Monday, February 06, 2012

Not So Fast

This post concerns a non-academic topic that has been roaming around in my brain for a while, and it is therefore disconnected from any particular time, place, climate, or topographic feature. It concerns how different my experiences are from those of other people (specifically: similarly-aged men) while participating in a particular outdoor activity.

When I participate in Outdoor Activity X (OAX) with others, I am just another person doing OAX. When I am alone, however, things are different.

Before I give some examples, I will acknowledge that of course the experience of being alone vs. being in a group/couple is different in general, not just when participating in an OAX. For example, when I am walking alone in some cities in North America and Europe, I am often stopped and asked for directions -- much more often than when I am walking with someone else. This is not surprising, but nevertheless the commonness of this phenomenon does not account the nature of some of the interactions I have when alone and doing OAX.

For example, when I am alone and participating in OAX, the following happen with enough frequency to be notable:

- A man criticizes something about what I am doing or how I am doing it. Example: Not long ago, I was told by a middle-aged man that I was going too fast. I was not. Nor I was going so slow that sarcasm was a reasonable explanation for his statement. And the fact that he barked "too fast" at me and then zoomed away makes it unlikely that he was trying to initiate a friendly conversation.

- A man does something a bit dangerous/scary in my vicinity, veering at the last second to prevent collision, in some cases laughing at how startled I am. I have no explanation for this phenomenon, but I hate it. Is it an attempt to show that they are more in control and/or more awesome than I am, or it is just for random thrills? What motivates anyone to scare another person for no (good) reason?

- If I pass a man, 92.43% of the time he will immediately speed up and pass me (if he is physically able to do so).

Incidents of the first two examples are relatively rare. The third one is common, but it amuses me rather than offends or frightens me, so that's fine.

I am writing about this because it mimics some aspects of my professional life; that is, mostly things are great/fine, but punctuated by incidents of Gender-Directed Weirdness (GDW). You can dismiss each individual incident as a Random Life Event if you want, but over time, when 100% of these incidents involve men and these incidents only occur when I am alone (and when similar events are not experienced by men I know participating in OAX), I think that GDW is a pretty likely explanation for some/most of these incidents.

Memo to the men: I could do without the comments and the scary games. And if you are passed by a woman, particularly one who is clearly not young or impressively fit, please don't feel emasculated and/or humiliated. If you immediately speed up and pass her, there is a 53.68% chance that she will be laughing at you, and not in a nice way.

(my apologies for continued sporadic posting/comment moderation as I spend time in various intense research activities and travel for at least another week.)


NatC said...

I love this post. You have nailed exactly how I feel about it - each one is random, but the number of these GDWs is substantial.

I have had similar experiences while biking alone - especially men speeding up to overtake me when I've ridden by. And often if they don't (can't?) go faster, they just yell derogatory insults at me as I go by. This is usually young men. (And yes, I laugh at them - especially when they drop back 30 seconds later)

I've had middle aged men (strangers) ride up next to me to comment suggestively about girls riding bikes.

I've also been told "slow down sweetie" and "you're going to hurt yourself".

This has never once happened when I've been riding with my training buddy (a guy). He has not - nor have any of my other guy friends - been sworn at for passing someone when alone.

We have both had good experiences too, where people (men and women) have stopped to help out after a double flat or crash, or pace me during a ride making it more fun and challenging.

And yes - these parallel some (happily rare) GDWs I've experienced in my professional life.

mOOm said...

This sounds like cycling. I would try to pass anyone who overtook me unless they were a lot faster than me. It's just a target to pursue and make an extra effort.

Anonymous said...

Yes, mOOm, but do you swear, sneer or leer at them while doing so? It's not the passing that's the problem.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very, very much for this post. I cannot count the number of times I've been on the receiving end of GDW on my bike when alone: male riders ego-passing me, or pulling alongside in order to half-wheel me, rolling up to tell me directions (as if I did not already have a route in mind), or, my favorite, guessing my average speed and my body weight (which has happened more than once).

The silver lining is that now, when GDW happens in my workplace, I silently think, "oh, I get it, he needs to half-wheel me." Takes the charge out of the situation for me and I'm able to see it for what it is.

Anonymous said...

