Our Empathic Nature

The Altruistic Side of Evolutionary Psychology

The Profiling of Women

Dangerous profiling that cuts across race, ethnicity, age, and class

In our long-overdue discussion of profiling, we have focused exclusively on what happens to minorities and particularly to Black and Brown youth. We seem to have forgotten about women. This doesn’t mean our discussion should ignore the factor of race in profiling our vulnerable young men, but lets take the whole thing on. It’s seriously harming us. I don’t know any woman who has not been (and who is not currently) absolutely terrified when walking alone at night in an unpopulated section of town, when she sees a man behind her, who might be following her –a man of any race or ethnicity or age. And while figures vary some, there is good reason. One out of 5 women have been raped in their lifetime, and more have been threatened or stalked. Most of us try to avoid the situation as much as possible. We know what it feels like to be profiled because we are profiled all the time, stereotyped and profiled, simply by our group membership –i.e. as females.

That said, it does not follow that all men are dangerous (or privileged), in fact many and probably most are not. But a woman doesn’t know who will be dangerous, she can’t tell. Is she “profiling” all men when she’s out, alone at night, or is she is the one automatically profiled. Facing up to the way women are profiled is not negating the discussion of racial profiling –it is one way women so easily understand and are horrified by the profiling of African American youth. Instead of separating us, it brings us together in a mutual, very dangerous, experience. Profiling is also a part of the experience of Asian Americans, Middle-Eastern Americans, Jewish Americans, among other negatively stereotyped groups. We need to hear from everyone.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

The Trayvon Martin case finally put the headlights on the profiling of African American youth, with some extension to Latin Americans. But there’s an equivalently serious problem to take on, a problem that cuts across race, ethnicity, age, and even class. When President Obama spoke to the experience being an African American youth hearing the door lock as someone nearby sat in his or her car, he might have been missing the point. He should talk to his wife. Women lock the door when a man comes to close to her, as she sits in her car. It really doesn’t matter who the man is, or his age. Further, most men with wives or female partners or daughters or sisters want their female loved ones to lock the door, and fast. In fact, they try to dissuade us from going out and walking around alone at night, anywhere, any time.

Lets go after the profiling of women while we do the same for Black and Brown young men. Our wellbeing as individuals –of any gender—is more affected by frightening profiling than we realize. Lets broaden this discussion. Let me get audacious here –I have personally experienced being profiled this way by a male police officer. I know what it feels like to be “noticed” by a cop, in a way that was not pleasant. And I am sure Black and Brown and White police officers are frightened when their female partners or sisters or cousins or teens are out on their own after dark. I wish the news, even the “liberal” news, would make more of an effort to see a problem broadly. Profiling affects most families. How can we get together to stop it? I don’t think we can deal with the profiling of minority youth without likewise bringing an end to the profiling of women, of any age, race, ethnicity or class. We're wired for empathy, and expanding the discussion of a terrifying experience so everyone understands how it touches them and those they love makes it easier to bring everyone into the conversation and effect change.

Lynn E. O’Connor, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, Professor at the Wright Institute, Berkeley CA, and Director of the Emotion, Personality, and Altruism Research Group. more...

Subscribe to Our Empathic Nature

Current Issue

Just Say It

When and how should we open up to loved ones?