Edit Desk: Mind your manners

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Megan Brubaker

As the true crime genre has captured Netflix audiences, I have become infatuated with the undertow of motives and explanations beneath the surface of inexplicable crimes.

When watching the Ted Bundy documentary this past week, I was angry. Bundy had preyed on young women that were almost always described as kind, considerate and sharp-minded.  

But how? I asked myself as I sat watching the investigation. I was angry watching far too many murders and rapes of women that could have been my friends, my sister or me.  

How could Bundy get away with murdering this many women? This could never happen today.

One woman’s story in particular haunts me. Abducted from a public fair, she had been lured to Bundy’s car after he had asked her for help starting it. She was never seen again. A kind attempt to help a stranger had ended her life.

This woman immediately reminded me of myself. If I can help someone, I almost always try to do what I can, just like she did.

This woman was a sister, a friend and a student before she became Bundy’s victim. To this day, she is one of us.

As little girls, we were told to always say please and thank you. We were told to be mannerly and considerate.

When we were old enough to walk home from school, our parents reminded us never to talk to strangers or get in a car if someone offered us candy.

But as I grew from a child to a young adult, I learned that more often than not, I have been shamed for ignoring a comment or action that made me uncomfortable. I learned to trust people and see the good in everyone, sometimes to a fault.

Just last year, I encountered the stranger-danger that I had been taught to face as a little girl but somehow learned to normalize as I grew older.

As I climbed into an Uber with three of my friends, not once did it cross my mind that the Uber trip would end five miles away, in the backseat of a police car, on our way back to Lehigh.

Just a few minutes into our swerving, bumpy drive, my stomach sank as our driver missed turn after turn, distracting us from his rerouting GPS with inappropriate comments on our appearances.

“You ladies are sexy. I’m so lucky to drive you girls,” he said as we veered from the highway to unfamiliar back roads.

At first, I tried to stay calm. And with that, came uncomfortable laughs and denial of the fact that we were likely in danger.  

Thankfully, I was surrounded by friends that were equally on guard. Politely asking him to please follow the directions so that we could get to the mall before dark and laughing off his comments was not going to work. In practice, it felt unnatural to let my gut take over. I felt as though I had abandoned the values that had earned me the title of a kind, friendly woman I am proud to be. But this was not the time to be polite as our Uber driver’s eyes glazed over, and he laughed as we panicked.

“Don’t you worry girls. I’ll get you to where you need to be. What do you think I’m going to do, hurt you?,” he mumbled.

Yes, that’s exactly what we thought he was going to do.

After threatening to call 911, I finally dialed while my friends demanded he pull over the car. The minutes that passed as we fought for him to pull over lingered as he went mute and sped up.

Once he realized that I was on the phone with the police, he came to a rolling stop, allowing for us to bolt to the gas station and talk to the police.

This was when we learned that we had been driven to another county. He had been driving in the opposite direction of the mall, turning what should have been a 10-minute trip into a 40-minute detour.

It was then that I learned that my gut is a better navigation system than any store-bought GPS. Had I remained courteous and trusting of our Uber driver, I know that my fate would have been different.

As young women, we are told to always be polite, but also never talk to strangers or make eye contact with a cat-caller. In practice, these two standards cannot always coexist. The expectations placed upon women to remain conscientious of both has an adverse effect on our safety.

I will rarely walk alone. I will rarely walk without a key wedged between my fingers. I will always track the routes that my Ubers are taking on my phone. I have learned that my gut feeling exists to protect me.

I know that some readers may see my precautions as unnecessary and paranoid. I wish that was true, too. But everyday, the news reminds me that I can never be too cautious. One in five women will be raped at some point in their lives. Ninety-one percent of all rape victims are women. All 30 of Ted Bundy’s rape and murder victims were women.

And even with these numbers, more than half of female rape and assault victims never tell anyone. I can’t help but think that we have been taught to be polite and kind more so than we have been taught to be cautious and assertive.

A year ago, I would have never written about my Uber experience. While I reported the driver, the last thing that I wanted was for people to think that I was being dramatic. And when I watched the Ted Bundy special, part of me felt guilty for relating to the women who lost their lives to an evil killer.

I am not equating my Uber horror story to the devastating losses and trauma that resulted from Bundy’s murders. I debated whether or not to publicize both my experience and my thoughts in avoidance of scaring people. That is not my intention.

I decided to write this in defense of women that have been called crazy, dramatic or rude for acting on instinct and having the courage to stay silent instead of saying thank you or saying no when a stranger asks for help.

Simply telling young girls not to talk to strangers is not enough of a precaution. We must decide to support survivors, empower women and teach young girls what warrants an apology and what does not. If my gut has taught me anything, it is that our safety holds more value than any please, thank you or yes sir.

Megan Brubaker, ‘21, is a reporter and designer for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]

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3 Comments

  1. Amy Charles ‘89 on

    Megan, if you’re in a situation like that again, *do not warn the guy* that you’re going to call 911. Just do it. And do it silently. Do not alert him to the fact that cops are tracking you. You don’t have to downplay the seriousness of what happened, either. You guys were in very real danger.

    Stop using Uber. Medallion taxis are somewhat safer because you can ID the driver and the background checks are under the municipality’s control, but you can also say you want a woman driver, and hang up and call another cab company till you get one. You don’t need to apologize for that, either.

    You’re also fully entitled to tell people who try to blame you for this, or tell you it happened because you didn’t have a gun with you, or that it wasn’t serious and you should shake it off, to go to hell, and to just cut them off. You don’t have to explain, and you don’t have to keep talking to them.

    Please take what you learned here into job interviews. Uber has a famously rapey and misogynist culture. That’s how the guy built it, because that’s who he is. Don’t patronize or work for people who run companies like that, because that mentality pervades everything. So before you interview: check for gender and racial bias suits and complaints. Look into the leadership’s politics and statements on these issues, because that will be the company’s culture. And take your talents to a place where the culture is actually one of respect. They do exist.

    Finally, take the lesson into your personal relationships, too. Your job in life is not to make sure that men around you feel like you’re being nice enough to them when you feel something’s wrong. That goes for boyfriends, husbands, and relatives, too. As you say: trust your gut, and take care of yourself, not their egos. And if some guy tells you you don’t have to worry or look out for yourself, because he’ll take care of you? Run. Because that’s a guy who doesn’t want you looking out for yourself. The best case is that he wants you to do whatever’s necessary to make him feel like a hero; the worst — well, is worse.

    • Robert F Davenport Jr on

      I should have checked the comments before I made mine. Sounds like good advice. My youngest and shortest daughter cultivated an mien of “don’t mess with me”, aggressiveness was not a part of that until a line might be crossed.

      I would say to retain some sense of innocence so as to be able to respond to actual helpfulness and prevent rejection as per my previous final comment sentence.

  2. Robert F Davenport Jr on

    I’m glad that the evil Uber driver from your story was probably relatively high up on the stupid scale. I assume that Ted Bundy, unfortunately, was intelligent.

    The evil you encountered was not limited to modern females. My father was subject to a similar situation as a teen in the 1930’s. The driver was smart enough to drop off other riders; luckily my father jumped out of the car as it slowed down.

    You and other victims are encouraged to report such behavior, despite having to explain torn clothing from the jump, my father never told his parents. I may be the only one he told. I failed to ask and any possible others have passed away.

    An unfortunate result of the criminal activity of supposedly friendly individuals, whose “helpful act” is meant to deceive, is that genuinely good people are sometimes rejected.

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