I thought it was just a photo
I wasn’t expecting a lesson in male privilege. I thought I was just decorating. But one of the candidate photos was from a late night wander through September streets of Venice, complete with its ancient arches, golden light, and salt-faded nostalgia for an age that might have been greater, must have been horrific, but undeniably had flair. It’s not the most interesting photo, but I like the reminder of that unique city after dark, the quiet shifting of its sirocco air, and the sense that you’re seeing Venice itself wake up after the humans have gone to bed. The question was with human silhouette, or without?
It’s not a very romantic silhouette. If a woman in a gown had been walking home, that would have been better. Or a gentleman, paused with the yellow light on the brim of his fedora. This was some schlub with a daypack and an awkward gait. Hardly romantic, just right place right time.
So I posed the question to my lady. “What do you think of this one?” I gave her a moment to look. “And with the figure, or without?” I clicked over for comparison.
Normally her first response to these questions is pursed lips of consideration, but this time she flinched. “Oh no, those are creepy.” I was flabbergasted. How so? They’re sepia-textured memories, or tilting recollections, maybe boring, but not creepy.
“No, they’re definitely creepy,” she informed me. “They’re walking home alone at night through empty streets with lots of dark doorways and alleys, hoping you get home safely.”
When I walk around a city late at night, as I love to do, and pass a darkened doorway, my thought is probably “Is there a photo here?” if I notice it at all. I don’t think “Is there someone in there about to jump out and attack me?” No one wants to live in fear, but choosing not to is much easier for me, through no effort of my own. The stakes are just lower. If I’m wrong? I lose my camera. Maybe a black eye. I am not forced to confront the thought that the very sanctity and safety of my body might be taken from me, by a monster that actually exists.
The difference between my lady’s perspective of that midnight street and my own was a shock. But that’s the problem, the disparity is so…quotidian. Ubiquitous and insidious. I try to be aware of my privileges, in the hope that awareness is an important step towards extending them to everyone, but the manifestations are sneaky and constant.
So did I print the photo? No. I don’t need to post an image of menace in my everyday life. But I do hope I can take the lesson, repeated as often as it takes, that we have not yet reached our goal.
Step by step.
[Did I post too late on Friday? It’s here.]
You’re probably already aware of this, but this phenomenon is evidently not limited to urban settings. I have rarely given much thought to the places I wander, solo, in “the wild.” But whether it’s hiking down to the Bow River Outlet in the pitch dark for sunrise or climbing back up to the Coast Highway from China Creek Beach with the aid of a headlamp in the post-sunset gloom, when I relate these experiences to my wife or my mother or another female acquaintance, the most common response is (I’m paraphrasing): I would never even THINK of doing that. This, in turn, makes ME think, about something I recognize I’ve taken for granted.
That’s a good point. It feels like most of our terror-scenes happen in cities, but that’s where most of our television happens. I’m reminded of the Camino de Santiago in Spain, where by the end I was sleeping outside about every second or third night, not remotely worried, madly in love with the camaraderie and support of it all, but then recently read a blog where a woman felt like some guy was following her in a wooded section. Luckily nothing came of it, but I remember no such concern from my times in the woods there. I have to believe we as a species are moving forward on this stuff, but lordy lordy I’m impatient with the slow pace!
Thanks for listening, and hearing. And commenter kerry is right, too. I (female) once started down a trail in the Appalachians, and then turned round because there had only been a single other vehicle in the parking lot. It just felt too dicey. But I would feel safer in Venice than in the US, while I have doubts about visiting India solo again. (BTW, a woman was killed along the Camino this year.)
On the Camino? I hadn’t heard that. I am profoundly sad to hear it. This stuff… Sometimes it’s more than I can encompass, even here in all my male privilege. I take it it wasn’t a random accident? A car, or something? Leaves me kind of speechless.
As for Venice versus here, I feel the same way you do. It’s something I have trouble articulating on tours without sounding too crass, but I’ll take European pickpockets over American handguns any day.
Denise Thiem’s body was subsequently discovered and a man was arrested.
Jesus. I had no idea things had gotten that bad. And today, the second stage: anger. The day where I want to go over there vigilante style, catch these bastards, and do stuff to them I learned from articles about drug cartels.
When I did the Camino, there was one nutty guy who carried a big knife, and we universally laughed at and scolded him for his wrong mindset. Now I’m wondering if I would pass in a blonde wig and where I could hide the holster.
I suppose I’m falling prey to exactly the sort of over-reactive response that I oppose, but man I wish I could do something about this.