Reblogged: Schrödinger’s Rapist: or a guy’s guide to approaching strange women without being maced

From Shapely Prose:

Guest Blogger Starling: Schrödinger’s Rapist: or a guy’s guide to approaching strange women without being maced

Dated but timeless post, showing women’s perspective of being approached by guys. Read with a sense of humour. Now, compound this with when one is on the road, traveling in places far from home!


Phaedra Starling is the pen name of a romance novelist and licensed private investigator living in small New York City apartment with two large dogs.  She practices Brazilian jiu-jitsu and makes world-class apricot muffins.

Gentlemen. Thank you for reading.

Let me start out by assuring you that I understand you are a good sort of person. You are kind to children and animals. You respect the elderly. You donate to charity. You tell jokes without laughing at your own punchlines. You respect women. You like women. In fact, you would really like to have a mutually respectful and loving sexual relationship with a woman. Unfortunately, you don’t yet know that woman—she isn’t working with you, nor have you been introduced through mutual friends or drawn to the same activities. So you must look further afield to encounter her.

So far, so good. Miss LonelyHearts, your humble instructor, approves. Human connection, love, romance: there is nothing wrong with these yearnings.

Now, you want to become acquainted with a woman you see in public. The first thing you need to understand is that women are dealing with a set of challenges and concerns that are strange to you, a man. To begin with, we would rather not be killed or otherwise violently assaulted.

“But wait! I don’t want that, either!”

Well, no. But do you think about it all the time? Is preventing violent assault or murder part of your daily routine, rather than merely something you do when you venture into war zones? Because, for women, it is. When I go on a date, I always leave the man’s full name and contact information written next to my computer monitor. This is so the cops can find my body if I go missing. My best friend will call or e-mail me the next morning, and I must answer that call or e-mail before noon-ish, or she begins to worry. If she doesn’t hear from me by three or so, she’ll call the police. My activities after dark are curtailed. Unless I am in a densely-occupied, well-lit space, I won’t go out alone. Even then, I prefer to have a friend or two, or my dogs, with me. Do you follow rules like these?

So when you, a stranger, approach me, I have to ask myself: Will this man rape me?

Do you think I’m overreacting? One in every six American women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. I bet you don’t think you know any rapists, but consider the sheer number of rapes that must occur. These rapes are not all committed by Phillip Garrido, Brian David Mitchell, or other members of the Brotherhood of Scary Hair and Homemade Religion. While you may assume that none of the men you know are rapists, I can assure you that at least one is. Consider: if every rapist commits an average of ten rapes (a horrifying number, isn’t it?) then the concentration of rapists in the population is still a little over one in sixty. That means four in my graduating class in high school. One among my coworkers. One in the subway car at rush hour. Eleven who work out at my gym. How do I know that you, the nice guy who wants nothing more than companionship and True Love, are not this rapist?

I don’t.

When you approach me in public, you are Schrödinger’s Rapist. You may or may not be a man who would commit rape. I won’t know for sure unless you start sexually assaulting me. I can’t see inside your head, and I don’t know your intentions. If you expect me to trust you—to accept you at face value as a nice sort of guy—you are not only failing to respect my reasonable caution, you are being cavalier about my personal safety.

Fortunately, you’re a good guy. We’ve already established that. Now that you’re aware that there’s a problem, you are going to go out of your way to fix it, and to make the women with whom you interact feel as safe as possible.

To begin with, you must accept that I set my own risk tolerance. When you approach me, I will begin to evaluate the possibility you will do me harm. That possibility is never 0%. For some women, particularly women who have been victims of violent assaults, any level of risk is unacceptable. Those women do not want to be approached, no matter how nice you are or how much you’d like to date them. Okay? That’s their right. Don’t get pissy about it. Women are under no obligation to hear the sales pitch before deciding they are not in the market to buy.

The second important point: you must be aware of what signals you are sending by your appearance and the environment. We are going to be paying close attention to your appearance and behavior and matching those signs to our idea of a threat.

This means that some men should never approach strange women in public. Specifically, if you have truly unusual standards of personal cleanliness, if you are the prophet of your own religion, or if you have tattoos of gang symbols or Technicolor cockroaches all over your face and neck, you are just never going to get a good response approaching a woman cold. That doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a life of solitude, but I suggest you start with internet dating, where you can put your unusual traits out there and find a woman who will appreciate them.

Are you wearing a tee-shirt making a rape joke? NOT A GOOD CHOICE—not in general, and definitely not when approaching a strange woman.

