Tag: defensive womaning

Defensive Womaning and Navigating Missing Stairs

 

My husband and I met a potential new landlord yesterday, and without either of us realizing it, each of us walked away with very different impressions of what had happened during the meeting. The meeting was an ambiguous image, like the rabbit-duck or old-woman-young-woman illusion. Many human meetings are like that, particularly between the sexes.

Those of us who occasionally follow what feminists are saying, if only as reconnaissance, may have heard of the “missing stair problem” (warning: link not entirely SFW). Imagine a house with a poorly-lit stairway containing a missing stair. Everyone who lives there knows to step over the missing stair. Everyone who visits regularly knows about the stair, too. But a new visitor would not know, and if not told in time, might stumble and fall. Some people, the analogy goes, are like that missing stair – others must carefully work around them to avoid getting hurt, and the hazard they pose is simply taken for granted by those in the know. Sexual predators, in particular, are likened to the missing stair, especially sexual predators who aren’t “lone wolves” but who have ingratiated themselves into a community, where they become a fixture, and others take on the duty of attempting to protect innocent members from the predator (while also protecting the predator from social ostracism or having to change his ways) rather than “fixing the stair” by refusing to tolerate his predatory behavior.

Eventually you take it for granted that working around this guy is just a fact of life, and if he hurts someone, that’s the fault of whoever didn’t apply the workarounds correctly.