Barking Dogs

January 30, 2013

Tonight for the first time, I felt intimidated in my community and it upset me more than I thought it would.

I know it’s not the world ending or massive natural disaster and I totally wasn’t attacked (so many people are*) but I was surprised how I felt.

For context; I attended a meeting at the beach and said I would hand out flyers after the meeting. By the time it ended it was about 8pm (still light) and the beach was emptying.

I sauntered along, deciding that I am brave-treat-people-fairly girl so I will walk up directly to the guys who were drinking and then the other group of guys who were clearly gang members, face tattoos and all.

Because, you know, being judgmental is bad.

A couple of them were totally wasted, they were loud and obnoxious and started blustering. They weren’t threatening towards me but I got nervous because I worried that they would.

I became hyper-sensitive to all their gestures, words and expressions, self-conscious of my appearance level of eye-contact, if I was laughing too loudly, not loudly enough. As I walked around I tried to be aware of where they all were. I was leaving, I was nervous walking past to my car.

Clearly I was being a bit paranoid, but the thing is if you’re like me, you’ve had your share of situations where you’ve felt intimidated, threatened, perhaps even under attack. I felt so conditioned. Like a well trained dog, and my bell had just been rung.

Well it turns out that feeling of fear doesn’t go away. It popped right back up. Like a familiar grinning Jack-in-the-box. And it surprised me how viceral that felt.

I have been in a bubble for the last couple of years. With little kids I don’t go out late much, I don’t hang out where people drink much and I certainly don’t have reason to walk up to a bunch of gang members much.

What was I expecting I wonder? Did I think that they would be so moved my my genuine effort to include them in the community planing process that they would put down their drinks and talk seriously with me?

This group of guys were clearly alienating themselves from the general community and carving a deep chasm between ‘them’ and everyone else. That will make the ‘them’, their identity as a group, all that much stronger I suspect.

As much as I wanted to be inclusive they didn’t want to be included. At least, not tonight.

It takes more than good intentions to bridge those gaps.

It takes more that one naive chick to help people feel part of a community.

So I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I certainly wasn’t expecting that old friend, that sick feeling in my stomach.

* As far as human tragedy goes, this is such small potatoes, I know this.

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3 Responses to “Barking Dogs”

  1. I had some those types as neighbors, here in the Bay. I tried to put up with their loud parties and versions of ‘fun’ as long as I could but due to the unpredictability of their behaviors felt like I was living on a knife’s edge. Their home came one the market so I bought it, renovated it and found the kind of neighbors I wanted as tenants. The Bay is an awesome place to live but residents that thrive on anti-social behavior are menacing to all of us who live by a different moral code. Big ‘ups’ to you Karin for approaching them as you did, but please be aware that as a mum and progressive person, there are those that don’t share your values and there is limited value in putting yourself at risk. Those guys rape and are criminals as part of their ‘code’, and they wear their colours in pride of that. Leave them alone, and if possible, buy a rental and reduce their presence in the Bay.

  2. Barbara Tenner said

    Scary experience.

  3. Here are some comments from the facebook thread:

    X – If you approached them one on one they’d probably be easier to talk too. In a group situation, especially when they’ve been drinking, they’re going to reinforce the group identity of being tough and macho. None of them will risk engaging with you on a personal level as this will make them look weak in front of their mates. They may also already be involved in their community through marae, trustee positions, youth outreach etc. Their community is different to ours and they may not see benefit in joining the community that we design. How often do we get involved in theirs? To me the encounter was uncomfortable for race and class reasons, not just gender.

    Karin Brown – Totally agree. That’s why I think my expectations were naive. They weren’t from the Bay and therefore were completely uninterested (as were others who I approached who weren’t locals). Lot’s to deconstruct from the experience. I hate that nervous feeling because I don’t think I was in any danger at all. I feel angry that I felt nervous. If that makes sense.

    Y – On the one hand I would say that you were there so you will be able to think back and get an idea of what was happening and also I really respect that you see people for who they are and not anything on the surface. But on the other hand one of the things I am trying to teach my daughter and which I rely on myself is to trust my feelings about people if I am not feeling safe. There are people who have made me not feel safe who looked totally boring, who years later I heard about being arrested for inappropriate behaviour. My mother had also agreed with my read on this guy and because of how we felt I had never been in a situation that he was a problem for me – he might not have anyway had we not listened to those feelings, but those feelings were definitely right. Not to say that there aren’t millions of predators who are also really good at making people feel safe and then abusing that trust as well. Just trying to say that they could have still been welcoming and disinterested or even macho and excluded you and not make you feel unsafe. If one feels unsafe then there is a reason for that – and it is good to listen to those feelings even while one also tries to consider ones part in that feeling. You feeling unsafe with that group and not with others is a two way street – they could have been welcoming and friendly and still disinterested – or even polifely rude and just told you to go away and not behaved in a way that you felt unsafe.

    (in response to Y) X – Have you read the gift of fear? I haven’t but apparently it is great, and is about exactly what you say above re trusting your instincts. The cannons creek branch of the library have it.

    y – I haven’t read it, but I will look for it.

    Z – have no regrets about your actions. it is not that was the only avenue that ‘interested parties’, no matter their own background and circumstances are going to be made aware of our intentions to get the message out. My bubble would have been burst too! Well done for making it home in one piece

    x – I know what you mean about being irritated at how you felt – they were playing their roles and it bounced you into yours. And none of you need to be playing a role, it’s not who you are.

    Karin Brown I’ve been thinking about this conversation and think that the single elements that were the most triggering (to use an emotive term) was the alcohol/intoxication and second, the ‘pack’ element of the group. Being around a group of drunk blokes (who are unknown to me) is the main bit that contributed to the feelings. I post these sorts of posts because I want to deconstruct the experience and share with others that these feelings are pretty common for women. Which is something not all men understand or are aware of (although of course some are).

    Karin Brown To respond further to what Y was saying, it’s very good advice. I suppose I knew, logically, that I would be (and I wasn’t) in any ‘danger’ and so I wanted to face down that fear about approaching a group of tough looking blokes. (I made myself hold a tarantula once in order to face that particular fear). Mainly because I wanted to hold fast to my values of being inclusive and non-judgmental. The reality though is that, as a woman, there are additional challenges. That feeling of being aware of our vulnerability is so ingrained. And I am pissed off about that because it’s a victim mentality which is very hard to escape. These guys were obnoxious, but they weren’t overtly threatening. The fact that I *still felt threatened* is the bit that I’m highlighting.

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