Pay attention to the environment. Look around. Are you in a dark alley? Then probably you ought not approach a woman and try to strike up a conversation. The same applies if you are alone with a woman in most public places. If the public place is a closed area (a subway car, an elevator, a bus), even a crowded one, you may not realize that the woman’s ability to flee in case of threat is limited. Ask yourself, “If I were dangerous, would this woman be safe in this space with me?” If the answer is no, then it isn’t appropriate to approach her.

On the other hand, if you are both at church accompanied by your mothers, who are lifelong best friends, the woman is as close as it comes to safe. That is to say, still not 100% safe. But the odds are pretty good.

The third point: Women are communicating all the time. Learn to understand and respect women’s communication to you.

You want to say Hi to the cute girl on the subway. How will she react? Fortunately, I can tell you with some certainty, because she’s already sending messages to you. Looking out the window, reading a book, working on a computer, arms folded across chest, body away from you = do not disturb. So, y’know, don’t disturb her. Really. Even to say that you like her hair, shoes, or book. A compliment is not always a reason for women to smile and say thank you. You are a threat, remember? You are Schrödinger’s Rapist. Don’t assume that whatever you have to say will win her over with charm or flattery. Believe what she’s signaling, and back off.

If you speak, and she responds in a monosyllabic way without looking at you, she’s saying, “I don’t want to be rude, but please leave me alone.” You don’t know why. It could be “Please leave me alone because I am trying to memorize Beowulf.” It could be “Please leave me alone because you are a scary, scary man with breath like a water buffalo.” It could be “Please leave me alone because I am planning my assassination of a major geopolitical figure and I will have to kill you if you are able to recognize me and blow my cover.”

On the other hand, if she is turned towards you, making eye contact, and she responds in a friendly and talkative manner when you speak to her, you are getting a green light. You can continue the conversation until you start getting signals to back off.

The fourth point: If you fail to respect what women say, you label yourself a problem.

There’s a man with whom I went out on a single date—afternoon coffee, for one hour by the clock—on July 25th. In the two days after the date, he sent me about fifteen e-mails, scolding me for non-responsiveness. I e-mailed him back, saying, “Look, this is a disproportionate response to a single date. You are making me uncomfortable. Do not contact me again.” It is now October 7th. Does he still e-mail?

Yeah. He does. About every two weeks.

This man scores higher on the threat level scale than Man with the Cockroach Tattoos. (Who, after all, is guilty of nothing more than terrifying bad taste.) You see, Mr. E-mail has made it clear that he ignores what I say when he wants something from me. Now, I don’t know if he is an actual rapist, and I sincerely hope he’s not. But he is certainly Schrödinger’s Rapist, and this particular Schrödinger’s Rapist has a probability ratio greater than one in sixty. Because a man who ignores a woman’s NO in a non-sexual setting is more likely to ignore NO in a sexual setting, as well.

So if you speak to a woman who is otherwise occupied, you’re sending a subtle message. It is that your desire to interact trumps her right to be left alone. If you pursue a conversation when she’s tried to cut it off, you send a message. It is that your desire to speak trumps her right to be left alone. And each of those messages indicates that you believe your desires are a legitimate reason to override her rights.

For women, who are watching you very closely to determine how much of a threat you are, this is an important piece of data.

The fifth and last point: Don’t rape. Nor should you commit these similar but less severe offenses: don’t assault. Don’t grope. Don’t constrain. Don’t brandish. Don’t expose yourself. Don’t threaten with physical violence. Don’t threaten with sexual violence.

Shouldn’t this go without saying? Of course it should. Sadly, that’s not the world I live in. You may be beginning to realize that it’s not the world you live in, either.

Tales of the Wanderlust Daughter: South Dakota

I started this series last year.. and forgot about it for a while. It was born from sharing some stories with my mother to show how I encounter so much kindness and care, especially as a lone female traveller.

I have seemed to rid of my writer’s block and wanted to revisit the memory lane with these stories. Furthermore, having recently experienced some bad, I needed to reassure myself and many travellers out there, that I had experienced the goodness of humanity and those far outnumber the evil.


On a cross country vacation I took back in the USA between my moves from Asia to Europe, I stopped through South Dakota. I got off the train in North Dakota, and drove to South Dakota. I wanted to see the parks in the area- Badlands National, Mouth Rushmore, Wind Cave, Custer State…

I found a charming bed and breakfast run by a sweet couple who still maintain the working ranch it sits on. I hadn’t paid attention to the fact that it was SD’s busiest two weeks of the year- the Sturgis rally. As a last minute booking, they worked to accommodate me, asking me to move from their main B&B building to a separated coach house usually rented to families for one night in the middle of my stay. No problem.

