I would like to relay to you a situation that I find myself in from time to time. It is after dark and I am walking down a quiet street towards the train station/grocery store/bar/etc. In front of me is a woman and for whatever reason my pace is faster than hers. She knows I am behind her and although she continues on her way, I can tell that she is uncomfortable. Should I speed up to pass her as quickly as possible? Should I maintain my current speed to avoid adding to an uncomfortable situation? Or should I slow down to put some distance between us? Crossing the street is also an option. Regardless, we have an awkward situation. For her because she doesn't know my intentions, and for me because I don't like making her feel uncomfortable.
If you follow many atheist blogs, you have undoubtedly heard about the concept of Schrodinger's Rapist in the last few months. If by chance you have not it is, as I understand it, the idea that in many settings, because a woman does not know a man's intentions, she must assume that he is a potential rapist. I have wanted to write on this topic for some time in support of people speaking out against rape, but had a really hard time getting my thoughts together. I think I understand my hold up now: it really does bother me when a woman considers me a rapist.
I grew up in a family where women vastly outnumbered men. For the first ten years of my extended family life there were no other male members of my generation. Because of that, I have from early childhood always enjoyed close friendships with members of the opposite sex. Furthermore, I find the idea of rape to be utterly despicable and have long been committed to gender equality. Given these factors, it really does hurt my feelings to be considered a potential rapist. Well, after all of these weeks of deliberation, I have come up with a solution to my hurt feelings: get over it, Mike. Man up. (Sorry for that one, blame it on The Book of Mormon musical)
I actually do think it is unfair that many men, despite having no untoward desires or being as gentle as a butterfly are thought of and perhaps treated by a strange woman as a potential sex criminal. It isn't fair. It's not. They didn't do anything wrong. But you know what? Life isn't fair. And there are a lot of things out there a whole lot worse that being treated suspiciously by a stranger. One of those things is being raped by a stranger (or someone you know for that matter).
According to the U.S. census page there are about a hundred thousand reported cases of forcible rape each year, and as I understand it, the vast majority of rape is not reported. The census, as far as I am aware, does not collect data on hurt feelings. In other words, rape is a real and serious threat. Hurt feelings; not so much. Furthermore, rape is something that men rarely have to worry about, so we can't really know how a woman feels around strange men. I can tell you though that if I was walking down a street at night and I knew every stranger I saw had a gun I would be afraid of being victim of violent crime. Whether I really had anything to be afraid of is irrelevant since I didn't know the intentions of the armed strangers. I don't care to explain that metaphor in greater detail, but I think the point is clear.
So in short, to the guys out there who, like me, are upset at being considered a potential sexual predator, I ask you to remember that rape is a lot bigger of a problem and a lot more psychologically damaging than hurt feelings. Until we live in a world where rape is either non-existent or so statistically insignificant that it can no longer be considered a major problem, let's try to work towards that world and suck it up.