Sometimes in the intensity of our battles, we can become a little jaded in regards to what else is going on around us.
As a feminist, I have found most (all) of my attention lately focusing on women—sadly, neglecting the men who are also in this battle with us or innocently being dragged into it. Men that are good, honorable, stand-up, and trustworthy men.
This morning, I met a man who felt the need to apologize for his presence, and it got my wheels turning.
A white woman and an African-American man walk into an elevator. No, this isn’t the start to a bad joke, but rather an incredibly unexpected awakening and perspective-forming experience for me.
This morning, I (once again), fell victim to myself. I jerked awake, seeing that I had snoozed all of my alarms, so I rolled myself out of bed, threw on the first outfit I saw that wasn’t covered in animal fur, and rushed myself to work. As much as I hate my tendency to sleep through dozens of alarms (and my unwanted talent to somehow disarm them in my sleep), I must admit I have an uncanny ability to jerk myself awake just in the nick of time to get myself to work on time.
As I was rushing through the front doors of my workplace, I knew that I had to forgo the stairs for the elevator this morning. I wish I could say that I usually take the stairs as a mindful nod to my health—but truthfully, I’m just a claustrophobic little bitch.
I got in the elevator and began mentally preparing myself for the (extremely minor) possibility that I could become trapped in this tiny-ass, 90-degree elevator alone. As I was considering the fact that I had no food or water and was in the beginning stages of planning a survival pan, my thought process was interrupted by a man. With the elevator doors still completely open and accepting passengers, he apologetically looks me in the eyes and asks permission to ride with me.
I said of course and put my arm out to hold the door open a moment longer as it begins to try to close. He got in and thanked me, explaining that he didn’t want to scare me. I assured him he was fine and made small talk about our shared passion for not wanting to work on this particular morning. We arrived on our shared floor and went our separate ways, exchanging one last smile—an ode to our new acquaintanceship. But, the exchange left me feeling a little off.
I arrived to my desk with three glorious minutes to spare, and I began my workday—the elevator exchange lingering in the back of my mind. I decided to save my thoughts on this exchange for my drive home, my favorite time to think.
Finally, my work day ends, and I am able get in my car, turn on my music, and dedicate my thoughts to the elevator exchange. I soon realize the emotion I was feeling afterward, which I could initially only coin as “off,” was sadness. I felt sadness for the man, and I felt sadness for myself—the woman.
I don’t think any woman likes riding on elevators alone with male strangers. Maybe it’s just me, but I usually say a silent prayer that the man I am in a small enclosed space with isn’t a rapist—or a groper. We have all heard horror stories and have probably been told by our parents to be on guard while on elevators, in parking garages, walking through parking lots, and so on.
So, this morning, when I embarked on this minor elevator journey with this kind gentleman—I did feel a little more on edge than I would like to admit. And it wasn’t the cause of anything this man did—he was more than respectful, even apologetic to ride with me. It was simply a conditioned response that I have been taught and probably even intensified by watching one too many episodes of “Dateline.” But, I felt sad for all of the women who feel fear entering into everyday situations, such as riding an elevator.
And then, I felt sadness for the man—and for all of the men. Sadness that he felt the need to apologize for his presence and that he was well-aware that his presence might “scare me.” I felt sadness for the division and for the men who mean no harm, but have become completely awakened to the fact that women often feel scared. I felt sadness for the men, who like my new acquaintance, would be willing to be late for their shift, rather than make a woman feel cornered and frightened.
My morning ride on the elevator made me take a long, hard look at my relationship with feminism. I embarrassingly came to the realization that some of the things I may say could cause completely innocent men to feel like they need to apologize for their presence.
Sometimes, caught up in the passion for women’s rights, it is easy to simply group men into one giant category. Yes, we must fight for our right to feel safe, yet we also need to remember the men like the man I met on the elevator. Men that are respectful and aware. We need to remember these men as we continue fighting against rape culture and continue these fights with more mindful words—because these men are on our side too.
Author: Emily Cutshaw
Image: Unsplash/Gili Benita
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis