real life

"My car tyre went flat on the side of the road and that's when I saw the worst of people."

The age of the damsel in distress is dead. And I for one, couldn’t be happier.

We no longer look at women and think they can’t possibly know how to change a tyre or swing an axe to chop some firewood.

No, the world has finally realised women are capable of doing kick arse things.

But there is a new epidemic plaguing our country. The ability of people to blatantly ignore a human in distress. When did we stop pulling over and offering a helping hand to our fellow Aussies?

When I heard that familiar little thump of a flat tyre on a drizzling Friday morning in Melbourne, I considered my options. I could collapse into a sobbing, distressed damsel on the footpath. Or I could just get on with it. My mind immediately went into problem solving mode.

I rolled into a servo on one of the busiest intersections in Brunswick, dodging drenched cyclists and honking, frenzied commuters. I popped on my raincoat, pushed up my sleeves and thanked my lucky stars that my dad taught me to change a tyre a few years ago.

Proudly filthy right after my first tyre change.

As I worked, a cluster of suits amused themselves, watching my struggle as they waited for their tram.

As I jacked up my trusty Commodore, no longer able to distinguish between sweat and rain, they headed off to work without looking back. Dozens of people drove straight past me to fuel up, carefully avoiding eye contact. No one offered to help. No one so much as offered a sympathetic glance in my direction.

Covered in muddy grease but determined, I was tightening the final nut when I heard a voice behind me say, "excuse me..."

This is it, I thought. Someone is finally going to ask if I need help. Steeling myself with a smug grin, I turned to tell my would-be saviour to say, "It's alright, I've got this."

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Clearly I am a strong, independent, feminist woman who is perfectly capable of changing a tyre. My progress is testament to that. (Providing I don't drive off lopsided, as my wheel ricochets across two lanes of traffic.)

But it turns out, the woman wasn't offering help. She was asking for it.

My blood boiled as I had to tell her, "no I do not have any idea how to work the vacuum cleaner."

It's a perfect feminist metaphor. And it reinforced the fact that help will only ever be given to those who ask for it. If at all.

Everyone seems to hold the assumption that someone else will stop. It's the same in instances of disaster, when each shocked bystander assumes another person has called Triple 0. Time winds on, and no help arrives.

I can hear the uncomfortable murmurs of, "but I don't know how to help," coming from the women who, like me, are a bit clueless when it comes to car stuff beyond changing a tyre or topping up the oil.

And yet I've made a habit of stopping to help. When I see a bonnet up, it's instinct. It could be the small-town, trusting, country girl in me, but I can't drive past without slowing, rolling down my window and asking, "you right, mate?"

Who knows what they might need? It could just be a phone to call the RACV, or a second pair of hands.

And often, they just want to be acknowledged and at least offered help.

Listen: In the little town of Theodore, there's always someone to lend a helping hand.

Curious as to why so many people just keep on driving, I asked around. I discovered there's one big thing that's stopping people from stopping.

Fear.

Sure, there's the fear of a strange man on a dark, secluded road. As women we're constantly reminded that we are vulnerable, victims in waiting. Remember the urban legend of the woman who pulled over when she spotted a baby cradle on the side of the highway and was attacked?

But it's also more than this. It's the fear of being rejected if that person don't actually need help. For men, it's the fear of insulting a woman by implying that they are a damsel in distress. It's the fear of being told you're mansplaining.

And the fear isn't only present on the wide, open road.

It rears it's head every time we awkwardly side-step past a homeless person and don't stop to chat because we might say the wrong thing. It's every man and woman for themselves out there. It's the our self-preservation mode when our fight or flight response kicks in, and it's going to make the world a very lonely place.

Do you stop to help when you see someone broken down?

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