Fear Factor

Weird story. I’ll go ahead and spoil the ending: it was all paranoia. But the fact the paranoia even existed is the very point of the story.

I’m not going to tell you where I work. I will tell you that I’m in a two-person office and I’m something of an office manager. I keep things running smoothly; I keep things in order. I’m not the boss. That’s the other person in the office. But I’m female, and the boss is male, and the boss is a man that if you saw him you probably wouldn’t want to start something. He is a big guy.

He left early the other day and told me to leave at four. I had a 3:00 appointment and a 3:30 appointment to handle after he left, but it was all good. My 3:00 was easy paperwork stuff. Get a guy to sign a form, send the form to home office, and ta-da! We’re done. Easy, 5 minute appointment tops.

He calls and lets me know he’s running a bit late. That’s fine, but I find out during the course of the conversation his son is with him. His son is an adult. Again, fine. But here’s where the paranoia kicks in:

I’m a female, alone in the office, and I’ll be facing not one, but two grown men. Odds are everything will be fine (and it was), but I had a moment of panic: my boss wasn’t there. If these guys decided to try something, anything, I’d be up shit’s creek. I’m pretty sure I could fight off ONE person, but two? So my brain started wondering whether or not I should unlock the back door, that way I could run for it if I really had to, but then I realized that by leaving the back door unlocked, it’d leave the door open (pun intended) for strangers to come in. Worse, I’d forget the door was unlocked after my appointments, and that would be very bad indeed. No one wants to leave their office unlocked all night, do they?

Like I said, all my paranoid fears were for nothing. And I do have a panic button that essentially calls the local cops ASAP if I push it. My 3:00 appointment arrived, left his adult son in the car, signed his paper and was very nice and congenial and thanked me for my help. I smiled back and told him to let us know if there was anything else we could do to help. Did I feel bad for mentally freaking out? You bet.

See? Paranoid. Nothing to worry about. And that’s usually my motto. There’s a handful of people we work with that my boss has told me (or I’ve told my boss) that I shouldn’t be alone with, because said (male) person gives off creepy vibes. One of those said people on my boss’ list (not mine, I think he’s a harmless old man who appreciates younger women in a non-creepy way) showed up out of the blue last week when my boss wasn’t in with a question that could’ve really been handled over the phone and really shouldn’t have been asked to begin with: this guy, he’s smarter than the question he asked me. And I realized, after he’d left and I was getting on with my very busy morning, that he probably just stopped by to see me. Not chat, not like lonely old people do. But he wanted an excuse to see me. That’s it. And the realization ticked me off, because I was having a bad, busy morning.

When people talk about rape culture or how it sucks that women are the ones who are taught not to be victims, but men aren’t taught how NOT to be a victimizer, this is the bullshit our culture has produced: women, like me, who have a legitimate, however paranoid fear, of being alone with strange men and because we’ve been taught to “stay safe,” have to mentally chart escape routes just in case.

If I had been a men, none of these situations would’ve been a bother. But I’m a women, and therefore both situations were. It’s not that I’m afraid of being alone with men. I sometimes scoff at people who my boss thinks is creepy and I don’t, but I do have MY list of people who are creepy. Men who, if they have an appointment, I don’t want to spend a single minute alone with in the lobby. Men who, if I’m on the phone with them, make me shudder even though they don’t say anything wrong except the occasional “honey” or “baby” or “sweetheart.”

Being a part of the customer service oriented business I am means I don’t get to be a bitch and say, “Don’t call me that,” and set them straight. I’m in the South, and that means a lot of those endearments are just old school habits that don’t go away. And even if I wasn’t in the South, I still couldn’t be a bitch and set them straight, because in my line of work, customer service is important.

But I have to deal with them. Because I’m female. And my whole point is that I shouldn’t have to. I shouldn’t have a list of clients, however small, whom I don’t want to be alone in the room with. My boss shouldn’t have a list, however small, of clients HE doesn’t want me in a room alone with. I shouldn’t have paranoid fears that just because I’m alone in the office and a male client comes in. I shouldn’t feel the need to prepare, just in case.

