A Trojan Horse

My stepmother forwarded another one of those “warning” emails to everyone she knows. I suppose I should be appreciative that she’s gotten more selective about the ones she forwards. When she first discovered them, every single one was passed on with huge alarming CAPS lest we fall victim to such a cleverly disguised horrible end as contracting AIDS from a hidden needle on a gas pump. But even now, after we’ve introduced her to snopes.com and not a single one of her ghost stories has proven true, she still can’t help herself.

Part of the reason it bugs me is that these anecdotes always begin with the caveat that it may not be true, but tell everyone you know “just to be on the safe side”. Paradoxically, I think these emails serve as more of a disservice than a helpful reminder to always, vaguely and ominously, “be aware”. What’s the logical end here? I could be attacked in a parking lot after responding to a man’s request for a dollar, but my screams for help go unanswered because, to my fellow shoppers, I’m nothing but a stranger and could be a decoy for a lurking rapist in my back seat. Come on.

Now that we’re pregnant, it bugs me on a different level. So many of these warnings are specifically aimed at women and encourage the reader to send them on to every mother, sister, daughter and girlfriend in his/her life. That strikes me as particularly damaging and encourages women to feel more likely to be victimized, more frail and less capable of protecting themselves against all the creative bloodthirsty lunatics hiding in the shadows.

If we have a girl, I want her to be confident and for that she’ll need to take risks and learn from them. It’s our job to protect her and teach her to protect herself and that includes protecting her right to happiness and security. I don’t wish for her to grow up to be some nail-biting ninny always looking over her shoulder, afraid to talk to strangers or take a walk alone. We can teach her to look both ways before crossing the street, but I’d prefer to stop short of teaching her to never talk to strangers, or worse, don’t go out alone because BAD things can happen. Going out alone is often where the best things can happen.

Perhaps I’m being overly dramatic about an email, but to me, this crap stems from the same mentality as the sensationalism on FOX News and the alarmist tones that justify spending tens of billions of dollars on homeland security plans “to ensure our security” from dudes who attacked us with boxcutters. For real.

There’s no such thing as 100% safe. Like Mat says, what happens to the .01% of bacteria that aren’t killed by anti-bacterial soaps? Is that the e. Coli?

All we can do is wash our hands, teach our kids to wash their hands and go about our business of enjoying life. I don’t want to live in a body condom. It doesn’t breathe and it smells like latex.

5 Responses to “A Trojan Horse”

  • “I don’t want to live in a body condom. It doesn’t breathe and it smells like latex.”

    Leslie Nielson is SOOOOOOOOOOOO disappointed!

    Seriously, though, I struggle with this. I mean, we are by no means restricted by fear in terms of what we do, but, shit does happen. We’ve been given ample cause to be cautious over the last 5 years:

    >Our apartment was broken into
    >Our friend’s apartment on the same block was broken into
    >There was a shooting on our block
    >A man broke in to a woman’s house on our block brandishing a butcher knife, then chased my friends up the street. They got into our apartment safely (we were out of town; they were feeding our cats), then watched the man attempt to carjack a Dulles Airport Shuttle van right out front (thwarted at the last second by cops)
    >Erika once went to do laundry in the laundry room in our apartment building. When she opened the door, she was confronted by a young, obviously sketched-out man who informed her that “I’m just lookin for my stash!” (implying he was there with some regularity) and then ran out the door.
    >Our friend was raped by a burglar on her couch in the middle of the night in Mount Rainier
    >A woman was raped on the street that Erika and I often use to walk to the metro.
    >Women were attacked repeatedly at the Takoma metro station a couple of years ago.


    This isn’t meant to scare anyone or anything, and I certainly agree that the alarmist e-mails are way out of control (my Grandma loves to send them along), but it’s a crazy fucking world out there, and I feel it’s wise–and not at all ninny-esque–to, say, carry some mace or learn some sort of martial art. Especially (I really hate to say this) if you are a woman. Do I think women are more helpless than men? By no means. Do I feel like the perception that they are leads to them being targeted more often? Absolutely.