I'm one of those ladies that very rarely notices/is offended by these sorts of things, but I chalk that up to me being generally oblivious. That is I'm sure it happens all the time to me, I just don't notice because I'm usually thinking about other things. Sometimes it's advantagous to have ones' head in the clouds... Then again I need to be aware of it enough to avoid being taken advantage, so it's a double-edged sword.

Anonymous said...

I wish you'd just told us the activity instead of using OAX; instead of paying attention to what you were writing, I was spending the whole post trying to figure out what the activity was. Hiking! Nope. Biking? Maybe. Kayaking! Nope. Skiing? Possibly.

Anyway, I've found that men tend to try to pass *anyone* who passes them, regardless of gender, on bikes and in cars. And for a lot of us, not just men (I'm a woman), there is a certain amount of pride and ego in being fit and skilled and, yes, fast. When I was recovering from pregnancy post-birth, I was so so slow on my bike, I found it a bit humiliating. *Everyone* passed me.

To get back in shape, my goal was to first be able to pass the recreational bikers. Then it was to pass the wanna-be-serious men cyclists. Then it was to be able to keep up with the serious women cyclists. There's no way I'll ever be able to keep up with the serious men cyclists.

There's a definite speed hierarchy for cycling (that can for the most part be visually identified by demographics and apparel). Being passed by someone you perceive to be "lower" on the hierarchy means that you kick yourself because you must be slacking off.

Sorry you get the criticisms and scarings. I suspect the latter are an attempt to show off and the former are due to low self-esteem on the part of the speaker. I think I've had similar experiences, but I tend to ignore such assholery and end up forgetting about them.

I miss your daily writing, but understand your hectic schedule. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I once lived in a busy yet hostile neighborhood. On a few occasions, when I was out running, I was spit at by a group of male teenagers, I've been cut off by a man on a bike, and I've been followed by a man on bike (which was beyond creepy). On one occasion, a female postal worker on foot shouted to me "good for you!!"

Anonymous said...

Just so you are prepared the next time you go out, here are the rules:

Please don't scream at the cow.

Anonymous said...

I love this post, because of the imagery it created. Or rather, I created, because I had to imagine you in a series of outdoor activities as I was reading, and had to keep adjusting them to make it work with your description.

In the end, I imagined you in roller derbies!

Anonymous said...

I think this is common with runners, and some of it has a positive aspect (agreed that no one wants the unsolicited advice/comments). I think many male and female runners observe and keep track of others in races and use gender/age trade-offs to make comparisons. For example, my male 50-year old friend hates when he is beat by a 25 y.o. female, and at the same time, I (in my 30s) dislike when I can't keep up with older men. On the flip side, these tradeoffs make for positive training partner combinations. As a younger woman who casually runs, I get to train with a former male serious marathoner (but he is over 80!).

FemaleRunner said...

I have had my share of #3 at the gym. As a female long distance runner, I go to the gym and run up to an hour at a descent pace. However, I always find it amusing when men find the need to prove they are faster than me. This is the usual sequence of events: run past man, man sprints past me and makes it a point to stay 20m in front, I keep running at normal pace, man realizes he cannot keep up his "sprint" pace, I start catching up at my normal pace, and right as I am about to catch up, man immediately flees track.

BLG said...

I definitely have men try to pass me if I run past them. Sometimes they do pass me again (I'm not competitive and I don't run for speed), but sometimes I just feel like they're chasing me for miles because they stay about six feet behind me. I'm not a fan of that behavior. I also had a guy drive up beside me and then alongside me in a golf cart when I was running through a park with a public golf course. It was pretty uncomfortable, and I have a hard time visualizing him doing that to a male runner . .

Anonymous said...

If I pass a man, 92.43% of the time he will immediately speed up and pass me (if he is physically able to do so).

Guys do this to each other as well. It's a competitive thing. Yes, the fact that you are a woman makes it even more imperative that they pass you, but it's not particularly gender-directed.

EscapedWestOfTheBigMuddy said...

- If I pass a man, 92.43% of the time he will immediately speed up and pass me (if he is physically able to do so).

Now, to my mind this suggests a way to torment the poor macho idiot.

I never purposely try to overtake someone who's passed me when out running or biking because I'm already going as fast and as hard as I can sustain and she (or he for that matter) could easily either show me up in return or leave me limping along the side of the road with a cramp in my side.

That said, I do sometimes catch myself having run/biked harder when crossing paths with another person. Possibly more so when the other person is attractive. It may be the extra effort that mOOm refers to, or maybe I'm just a macho idiot too.

aceon said...

