I got on the elevator on the 25th floor. I rode it alone until the 20th when 6 big and boisterous men got on. That’s one woman and six men in the elevator, for those of you keeping score at home. One of them looked at me (once the doors had closed and we proceeded to the lobby) and said, “Aren’t you lucky? You have so many men to protect you.”
And I laughed. Because I think that’s what the comment was designed to accomplish. And it seemed the safest thing to do. But I couldn’t stop thinking about this comment as I walked away. I don’t know whether he really sincerely thought I was lucky or whether he was attempting to dispel a possible fear of being stuck in a small space with a group of men.
It is entirely possible that this guy was sincere. And when he’s out in the world with his buddies, he sees his role as a protector, as somehow defending women against the ills of other men. But what he doesn’t realize is that none of us can ever know for sure which side he’s on. In fact, hearing that a total stranger is there to protect me actually makes my fear radar go up. Probably, he’s a great guy. Ready to do good. But from the outside, it’s impossible to tell a protector from a predator. Sometimes they can be one and the same. This is something that so many women were trying to express via #YesAllWomen. It can take some time to know who we can trust.
The funny thing about this line in the elevator was that it actually drew everyone’s attention to the possible danger of the situation. 6 men, 1 woman? Could be trouble. Before he said anything, I wasn’t consciously worried about the odds. It was the middle of the day. They were coming from some work thing. I felt reasonably safe in that elevator. As soon as he mentioned that all those men would “protect” me – I instantly started calculating all the things I might need protecting from. #1 was being alone in an elevator with a big group of guys like this.
It felt a bit like he was trying to assuage a fear I didn’t yet have. But it had the opposite effect. I can see how confusing it must be for men in this sort of situation. How do you assure women you’re not one of the assholes?
In thinking about it, I feel like I’d have felt safest by just being treated like any human in an elevator in NYC. Ignored completely (it is our way here, is it not?) or acknowledged with a nod or “nice day, isn’t it?” or any other small talk that humans use with each other.
And he’s right, I am so lucky. But not for the reason he said. I’ve (so far) mostly beat the odds on violence and harassment. I’ve not had a lot of reason for needing protection. But if I did, you can bet I wouldn’t count on 6 random dudes in an elevator to do it.
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