Why I look like a cartoon

The simple answer is fear. Fear, that if my real image appears, there will be harassment or worse.  This fear has been with me since December 6, 1989. My parents’ generation remembers exactly where they were when Kennedy was shot. I remember exactly where I was December 6 1989. I was in my basement apartment in Ottawa in my first few months of graduate school.  I was in the kitchen, I heard the news come on and I froze. Dropped what I was doing, dropped to my knees two inches from the television and listened.  The day Marc Lepine walked into a university classroom screaming, “You are feminists! I hate feminists” was the day my view of the world changed forever.  Never before had I felt afraid for my safety for being a woman. For being Jewish yes. I had lived with that forever-grade 5 classmates telling me the holocaust wasn’t real, pennies thrown at my head, being cornered in a bathroom because I was Jewish. That I had grown to expect -looking over my shoulder to see who would hate me next. But when Marc Lepine walked into a university campus hours from mine, I realized it could happen to me…that the political hatred of women (voiced in Lepine’s rant about feminists) could affect me personally; if it could happen to those students, it could happen to me.  This realization later became the basis of my Master’s thesis (see Foster, M. D. & Matheson, K. (1995). Double relative deprivation: Combining the personal and political. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 21, 1167-1177.)

Although one of the main responses by women was collective action in the form of “take back the night marches,” my personal response was fear. I never walked outside after dark. I never went to campus without my office mates. This wasn’t just fear, it was realistic experience: at grad school I had  two stalkers, a man masturbating behind me while I sat at my desk unaware and another man who walked around the campus tunnels with only a t-shirt.

But when I complained to campus security about the tunnel-men, I found out they had already known of these men. They had known and decided not to warn anyone. And again, the political decision made by the university not to forewarn had affected me personally by putting me at risk; the political was again personal.  So I took action, maybe my personal actions could help future women.  I did it anonymously however. My fear was still there. I posted flyers in every female washroom on campus telling women that ‘the university won’t tell you but there’s a sexual predator on campus. Be aware’. Later, campus security began posting warnings. My reactions to both  Marc Lepine and the tunnel-men exemplified what I came to believe– the personal is political  and vice versa.

And so my line of research was established–what kinds of responses do women have when they experience discrimination? Which of those actions will make them feel empowered, resilient and increase their well-being?

About 3 years ago, I took back my own night. I began walking (my dog) in the dark. I was tired of having my freedom limited to daylight hours. Now, Herbie is only a golden retriever, not the biggest breed of protectors, but my Tae Kwon Do training should take care of the rest.

But I still won’t put my picture up. 🙂


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