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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Really good read

posted by bitchphd
I don't remember where I found it, but here's a series of really well-written posts by a woman who was stalked and threatened by someone she'd been seeing. It's a gripping story, which is reason enough to read it, but in addition there are several moments where you can clearly see how easy it is to "put up with" such behavior, as people sometimes put it, if you continue operating with normal social attitudes. As the author herself points out, the situation looks worse on reading than it seemed to her at the time, because what she's doing is recording the stalkerish behaviors rather than the non-stalkerish ones. But even so, there are details--like her continuing to talk to him on the phone in order to keep track of his whereabouts, or because if she didn't he would call and harass her family and friends and she figured it was "her problem, not theirs"; or her concern that if the stalker found her staying in a friend's apartment he might damage the apartment--that sound illogical, but that are, of course, evidence of the difficulty of dealing rationally with someone who isn't rational.

She also says, and I think this is important, that "Part of the reason it got this bad was that I naturally had the idea that this is the sort of thing that only happens in scary movies and couldn't happen in real life to a smart person like me..." I know that there have been times when I've done something despite some discomfort because I figured it wasn't really that likely that it would end up badly. As I've gotten older, it's clearer to me that what one is doing in those situations is overriding one's gut instinct in order not to be rude--"I feel uncomfortable, but I don't want to make this person feel bad..." Obviously, that's stupid--which is one reason that I think it's important, with kids, to acknowledge social discomfort and tell them it's okay, rather than pushing them to overcome "shyness" or whatever. Bad, bad thing to do, teaching kids to exceed their comfort zone in order not to offend someone. FWIW, I think that learning to trust one's gut when another person seems "off" is much safer than all those stupid fear-inducing rules about not walking alone at night or whatever. In the story, the author specifically says she feels much safer walking alone at night than she does being with this guy--which is, of course, logical and right. But most "advice" to women focuses on avoiding *situations*, rather than trusting yourself and avoiding *people* who make you feel uneasy. I think that's exactly backwards.

Another interesting recurring detail is her shock that more than once she finds herself running from him in public, or screaming for help, and no one responds. I'm afraid I forget the name of this phenomenon--psychologists and sociologists that read this will probably know--but basically the gist is that we take our cues in unusual situations from other people around us. If someone is hurt, or yelling for help, we check to see what others are doing; if no one else is helping, we won't either. I'm sorry to say that I know this to be true from my own experience: how often have we all driven past accidents or people stranded on a highway and figured someone else would give them a hand? I've even heard women yelling (twice) and thought about calling the police, and hesitated, and waited to see "what would happen." The good news is that research shows that this "someone else will take care of it" instinct is one that we can overcome, apparently, simply by knowing that it exists; in experiments, students who were taught about it later demonstrated that in situations where everyone seems paralyzed, they will step forward and be the first to help. I, too, since finding this out, have found it a lot easier to step into situations that bothered me and diffuse them.

So the story's educational in that sense, too: if something looks odd, don't hesitate to do something about it. (And lest you think "but you're a woman, that's dangerous!" in my experience being a woman is an advantage--I'm not perceived as a "threat"--and also, especially if there are other people around, being a woman and stepping forward and saying loudly, "what's going on here?" definitely causes other people to notice and, if necessary, back you up. Plus, honestly, overcoming that fear of stepping forward is really empowering; you can stand up for yourself, and others, you don't have to be afraid.)* If the situation really is okay, the worst that'll happen is that the people will tell you so, and if it really isn't, then thank god you had the courage to act.

Anyway. Read the linked posts, they're amazing.

*Obviously, though, if someone's got a gun, call 911. Duh.
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