I completely underestimated the distances I had to drive to get to all the sites I cared about. As a native New Englander, I completely lost perspective of how large some of these states are. So I found myself driving longer and later than anticipated.

One morning, the day I stayed at the coach house, I slept in. I had a particularly late return, the night before, barely awake enough to grab my pajamas out of my packed bag to change into before collapsing on the closest bed to the entrance. So I took my time getting up the following morning, rummaging around my new surroundings to find the kitchen and prepare a breakfast. I also took advantage of my access to laundry machines to do a couple loads.

I heard car tires rumbling up the dirt road and looked up to see the owner pulling up. He popped his head in, apologized for intruding, saying his wife asked him to check on me. They hadn’t seen my rental car turn in before they went to bed last night and wanted to make sure I was OK before they call the cavalry.

I was surprised, but pleasantly so. Even I knew I had returned at an extremely late hour. But, as B&B owners, they didn’t have any responsibility over my coming and going, as long as I paid for the lodging I booked. Knowing that they were concerned on my behalf was both embarrassing and comforting. The fact that they were willing to notify someone if I wasn’t present after one night alone, gave me the assurance that despite the vast and seemingly desertedness of the state, I wouldn’t have been stranded unknown for long, were I to encounter any troubles.


Other posts in this series:

So, now what? Part 2: Using B&Bs

I’ve started enough B&Bs in New Zealand, where they brought out some terrific hospitality. When the owners of on place in the USA checked on me to make sure I got home, as if I were their own daughter, I knew this was the way to travel, especially as a lone female.

I’ve been meaning to post and praise bed and breakfast establishments. Living in Europe, travel has been considerably more expensive than in Southeast Asia. I found B&Bs to be an excellent alternative. The more I travel throughout the UK, the more fun I find in trying an assortment of places and comparing notes.

It seems counter intuitive. B&Bs are often people’s own homes. You are walking into their space, living under their roof. The smallest B&B I stayed at was all of two rooms where they keep the adjoining doors locked and a back entrance separate from their own. Some rooms I’ve stayed at had old photos of their family’s generations past. One had an eerie porcelain-faced doll staring right at me when I lay in bed (I ended turning her face away). One had a rocking chair with a quilt throw sewn by the owner’s grandmother. Another had such a dangerously steep ladder called a staircase that had I been wearing a skirt, anyone “downstairs” would be looking right up at my crotch. Definitely not a universally clearly  standard of size, shape, safety, or decor.

The bathrooms are always a hoot. Some of them were added as part of the conversion into a B&B. One had a large bedroom, but turned the closet into the ensuite “facilities” where I had to keep the sliding door open so I can sit on the toilet comfortably. Continental Europeans seem to have something against showers and shower curtains- leaving the entire room to inevitably be doused sopping wet with no safe corner for your towel.

Each new B&B is an adventure. I have a little bit of excitement walking into a new one each time. The truth is.. you really don’t know what to expect at all!

One this I found to be consistent across the board is the superb hospitality of all the hosts and hostesses. As varying as the definition of comfort and furnishings are, never had any of them shied from helping or offering help. Every single place I’ve been, the owners had plenty of recommendations, most of which pan out. My recent scare has now pushed me to B&Bs even more than ever now.

It’s not to say B&Bs are a sure bet. I do much more meticulous research on these accommodations because it still is someone’s home I would be walking into. Sites like TripAdvisor,, and are crucial not only because ratings give a perspective by past guest experiences but also because these independent establishments rely on large travel sites and good customer reviews to bring business to them. The reputation of a chain like Four Seasons will always have a consistent clientele and have a reputation of maintaining standards in all their locations. B&Bs don’t have the same branding advantage, making customer reviews their key to success.

All Aboard! Manifest Destiny by Rail

Three weeks of free time. What would you do?
Travel the world? I already do that for my living.
Lay in a cruise? Too sedate and confining for this globe trotter.
Hang out with family? Three whole weeks, seriously?

I went cross country in the United States of America, my native country that I hadn’t live in for years. The country that I probably explored the least, much to my chagrin to realise.

My original plan was to drive, one way. With my move to a new continent, the movers can pick up my car at the opposite coast and ship it onward to a foreign destination. Well, that didn’t work out.

By the time I found that it wasn’t going to work out for me to drive my own car, we were two weeks away from my free time. I already had my heart set on hiking, on seeing the national parks of Old Glory. From going Sea to Shining Sea. It was too late to just forget about it.

