“Shoot me down but I won’t fall, I am titanium.”
Tuesday 19 November was International Men’s Day. Happy belated every IMD everyone! Tuesday 19 November was also the day that I started an argument with two young men on the street. Let us call the them Mr Hapless and Mr Clueless. As I was walking along I overheard an exchange Hapless and Clueless were having with a woman who was walking past them. It went something like this:
Hapless: Hey girl, how are you?
Clueless: Hm, you look so good.
Woman: [shuffles past quickly with head down]
[Hapless and Clueless stop, turn around and watch woman as she walks.]
Hapless: Hm, you have a nice butt, very nice. Hm…
Clueless: Yes, hm. I can see myself –
Hapless: But the face is not nice!
[Raucous laughter. End scene.]
And then something in me snapped and I thought: “That’s all I can stands and I can’t stands no more!” So in the most commanding voice I could muster I asked them: “Excuse me, Mr Hapless and Mr Clueless, do you realise that what you are doing is harassment?” And so ensued the argument. Mr Hapless shot questions at me asking what business I had interfering in their conversation, how dare I speak to them about harassment, who was I. Mr Clueless echoed his friends sentiments and coloured them with a few expletives thrown out of his foaming mouth. I mean that literally, his mouth was literally foaming. I used my big girl voice and said something about how I was
not fully a lawyer with a few more years to go and would report them. And so we walked along, talking over each other, my courage fueled by adrenalin and a temporary break in my sanity. At some point Mr Clueless said to me: “You are ugly. If you were looking pretty we would have spoken to you like we spoke to her, so shut up.” To which I replied:
“Oh my goodness, your brains are tiny. Seriously? Do you really think I care if you think I’m ugly? So what? You’re embarrassing. Stop harassing women on the street!”
That exchange lasted all of three minutes and afterwards they went their way and I went mine. But it was three minutes that really had an effect on me. For a number of reasons. Firstly, I kept asking myself if confronting those guys in that way was right and I went to my usual What Would Jesus Do? question. I felt bad for getting angry and getting into a shouting match. I also felt shaken because of the way they attacked me back. On the other hand I felt a weird sense of triumph on the inside, you know, that feeling of satisfaction that justice has been done? So instead of letting it go I gave it a think and have decided to share my thoughts with you, here they are.
Women put up with a lot of nonsense, particularly from men, and instead of confronting it we just let it be. This is a fact and I do not need sociological research to prove it (although I think that it would sure this to be overwhelmingly true). How many women have you heard of whose husbands/ boyfriends were cheating on them/ beating them/ even stealing from them and in response all the woman has is an excuse for him. Yes, of course we know that women do all these things too but the majority of these things are done by men (and incidentally, the majority of crimes too). We also know that the reason why women put up with things in relationships is complicated. The point is though, a lot of women think it is okay, normal and even justifiable for a man to do as he pleases because he is a man.
Interestingly enough, it is the men in my life who have shown me just how ridiculous this idea is! I have a man friend of mine (whom I will call The General) who sets such high standards for other men and has helped me raise my own standards. He is strong, disciplined, outspoken, principled, knows how to say sorry, treats women like they have brains, is not intimidated by strength in women and is not afraid to call out a man who is being a dog when he sees it. In our relationships, in the workplace, on the street, we need to become women who are not afraid to say no to the nonsense that is dished out to us.
Can I get an amen?
Having said the above it is clear that women are a big part of why some men behave like dogs. Many of us women are enablers. When men behave badly, we condone it or just keep silent, usually because we are too scared to rock the boat or are fearful of the consequences. There is one tiny detail that I forgot to mention about my street fight: there was a huge iron fence between me and Messrs. Hapless and Clueless. The chances are, had that fence not been there, I was was probably going to pass by quickly with my head down like I had done a thousand times before. Why have I never confronted men who behave badly? My top reason is that I do not want to get beaten up or sworn at! And then under that is that I have always thought that it was none of my business or that things like that are not worth starting a big fight about.
But something changed in me yesterday: I became a butt-kicking woman.
Because the way that men speak to and treat women in our society (even in ‘random’ encounters) is our business and is important. Before you all run off and start street fights like myself, understand this: being a butt-kicking woman is an attitude of the heart. It is about knowing our worth and understanding that you ought to be treated with respect and dignity, every day. It is about not being afraid to asset your strength, resisting the urge to dumb yourself down or keep silent about injustice when you should be speaking up.
Mom, you can breathe now, I will not be starting any more street fights any time soon.
Thanks for reading.