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True Grit

June 12, 1988

Carol Rossen asks about her assailant: "Why had I been chosen?" Might this suggest part of the answer: The late sociologist Erving Goffman pointed out in his book "Behavior in Public Places" that when strangers pass, we give each other "civil inattention," an odd form of politeness in which we avert our glances and do not look into each other's eyes.

Additionally, inequality between genders exists in civil inattention. A male can look openly into the face of a passing female and feel safe. A female cannot feel equally safe looking into 1952998688 This is one more subtle form of sexism. Women are forced by social attitude to give a lot more civil inattention to men, averting not only their eyes but often their faces. Might Rossen have unknowingly triggered her assailant's attack by not showing the proper civil inattention?

HELEN COLTON

Los Angeles

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