Schrödinger's cat was a thought experiment by the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in the early 1900s. The basic idea is that if there were a cat in an opaque box with a contraption set up so that it would be poisoned after an unknown radioactive substance begins to break down, you would have no way of knowing if the cat were alive or dead without opening the box. In order to be correct at any given point without having opened the box, you would have to say that the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. The thought experiment was originally devised to point out problems in a theory of quantum mechanics, but it has interesting implications if applied to society. Thus we get Schrödinger's rapist, a term coined by Phaedra Starling in a 2009 blog post. If we, as women, are unsure of a man's intentions, we must, in order to be safe, assume he is simultaneously a rapist and not a rapist. Were we to believe every man is a genuinely kind and not-rapey sort of person, we could easily end up in dangerous situations without knowing how to protect ourselves, though the victim is never at fault. On the other side of the equation however, it would be difficult to believe every man is a rapist. That worldview would come with a load of negative consequences, the least of which is ruining potential friendships and/or relationships. So what are we to do? We are to be cautious and careful.
Our society sends women a lot of mixed signals about rape and sexual assault. We're told, from a young age, that it is our fault if someone assaults us, but that if we are threatened with assault, we'd better not fight back too much, or we may end up dead. If a man tells us to smile, we smile and nod politely because we don't want him to follow us into an alley. If a man asks our name, we answer. We make up a story about a boyfriend if we feel threatened because we have been told that men respect other men more than women. Whenever we meet, or even see, a man we do not know, we have to immediately begin weighing variables. Does this man seem suspicious? Is he attempting to talk to me when I've made it clear I don't want to talk? Am I in a crowded space? Can I escape this man quickly and easily if necessary? These are the types of thoughts that go through a woman's mind, a mile a minute, as soon as she is approached by a strange man. So if you're a man reading this, take that into account: you are Schrödinger's rapist.
I understand if you say that's not you. I understand if you say you'd never think of raping a woman, and from behind a computer screen, that's easy to believe. However, when I'm the woman standing next to you at the bus stop, it's a lot harder to believe those things. I can't see what's going on inside your head, and neither can any other woman. I have to guess what your intentions are, and if I have to err either on the side of excessive caution or increased risk of danger, I will choose caution; most women will. I'm sorry if a woman doesn't want to talk to you, but sometimes people don't feel like talking to other people, and it could be any number of reasons. Maybe she's busy, or tired, or she feels threatened by you, or you're not her type. It doesn't matter her reasons, you are not entitled to a conversation with her. If that seems rude to you, then I would suggest you learn to deal with it in a positive manner. Sometimes people are rude, but we are not responsible for the actions of others unless they are threatening harm to another. A woman not smiling at you may upset you, but it won't harm you in the long run. You do not have to police the behavior of the woman you saw that one time on the street; all you have to do is police your own behavior. Sometimes, that means giving up on a conversation when it's obvious the other party isn't interested. There will be other conversations and other girls that are interested in you, provided you really are the caring, gentle, nice, non-rapist that you say you are.
At the end of the day, if you say you aren't a rapist, live up to that, but take it a step further. Do what you can to understand what the women in your environment are thinking, and what you can do to make them feel safe. Don't take it personally if the woman you're interested in is cautious around you, that's how we've been trained, and it's often the way we keep ourselves safe. To women, every man is Schrödinger's rapist, and that won't change until our culture does.