I read about a study that indicated that drivers give obviously female cyclists an extra three feet of room over male cyclists when passing them. That's a bit of GDW that I wouldn't really mind, though the other phenomena you describe would probably ruin some of my being outside happiness and tranquility. My main outdoor sport is paddling though, and the baseball hat, spray skirt, life jacket combo makes gender determination difficult, so I get equal opportunity annoying motor boat behavior.

Kea said...

Hah! No man (well, perhaps an athlete) can outwalk or frighten me. Thus they are forced to pretend I don't exist.

A man criticizes something about what I am doing or how I am doing it.

You mean something else is possible?

BLG said...

FemaleRunner - Your scenario is hilarious and totally believable. I swear I've seen that happen a million times.

Anonymous said...

Air horn.
They are just couple of bucks at the store but sound like a freight train is about to run over you.

Kea said...

Once I had a snotty teenager come at me from behind down a steep staircase, on his bike. I was walking. He could have killed me. Without turning around, I waited until the front wheel reached my heels, and I tripped the bike, so that he catapulted into a heap. I didn't even flinch. I'm sure he was far more horrified at this magic trick from a mere woman than he was by the injuries.

Kevin said...

What mOOm said. The nasty comments and suggestions to slow down are probably GDW, but it is extremely common for a bicyclist when passed to try to repass. Passing someone is taken as an invitation to play "leapfrog" where the bicyclists alternate trying to pass each other.

Both male and female bicyclists play leapfrog. It is a bit more common for people to try to repass if the person passing is older or heavier, since it seems like a more feasible goal. Being passed by someone a lot faster is not taken as an invitation to play leapfrog.

There may be some gender bias is bicyclists' estimates of the fitness of the person passing them, and hence their probability of trying to start a game of leapfrog, but it is a fairly minor component. Age, weight, and how hard the passer is breathing are more important cues for most.

Note: I've been trying on and off all day to submit this comment with my wordpress id. Blogger has been having a serious bug lately in which it claims "The characters you entered didn't match the word verification. Please try again." if you use a Wordpress OpenID.

If this goes on for another week, I'll be unsubscribing from all blogger blogs.

Anonymous said...

Whenever I get passed on the bike or in the pool, it always gets my competitive juices going and I try to stick with the passer as long as I can (if they are really faster) or repass them (if they slow down). It keeps things interesting, and I'll work harder if I have someone to compete with. And I'm a woman, so it's not just the guys.

James Annan said...

Well done Kea, I'm very impressed that you assaulted and injured a teenager who scared you. Likewise, I also once beat up a granny who startled me by suddenly appearing round the corner on a dark night. We need to show these people that this sort of behaviour is quite unacceptable.

FrauTech said...

Fascinating. How's this for early acclimation...

I jog but am VERY slow. Most people I run into on the street are walking and it's a bit of effort for me to get past them because though I'm going a little faster, not a whole lot faster. Pretty much anyone actually jogging will whiz past me. Luckily though I don't see too many other people (men or women) that this is every an issue, however...

Sometimes I jog at a local park. A lot of times there are little boys and little girls there. A lot of times they are on little bikes or little skateboards or something. I notice when I jog past a group of boys playing, the boys will almost ALWAYS start to try to run to catch up with me or use whatever they are riding to race ahead of me (I am SO slow, so even like 5 year old boys can get ahead of me pretty quickly). But the little girls NEVER do this. I'm telling you, little boys are socialized from an early age to challenge women, even adult women. Little girls are either taught not to challenge/be competitive, or to do so only with other little girls. It always makes me wish I had the crazy confidence versus stranger adults (especially adult women) that these little boys have.

Rachel said...

not related to sports but to GRW:
I was walking to my car yesterday and stopped to talk to a colleague. He was holding a box with the name of another colleague. Except it was almost her name. The last name was correct and the first name had some of the same letters but had been changed from a feminine name to a masculine name.
I have had this happen to me as well, I (Rachel Dorn) receive a desk copy of a book addressed to Richard Dorn. Or I get a call for Mr. Dorn. Does this happen to me? Do they get a package with "Joe" changed to "Josephine," "Mark" changed to "Mary"?

Anonymous said...

Consider maintaining an attitude of amusement in situations #1 and #2 - you're in control! You can do it!