In my wild and reckless youth, as my best friend and I would walk down Florida’s sunny highways with our thumbs sticking out, I understood why some people never pulled over to pick us up. Sure we were two skinny little blonde girls with a combined weight under that of an NFL kicker. Sure we were just out, being weird and having fun and trying to vacation on an extreme budget without a car. Sure we meant no harm. The drivers passing us by didn’t know that.
We each make risk-reward determinations daily – is it worth the delicious meal to go through the effort of cooking? does the current weather make driving now a bad idea? if I spend $40 on this shirt, will I regret it? How highly we evaluate a particular risk is going to be influenced by our history, our perceptions of the world and other people, and often our socio-economic position as well. I’m not best equipped to determine what’s “worth it” for someone else, but I am best equipped to figure out which rewards are worth which risks for me.
When men on the street talk to me, even if they are friendly and chill and mean me no harm, I view the potential risks as too high for the potential rewards and try to move as far away as I can. Even if there were only a 1% chance he would harm or threaten me, and a 99% chance he would be nothing but pleasant and friendly, I’d rather not take the risk. I don’t trust strange men, and I don’t owe strange men my trust. I don’t owe them my time or attention or politeness or a ride down the highway, and they owe me none of that either.
Given the pervasive reality of street harassment, I’m not the only woman to come down on the side of deciding social interactions with strange men in uncontrolled environments aren’t worth it. Other women do find the risk worth the reward, and that’s their assessment to make. Most people on the highway passed my friend and me by. Some people stopped and gave us rides. The people who chose not to pick us up weren’t “stuck up” or “bitches.” They weren’t being “teases” by flaunting their air-conditioned wheeled vehicles in front of me while I was tired of walking. They owed me nothing, just as I owe a stranger on the street wanting a friendly chat nothing. That some people picked us up anyway I’m grateful for, but I wasn’t entitled to a ride from anyone. I was an unknown risk factor.