down eyes

I'm sorry I didn't say hello back to you when you said hi to me in the parking lot today. I heard you mumble, "Rude.", under your breath as you walked away. Yes, I know it seemed that I was being rude and unfriendly and, whether you believe me or not, I felt bad about being unfriendly. I didn't even raise my eyes from the ground. I may not be able to know if you will actually read this but maybe other men will and understand why some women aren't friendly when men we don't know are friendly to us. It's not personal.

It has more to do with us and a little bit of our personality type but a whole lot about how we grew up and what we saw and experienced as females. Some of us are just plain shy and it's difficult to be put on the spot in public spaces, it's uncomfortable and difficult. For many others of us it has to do with being a victim of a predator at some point in our lives. It could have been a bully. It might have been a father figure who scolded us not to present ourselves as 'easy' to men around us. We may have experienced sexual abuse, been molested or raped. You have no way of knowing so we appear cold and unfriendly and rude. That's not your fault- I'm sure you are a great person and would never think of harming someone but, there it is. Unfortunately, all men have to bear the brunt of what a few have done. It's human nature to avoid something that has caused harm in the past. People who have been in a serious car accident tend to be be overly cautious drivers- not the fault of all other drivers, just a reaction to a past traumatic experience.

For some women who have been molested, sexually assaulted or raped the reaction from family, friends and law enforcement was not supportive and as we witness quite regualrly in the news women are often ortrayed as bringing it upon thmselves. The following are true stories that have been altered slightly so as not to cause further harm to the women. Perhaps, you will understand why they don't say hi.

girl in bed

A little girl is lying in her bed in her dark room with light shinning on the hallway floor. Her mom and dad are out for the evening and her babysitter is in the living room watching TV. Just as she is about to fall asleep she sees a shadow coming down the hall, quiet foot steps come into her room and a figure hovers over her bed, determining if she is asleep. She feigns sleeps because Daddy gets very mad if she doesn't fall asleep right away. The babysitter, a young man of 15, slips into bed with her. She almost stops breathing- wondering why he is in her bed. She lays very, very, very still hoping he will go away. He doesn't, instead he begins to touch her 10 year old body making his way to her underwear. What is happening!? What will Mommy and Daddy say? What can she do to make him stop? He keeps touching her and fondling her and she can hardly breath, confused and afraid and helpless she lays stiff until he goes away. After he leaves she doesn't fall asleep until she hears her parent's car pull in the driveway. A sense of relief flows through her. She is safe now. Her fear and shame prevent her from telling her parents, they tell her what a nice boy he is and how nice it is that he is willing to babysit. This wasn't the only time it happened and her fear of confiding in her parents prevents her from telling them and she endures it many more times. She was 10. When she is an adult woman and gathers the courage to tell her husband and he tells her she is over sensitive and over reacting, "Ah, that's nothing. He was just a kid, he didn't know what he was doing. At least he didn't rape you." She never tells anyone until she finds a kindred spirit.

A young woman is invited to a party and she is really excited, she is new to the school and is happy to be included. The parents aren't home, the rooms are dark with only candles, the smell of marijuana permeate the house, and alcohol is flowing freely when she gets there and many of the other students are visibly drunk. As the evening goes on a young man shows interest in her, she feels flattered and accepted and returns his interest. Slowly, before she even realizes it, he has maneuvered her into an empty bedroom and closed the door. Her heart is pounding. She hardly knows him. She barely knows any of the kids in the house. Music is playing so loud no one can hear each other. Her pulse is racing and she is frantic. How can she get out without all the new kids realizing that she has been alone with him. Will they laugh at her? Will they make fun of her? She just wants to go home. Before she understands what is happening she is held flat against a bed and his pants are down and he is forcing himself on her. She fights him off, grabs her things and runs out the door and all the way home. Seeing her daughter upset and crying and shaking; her mother took her to the hospital to be evaluated. The hospital staff did their very best to blow off both daughter and mother, no exam was done, no charges were pressed. The daughter learned to keep quiet about it, no one wants to hear or know. She thinks it's her fault for allowing it to happen.

alone

A 14 year old girl is visiting relatives in another state. Her aunt and uncle take her out to dinner to a fancy restaurant. She feels special and grown up. During the meal she goes to the bathroom by herself and when she comes out her uncle is waiting for her. He suggests she go with him to the parking lot to get her aunt's purse. Out in the dark parking lot with no one around he grabs her and tries to kiss her and pins her to the car. She wiggles free and runs back into the restaurant. At the table her aunt smiles at her and asks if she is having fun. How can she tell her aunt that her husband has just tried to fondle her? She says nothing. To no one. Until she is an old woman and confides in a friend.

In a new country with new cultures and new friends a 16 year old girl has a boyfriend that is a popular athlete and student in the high school. She feels lucky to have him, partly because he continually tells her how lucky she is to have him. Years later her therapist explains the term gas-lighting to her and she understands that she had been in an emotionally abusive relationship. During their two years together he coerced her into having sex with, questioning her commitment, her love and that she should prove her commitment to him by sleeping with him. He frequently fondled her publicly saying it was his right as her boyfriend. She never told anyone because he was a popular athlete and she was... well, she was just an average girl that would be nowhere if it wasn't for him. Years later a friend told her, "You need to get over that, I mean how long are you going to carry that around? Gees, it's not like he raped you." She worked through it with a therapist and now helps young girls in counseling.

Sometimes there isn't even contact for a man to make a woman feel violated. We can walk into a room, walk down a street, get coffee in the employee lunch room and a man can talk to us like we are only there for his viewing pleasure. If we complain, we are told we are 'too sensitive', 'over-reacting' or 'imagining it'. If we go to HR we are frequently asked, "Is this something you really want to pursue? He will have to receive a written reprimand and it will go into his file. Are you sure this is was really what happened?" Many women feel pressured to not pursue anything.

sex har

These are the kinds of stories that haunt some women. Some can just push them aside and not be affected by them. Some are deeply affected and need counseling. Some are affected and function but have difficulty in certain social situations. Many continue to be mocked. When a man approaches a women with a painful memory her lack of response may be a result of these kinds of past experiences. When you tell her she is being rude you may be adding to the painful memory. You don't know and she shouldn't have to justify her actions to you. Chalk it up to a difference of personality and move on. One day when we live in a culture that takes women seriously when they talk about sexual, emotional and physical abuse then we can all feel safe meeting strangers. Until we can all agree on what is an acceptable way to discuss and treat women and we can all agree that it isn't 'just locker room talk' or that 'being fondled isn't better than rape' we are going to have to agree to different levels of what we think is 'just being friendly'. We don't know if you are just being a friendly guy and that you are genuinely pleasant and sociable, so we error on the side of caution. We don't know if by returning your hello and smiling at you are interpreting it as a come on so we don't take a chance.

friendly

I wrote this to help people understand what it is like to be the victim of a predator. I wrote this before the election. Now we have a predator in the White House and if you aren't concerned I worry for you, but mostly I worry for our daughters.

Deborah Baron

Deborah Baron

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