charging into a public place to attack or cause damage, I imagine them to be nervous or angry.

But when we pass each other, I listen to make sure they haven’t stopped, and quickly go back to what I was thinking about.

Now let’s flip the script…

I’m walking alongside a road, alone. In the distance I can see a person walking towards me. I mentally check myself and say it’s nothing to worry about. I keep on walking.

As the person approaches, I recognize this person as a woman, of shorter build. She walks quickly and does not look up at me as far as I can tell. But I am not watching that closely.

My first thought: look straight ahead, so as not to appear threatening, and maintain my pace and direction. If she drifts into my path, I will move to avoid, and if we accidentally make contact, I’ll apologize and continue walking.

There are a number of thoughts going through my mind. Was I a threat to her? Did I intrude into her space? Did I act appropriately? Subsequent thoughts could be: she looks attractive, or I missed an opportunity for a polite exchange. A simple “Good evening”. At no point do I ever believe her to be a threat to me. My only concern is she feels threatened, and unfortunately has every right to feel so.

I’d like to change it up again now…

Again I’m walking alongside a road, alone. In the distance I can see a small group walking towards me. I mentally check myself and say it’s nothing to worry about. I keep on walking.

As the group approaches, I recognize them as a group of women, likely dressed for a party, all talking loudly, walking erratically. Preoccupied with each other, I notice that they don’t look up at me at all.

I feel entirely at ease as they walk by. I can’t imagine they would feel threatened by me, just a lone man walking by the road. I can hear a few words of conversation as they walk past. I stay on my path to my destination, and the interaction is over.

I’d like to change to one last scenario,

Again I’m walking alongside a road, alone. In the distance I can see a small group walking towards me. I mentally check myself and say it’s nothing to worry about. I keep on walking.

As the group approaches, I recognize them as a group of younger men, likely dressed for a party, all talking loudly, walking erratically. Preoccupied with each other, I notice that they don’t look up at me, and they keep walking.

But I am nervous. The chances that they want to mess with one person walking down the road are minimal, but the chances are not zero and I am acutely aware of that… the men sound like they have already been drinking and they’re rough housing on the sidewalk. I make an effort and go out of my way to avoid them. They leave me alone and I continue to walk alone to my destination, and the interaction does not feel over until I can’t hear them in the distance any more.

Of the four secnarios, I imagine personal fear for myself in two of them. The fear may be unfounded, unnecessary, but I feel it. The third fear is from the women’s perspective, and I am acutely aware that women face a very real threat every day. No argument there.

Now, I have a few final thoughts for you.

I feel like an increasing number of men in our society are becoming a nuisance.  For men who abuse and force their power on others, the law, when successfully enforced, dictates prosecution and jailtime. Has this approach been effective or sufficient? I would say it has not and the underlying reasons have not been addressed.

Is it a measure for condemnation of our society when a man walking alone is a threat and must be treated with the same caution as a wild animal, like a bear or a moose?

Or is it a testament to our growth as a society where we now recognize that boys and men exist in a world where the very threat they feel during their daily existence creates a situation where they in turn become threatening to society at large?

How does our expectation of male behaviour shape how we raise boys to become productive members of society?

What do we want our society to look like?

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One thought on “The Fear (Stories About Male Privilege)

  1. These are really good thoughts, and I admit that I find it comforting to know that there are men who wonder if I feel safe when we’re walking toward one another, esp. if I am alone. I’ve had some very unpleasant interactions with men alone and men in groups in public – one of which would have wound up with me dead or hospitalised had two drunk girls not surprised the three men about to assault me outside the Rideau Centre in Ottawa.

    I think it should something we all consider while we’re out – how do the people around me perceive me: I am being a nuisance (loud music, over-sized bag on the only free seat etc.), do I come across as though I could be a danger to someone around me? Am I perhaps staring without realising? Have I moved into another person’s personal space?

    Sometimes it’s just a matter of practising awareness and courtesy, but sometimes, it means going out of your way to let someone else know, “You are safe. I am not a threat.”

    Thank you for being self aware and for sharing these thoughts! 😀

    Like

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