  • Of course! I think we agree. I’m not at all advocating taking a naive view that nothing happens and certainly, especially when we choose to live in areas with higher crime rates, we have to know how to size up a situation and respond accordingly. I don’t think it’s ninny-esque to know how to protect yourself either.

    All I’m saying is, as a society, we seem to be moving more and more towards fear-induced isolationism that is in part due to the sensationalism of certain types of crimes, real or not. I have several friends who do not allow their children to play outdoors because of Amber Alert-related fears, when the reality is that child abductions and the like have gone *down* since we were kids. Not to mention that Amber Alerts specifically play on the fears of white suburban parents and do not reflect the reality of child-related crimes. (Ever hear of a Shaneequah Alert?)

    And yes, women are targeted more for some kinds of crimes, but that doesn’t mean we have to enter every situation in life like a potential hazard calculated by some villain. I feel like these emails encourage that type of thinking.

  • Yeah, I agree with all that…though I do think fear has been pervasive in our culture for its entire history (Bowling for Columbine made some very interesting points on the subject), the focus just kind of changes every few years (Amber Alerts, Identity theft, etc). Then there are generational cycles (red scare, terrorism, etc). And it always seems like someone’s exploiting the fear du jour for some purpose or other (money, political advantage, etc).

    Also, I prefer the slightly sketchy neighborhoods I’ve recently lived in to the much safer ones I grew up in. Much more diversity and vibrancy in the former.

  • I share your hatred for these, and get them constantly from lots of well meaning relatives, who I immediately forward to snopes.

    As a complete tangent, I’m always reminded of my favorite response to the other annoying forward, the pull-your-heartstrings-and-forward-this mail. Have fun.


    I am a very sick little boy. My mother is typing this for me, because I can’t. She is crying. Don’t cry, Mommy! Mommy is always sad, but she says it’s not my fault. I asked her if it was God’s fault, but she didn’t answer, and only started crying harder, so I don’t ask her that anymore. The reason she is so sad is that I’m so sick. I was born without a body. It doesn’t hurt, except when I go to sleep.
    The doctors gave me an artificial body. My body is a burlap bag filled with leaves. The doctors said that was the best they could do on account of us havin’ no money or insurance. I would like to have a body transplant, but we need more money. Mommy doesn’t work because she said employers don’t hire crying people. I said, “Don’t cry, Mommy,” and she hugged my burlap body. Mommy always gives me hugs, even though she’s allergic to burlap, and it chafes her real bad.

    I hope you will help me. You can help me if you forward this e-mail. Dr. Johansen said if you foward this e-mail then Bill Gates will team up with AOL and do a survey with NASA. Then the astronauts will collect prayers from school children all over America and take them up to space so that the angels can hear them better. Then they will go to the Pope, and he will take up a collection in church and send the money to the doctors. The doctors could help me better then.

    Maybe one day I will be able to play baseball. Or maybe just use my lungs and heart, when the doctors make them. The doctors said that every time you foward this letter, the astronauts can take another prayer to the angels. Please help me. Mommy is so sad, and I want a body. I don’t want my leaves to rot before I turn 10.

    If you don’t foward this e-mail, that’s OK. Mommy says you’re a mean heartless person who doesn’t care about a poor little boy with only a head. She says that she hopes that you stew in the raw pit of your own guilt-ridden stomach. What kind of wretched person are you that you can’t take five lousy minutes to forward this to all your friends so that they can feel guilt and shame for the rest of their day, and then maybe help a poor, bodiless nine-year-old boy?

    Please help me. This really sucks. I try to be happy but it’s hard. I wish

    I had a puppy. I wish I could hold a puppy.

    Thank You.
    Billy ‘Smiles’ Evans,
    The boy with just a head.
    And a burlap sack for a body.

  • Very good points, Em…I really hate that sort of “living in fear of EVERYTHING” mentality…I work with a woman who thinks like that, every snowstorm will be a disaster, etc. etc.

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