Young women often seem to be (or used to be – I’m getting older every day) culturally conditioned to ignore their own intuition for the sake of politeness. We are taught to force ourselves to ignore it if something feels “wrong” in a social setting. Someone may say or do something that makes us feel uncomfortable, or push their boundaries beyond what we feel is acceptable, and we force ourselves to pretend it’s ok. We suppress the feeling of wrongness and carry on being polite, until something happens that’s bad enough to justify us taking action. Until that point, we have tons of stock justifications we can use to wave our discomfort away: “he didn’t mean it”; “he must have been joking”; “oh, that’s just him.”
Hitchhiking taught me not to bullshit myself. I’ve learnt to respect my feelings at least as much as I try to spare those of others. Instead of trying to suppress my “radar”, I worked as hard as I could at making it increasingly accurate. It’s not 100% reliable, but I have had enough evidence to feel comfortable respecting its signals. However, I am still mightily uncomfortable operating at the border between social and asocial, such as situations when a member of my social group is acting towards me in ways that seem asocial.
A couple of years ago, I had a really bad feeling about someone within my social circle. His behaviour was constantly off and he did not appear to be responding appropriately to my reactions. He triggered me badly, but he didn’t provide me with enough reasons to do anything concrete. I decided to simply avoid him, but even that meant that I was “being rude”. I was socially reprimanded for my decision but I stuck to it, despite feeling very uncomfortable about the social fallout.
Eventually he pushed it far enough with a friend of mine to prove that he was a bona fide low-level predator. Instead of feeling angry or frightened, I found myself happy and relieved. I realised that I relax when I know for a fact that I am dealing with predators. I feel comfortable knowing that I can keep them in my sight and manage situations so that they are not a threat to me or mine. More importantly, I know that if push comes to shove I’ll fight as hard and as dirty as I can. I can deal with that. But being rude to someone in my social group…. that scares me. I’m more scared of social awkwardness than of getting jumped by a creep.
The more I think about it, the more insane it seems. There is such a dissonance between what we are taught and what we are shown. On the one hand, we are told that our safety is paramount and we are responsible for it. On the other hand, we’re socially punished for taking steps to maintain it. No parent or teacher or boss ever tells you “the nasty person’s feelings are more important than yours”, but that’s often what their actions seem to suggest. If that’s not fucked up, I don’t know what is.