Monday, June 24, 2013
Pregnant women often speak about total strangers asking to touch their bellies. The social mores that keep people from requesting contact with the body of someone they do not know suddenly vanish in the face of that rounded mound of baby. Even worse, a significant number of people don't even request permission before giving a rub. I cannot come up with another situation, except maybe when it comes to "directing" a blind person, in which respect for bodily personal boundaries is ignored. Even when an individual in a crowd simply brushes up against a stranger accidentally, they apologize. This behavioral tendency has been framed in terms of the woman's belly becoming public property – as if everyone has the right to touch it the way they would a soft blanket on display at a department store. Attempting to explain a specific behavioral tendency that currently has me annoyed, I reached for an example my therapist might understand and came up with that of pregnant women's bellies. Aspects of my life are being treated as public property. Approaching a bus stop where I was to wait for a friend, I was asked by a man if he could pet my dog. I said no explaining that while wearing the harness, she was working. Apparently, he didn't like my answer because a tirade ensued. He started with the point that one little pet wasn't going to be a problem. I disagreed. He then said I was being cruel and was I afraid my dog would hurt him? I tried giving the complicated explanation about distractions and my safety. He said if my dog was that badly behaved, she wasn't trained well. Was I just not training my dog properly? I admit snapping at that point and saying something about having a dog previously that was highly distractible leading to me getting my nose broken. That did not penetrate his skull. About then, my friend's "Just walk away. He's nuts>" penetrated and I tried leaving. Really, I tried. I had to turn back when he told me I should "Just stay home." Excuse me? I don't think so. Let's just say it went south from there and he was really insulting. My point? This man treated me, my dog and my life as though he had a right to comment upon them. Everything about me had suddenly become public property. I was the politician whose life is open to public scrutiny. I was the actor living in the public eye. I was just lacking any of the compensatory perks either of those roles supposedly bestows. The worst part? People stood there watching and did nothing. Nobody said, "Hey, man, it's her dog. Leave her alone." In their silence, they were condoning his behavior. To paraphrase a mother-to-be's comment, "It's my dog. Keep your hands off!" And, I would add, your opinions to yourself.