But I have to, because I’m female. And those paranoid fears, however fleeting? Those anxieties or that dread? That isn’t going away. And that’s really, really unfortunate. Because while what I’ve talked about is the norm for most women, and what I’ve talked about is wicked tame compared to what many other women go through, it’s still a drain on us. It’s a drain because it’s normalized and it shouldn’t be.

That is all.

13 thoughts on “Fear Factor

    1. No kidding! There are all KINDS of things I say or do because of this. It’s amazing when you really start adding it up….

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  1. Reading this makes me think about back when I had this part time job really close to home. Since it was only a mile away from my apartment, I decided that I would walk. That didn’t last for long. At least once a week, a strange man would try to talk to me while I was walking either to or from. Not the same man, mind you, but lots of different guys. Perhaps they weren’t bad seeds, but it just made me so uncomfortable. I’m a small woman, not even 5ft2, and I’m not strong at all. I felt really silly driving to work every day, but while I don’t live in the worst neighborhood in the world. it’s not all that great of one either. When a strange man approaches me on the street, I don’t think “well maybe he just wants to know the time,” I immediately get nervous.

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    1. It’s amazing the little behaviors we do and have that we don’t often think much about, it’s so engrained in us to stay safe, you know?

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    1. So am I! I was definitely worried for nothing. I just hated the fact that when I was worried, I didn’t feel it was unjustified.

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  2. What frustrates me about situations like yours is that they’re often swept under the rug (at least, in my experience they are) because there are so many more.. hrm, I guess blatant? instances of sexism and rape culture that happen every day, so these seemingly smaller things get ignored, even though they’re really a part of a much bigger problem.

    I thankfully I don’t often deal with situations like yours, but I did the other day. It was 11:30pm and I went to a convenience store to pick up some chips or something. There were a bunch of dudes hanging out in the parking lot, and my knee-jerk reaction? To become nervous; to think “oh shit, why did I come out in short shorts, how stupid”; and “oh god I hope they don’t notice me.” The guys came into the store and it turned out they were like 13 years old, but I became really angry that I was justifiably terrified for those brief moments.

    So yeah, I definitely feel ya. I’m glad that the situations you dealt with worked out.

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    1. I absolutely agree. A similar situation to the one you had: I was walking in my neighborhood last weekend (safe neighborhood, no issues there), and in one cul-de-sac (however you spell that), there’s a basketball goal in the yard where the guy (really not sure of age… high school, maybe older?) plays. Mind you, he plays in the cul-de-sac itself, so when he does, I just steer clear of him, but still walk most of the circumference. Well, last weekend he was playing with two other dudes, and not only did I know it was going to be really awkward to try and steer clear of them while still walking there (they were taking up more than half the area), I also didn’t want to catch their notice and deal with any potential cat-calls or any such nonsense. So instead of doing the full lap around, I cut it short before getting to the cul-de-sac (and therefore the game) and turned around.

      Frustrating that I even felt the need to do that.

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  3. I have a confession: if I’m having a really bad day, sometimes I actually hope that a guy will try to harrass me just so I have an excuse to beat someone up. But that’s only on a REALLY bad day.

    I do worry occassionally, but I imagine not as much as others due to the simple fact that I’m larger than a lot of men out there. I’m almost six feet tall and more than 250 pounds, for the record. But yeah, there are certain circumstances where I’d really rather not be left alone with two or more men, especially if I don’t know them.

    I’m wondering if you’ve read Maria Dahvana Headley’s blog post about sexual harrassment at SFF conventions? It’s pretty disturbing. I made a few comments on my LJ about it here:
    http://ardys-the-ghoul.livejournal.com/78102.html

    If you haven’t read it, there’s also a link there. If it isn’t obvious, I was still pretty angry when I commented on it.

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    1. I have read SO MANY posts about harassment as SFF conventions that it’s a wonder those stories aren’t infecting my dreams. And that’s a serious shame. I may have seen this one, I may not have. I’ll check later when I can stomach reading it. 🙂

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