It was after 7:00, the building lights in the elevator lobby were already dimmed. I locked up, punched the elevator button and got on as the door opened.
As I was stepping into the elevator I could hear a door opening from the other side of the elevator lobby and a set of keys being fumbled. I held the door and called out, “Going down?” I heard a woman say, “Yes,” so I held the door. Maybe ten seconds, not even enough time to make the dimwitted elevator AI get all pissy and make that “blaaaaaaaat” sound.
The woman, who I sorta recognized as someone you see on the same floor but who I don’t know that I had ever exchanged words with before this, came hustling around the corner in the elevator and said, “Thanks.” I let the door go and we started down.
I stood in my corner and she in hers. We didn’t speak further.
Because in this day and age, and probably for as long as I can remember but we’re oh so much more aware of it today which makes it so much more a thing to be conscious of in this day and age, I know that being alone in an elevator with a strange man is for many (most?) women a potential threat. (I, an older, white, cis male, did not feel any threat.)
She did not seem uncomfortable per se, but she had her keys still out and was holding them that way women have learned to, consciously or otherwise, so they can be used to defend if necessary. (I, an older, white, cis male, did not have my keys at the ready.)
She kept her purse held up close to her body and was not quite at attention, but also not relaxed. (I, an older, white, cis male, was slouching and had my briefcase hanging loose.)
And I hated it.
I hated that the world we have built is so disgusting, so unequal, so full of violence and hatred against women, so packed to the gills with men of privilege and ignorance and self-righteousness that women who are just trying to get home from work after 7:00 need to be on guard.
I hated that anything I could have said or done would have made it worse. Any casual conversation to be polite would have the potential to be seen as a threat. Simply asking, “How are you tonight?” could have been seen as an unwanted advance, a come on, a threat.
I hated that there was almost nothing that I could do about it.
I hated that, as much as I might hate the situation, I knew that my role in it was orders of magnitude less painful and threatening than hers was.
I hated that I felt guilty for feeling so bad about the whole fucking thing when it is just my old, white, cis male privilege that lets me have that luxury.
All this in fifteen to twenty seconds as we rode down five floors. We never spoke. We never looked at each other.
Nothing to be done.
Almost nothing. But maybe don’t make it worse. Be aware, see what can remove some of the unseen but unforgiving stress. Take small steps.
Once out of the elevator I said good night to the evening security guard as I always do, and then I picked up my pace toward the front door. I wanted to make sure I was ahead of her as we left simply so that I would not be walking behind her as we both went out to the parking garage.
It’s a tiny thing. Take small steps.
Afterward, especially writing this, my brain wonders if I was imagining it all, listening to too many horror stories on social media.
I consider deleting all of this and posting some random picture.
Then I remember her standing there in her corner, keys in her fist, not looking at me.
And I hate it again. I just don’t know what else to do.