Plan B. My other dream. To do a cross-country train ride. If I had a fourth week, I would have come back to the original coast by train. Sadly, of most countries I’ve been to, the USA has some of the poorest coverage by rail. As I found out through experience, the country was just too freakin’ big. In fact, with three weeks, I really didn’t have enough time to drive. Manifest Destiny, my @$$. I’d say the politicians of the day bit off more than their followers could chew. Anyway, I digress.

Northern Pacific Railway. That was the route I followed. Quite a bit of history once I found out which tracks I retraced, literally. The tracks obviously have been maintained and rebuilt over the years but the route remains largely unchanged. And I got an unique view of the country I haven’t seen in too long.

So I purchased a 15 day pass, that allows 8 segments. I went from East to West. My three weeks was cut down a little so I can attend a family reunion, hence the 15 day option was *perfect.*

I was surprised how many people were on the trains, all segments. Why would people pay the same price of a round trip air fare on a slow economy train ride that takes you only one way at the price point? I’ve disliked air travel more and more lately but I consider it a necessary method of transport because it gets me great distances in a short amount of time. Train in the States does neither.

Passengers fight for storage space for their large suitcases. On the western legs, people dashed to claim their seats of choice. Wait, that’s Southwest Airlines, too!

The conductors and attendants were fantastic. How these folks choose this job, I have no idea. They were terrific, friendly, and responsive. They didn’t shy away from waking up passengers hoarding two seats to make room for a boarding passenger (*yawn* I didn’t like it. Logically, I concede it is the right thing to do). They knew the line, the scene, the route, the areas. They entertained the adults as much as the children. They made their rounds hustling people off at the right stops. They were people’s people.

The trains ranged from two-level coaches and sleepers to single level commuter movers. All of them gave the aura of being older vehicles, but not so old they can carry off the rustic posture. No locomotives on this one.

Train stations varied from the large Penn Stations in big cities to a single waiting platform that could pass as a mere sidewalk if it weren’t for the tracks.

Old train system, run down carpets, free-for-all seating.. regardless of that, there’s a part of my the shivers and giggles with glee each and every time the doors slam shut as the crew step in and yell “All Aboard!” Well, they didn’t yell it, but in my mind I heard it. That excitement got to me, the sense of adventure trilling through me as the train clackety-clacks over the rains towards the left coast. Westward-ho, mates!

Other related posts:

Red Fort’s Newest Attraction: Me.

During a day of sightseeing, I visited Delhi’s Red Fort. As a SLR owner, I often find myself asked to help people take photos of their group. That day was no exception. I got asked by couples to snap shots. And it became so routine for me to just nod my agreement before the question is completed.

What a mistake. One guy and his friend approach, an arm holding the camera outstretched. He didn’t want me to help take a photo of him and his friend. He wanted to pose with me. By that point, I had already agreed. Dang. And once he was done, he and his friend swap places before I could blink. This friend started to lean over as if to throw his arm around my shoulder just before the camera shutter goes off. So I looked at my other side- I was already standing near the railing- mentally calculating how much maneuver room I have and whether I’d need to leap over the railing if the dude tried to pull off any stunt. When I looked up to face the camera, a queue of men with cameras out had formed!

During my time in Thailand and around, I laugh at my friends’ benefit when I find them to be object of curiosity amongst locals. As an Asian, I got away with inattention. Until India, apparently.

By the way, I didn’t let the line proceed. I told them I was going to charge 20 rupee for each additional photo. I could tell some of the guys were seriously contemplating it as they reluctantly scattered. Hey. If I’m paying the foreigner entrance fee of 250 rupee versus the local rate of 20 and end up being the attraction myself, I’d like to try to break even.

Buddy system: Buddy, what buddy?

I wouldn’t call myself an adventurer.

Out-door rock climbing?
Eh, no thanks. I’m too young to die.

I am active, nonetheless. And skiing comes on top as one of my favourite winter trips to make. Skiing/snowboarding is probably more a group than a solo activity.

Things I enjoy the most about the skiing:
– Hitting the slopes early, before the crowds. Going for the fresh show before they are skiied out.
– Not waiting for meet-ups at rendez-vous points.
– Conversing with fellow gondola riders.
– Squeezing into the lone free window seat at the summit lodge for lunch.
– Not having to wait for space to free up at the Aprés Ski happy hours.
– Women’s night specials. Need I say more?
– Meeting and mingle with all sorts of people in the bars.
– Getting the upgrade at the hotel, in event of a last-minute cancellation.

Favourite locations:
Whistler-Blackcomb, British Columbia, Canada
Beaver Creek, Colorado, US
Telluride, Colorado, US
Snowshoe, West Virginia, US

Some day, I’ll make it to the Alps….