Infest the Waters: A Blog About Design, Life and Making Stuff

I’m Capable of Unlocking My Bike on My Own, Thanks.


After a delightful night out with friends last night, I went to hop on my bike and head home, and I had an interesting experience.  I was going to write a Facebook post about it, but as I biked home and thought about it some more, I realized that it warranted a longer response.  I’ve been following the #yesallwomen conversation online, and I’ve read some really great articles and have had some really great conversations with friends about it.  I’ve reflected on incidents in my life that that echo what it’s all about, and then tonight’s incident occurred.

Here’s the deal.  After saying goodbye to my friends, I walked off alone to retrieve my bike and head home.  We had been out in the Gayborhood in Philly, in which I have never felt uncomfortable or unsafe.  Ever.  I’m sure that bad things can happen to people there, as they can anywhere in a city (or anywhere, really), but it’s a lovely part of Philly, and it’s well-lit, and there are almost always people around.  I mention this to set the stage.

As I approached my bike, I noticed a man walking by himself 10 or so yards in front of me.  I noticed him pick a flower from a bush as he passed it (Which seemed slightly bizarre, but who knows? Maybe he digs flowers.) and as I arrived at my bike, he noticed that I was behind him and stopped about 5 yards away.  He said that he was going to make sure that I was okay, and then he made some joke about me being scared of him.  (Which I wasn’t, but when someone makes a joke about that, it does give you pause.)

I basically ignored him and went about unlocking my bike, feeling annoyed that he was standing there making sure I was okay.  I consider myself a fairly independent person, and I’m also quite aware of my surroundings at all times, and I wasn’t feeling the least bit uncomfortable.  Until this guy decided that he should somehow “protect” me by making sure I was able to unlock my bike by myself.   I attached my lights to the bike and put my helmet on.  As I finished and walked away with my bike, he said, “Have a good night.”  I ignored him.

As I walked away, I found myself increasingly angry that this guy felt the need to foist his “protection” on me as I did something that I’ve done hundreds of times before.  By myself.  Late at night.  In Philadelphia.  Without incident.  I’m sure he thought he was being helpful, or chivalrous or whatever.  But here’s the thing.

I am 100% certain this would not have happened if I were a man.

And here’s the other thing.  I have a brain and lungs, and I am able to speak.  I am completely capable of seeking help when it’s necessary.  It wasn’t necessary.  And in fact, I wasn’t feeling the least bit uncomfortable until this dude decided that it was his business to make sure that I was safe.

I feel like that moment really encapsulated what the #yesallwomen conversation is all about.  It’s about not having full personhood.  It’s about the underlying message that this guy gave me that I was somehow unable to take care of myself.  Or that it was necessary to be looked after because something bad could happen.  Because God knows, women are unable to articulate that they’re in danger, or scared, so it’s important to make that judgment call for them.

What a fucking disempowering message.  And the subtext is that it really doesn’t matter who you are; as long as you’re a woman, you will always need a man’s protection.  And that’s just plain old paternalistic bullshit.

I know these can be confusing times to be a man.  Do you open the door or don’t you?  (I, for one, always appreciate a door being opened for me regardless of the gender of the opener.)  So to help you out, I’ve created the following flowchart as a public service.

Flowchart - should you stop what you're doing?


Perhaps you might like to print it out and put it on your fridge?  Oh, and by the way, mister late-night protective guy in the Gayborhood, you’re welcome.

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