Sunday, 5 February 2012

Not So Fast

This post concerns a non-academic topic that has been roaming around in my brain for a while, and it is therefore disconnected from any particular time, place, climate, or topographic feature. It concerns how different my experiences are from those of other people (specifically: similarly-aged men) while participating in a particular outdoor activity.

When I participate in Outdoor Activity X (OAX) with others, I am just another person doing OAX. When I am alone, however, things are different.

Before I give some examples, I will acknowledge that of course the experience of being alone vs. being in a group/couple is different in general, not just when participating in an OAX. For example, when I am walking alone in some cities in North America and Europe, I am often stopped and asked for directions -- much more often than when I am walking with someone else. This is not surprising, but nevertheless the commonness of this phenomenon does not account the nature of some of the interactions I have when alone and doing OAX.

For example, when I am alone and participating in OAX, the following happen with enough frequency to be notable:

- A man criticizes something about what I am doing or how I am doing it. Example: Not long ago, I was told by a middle-aged man that I was going too fast. I was not. Nor I was going so slow that sarcasm was a reasonable explanation for his statement. And the fact that he barked "too fast" at me and then zoomed away makes it unlikely that he was trying to initiate a friendly conversation.

- A man does something a bit dangerous/scary in my vicinity, veering at the last second to prevent collision, in some cases laughing at how startled I am. I have no explanation for this phenomenon, but I hate it. Is it an attempt to show that they are more in control and/or more awesome than I am, or it is just for random thrills? What motivates anyone to scare another person for no (good) reason?

- If I pass a man, 92.43% of the time he will immediately speed up and pass me (if he is physically able to do so).

Incidents of the first two examples are relatively rare. The third one is common, but it amuses me rather than offends or frightens me, so that's fine.

I am writing about this because it mimics some aspects of my professional life; that is, mostly things are great/fine, but punctuated by incidents of Gender-Directed Weirdness (GDW). You can dismiss each individual incident as a Random Life Event if you want, but over time, when 100% of these incidents involve men and these incidents only occur when I am alone (and when similar events are not experienced by men I know participating in OAX), I think that GDW is a pretty likely explanation for some/most of these incidents.

Memo to the men: I could do without the comments and the scary games. And if you are passed by a woman, particularly one who is clearly not young or impressively fit, please don't feel emasculated and/or humiliated. If you immediately speed up and pass her, there is a 53.68% chance that she will be laughing at you, and not in a nice way.

(my apologies for continued sporadic posting/comment moderation as I spend time in various intense research activities and travel for at least another week.)

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