And I thanked him. Spoiler alert: I didn’t get murdered.
He wasn’t Batman, but he was masked nevertheless. Photo by Mjutan on Wikimedia Commons
It was a lively trip to the drugstore this morning.
I was on a mission — to buy an umbrella, some stamps and mail a card before the skies opened up for the entire damn day in accordance with the prophecy that the deluge would commence at ten. Mobile battery powered. Turbines to speed. Eddie & The Cruisers cranked. Roger.
I had my tunes and a single-minded focus.
As I approached the drugstore a tall man in a blue shirt who looked like a street person gestured to me. I shook my head and said, “No, no, sorry,” which is what I do when I’m panhandled.
He stepped in front of me and his arm brushed mine as he extended it to stop me. His face darkened. He was angry, but not dangerously. He said something that sounded like he might have a speech impediment but with the buds in I couldn’t be sure. I was on alert but wasn’t frightened. I don’t scare as easily as some. My scalp tingled, but my heart hadn’t quickened.
“Hey, knock it off!” I said sternly. He said something back, not sure what, but he commanded my attention. He angled so that my back was to the wall. I stepped forward and said, “Hey! You don’t touch a woman without her permission! You don’t EVER touch a strange woman! Now back off!” And I finished with the line every man in Canada knows by heart.
“NO MEANS NO!”
Someone said something. We turned and there was another man coming up the walk. He said something to the guy and gestured and my harasser melted away. The power of a more powerfully-built man.
I moved to the pharmacy door for safety and turned around. My harasser was gone and my rescuer looked at me. “Thank you!” I said with a thumbs-up. “I appreciate your help.” He nodded and I went inside.
Now, one might ask: Why did Mr. Blue Shirt (my harasser) think he had the right to just step in front of a woman and demand her attention that way?
What made him think a woman’s attention is just there for the taking? What entitled, privileged, patriarchal stupid-ass notion in his head told him it was okay to try and intimidate a woman with his looming presence?
The answer, I suspect, was the clamour of mental illness.
I conducted my business with Canada Post and walked up the wrong aisle to check the prices on my favorite hair oil. It was the men’s section, and who did I run into but my rescuer. He’d done what many feminists ask men to do: Stand up for us in the face of misogyny. If Mr. Blue Shirt had decided to get physical with me, it could have gotten, well, scary. He was thin, perhaps not in the best of shape. Still, if he had a weapon he could have hurt me.
We often expect men to step in and accept the danger on our behalf, don’t we? I was a stranger. I wasn’t my rescuer’s wife or his girlfriend.
This time I had the presence of mind to remove my earbuds.
“Thanks again for your help with that guy,” I said. “I appreciate you stepping in like that.” “He’s gone now,” he said.
“Do you know what his deal was?” I asked. “He sounded like maybe he had a disablement of some sort.”
“I think he has mental problems,” the guy said. “I called 911 and reported him to the police.”
Now, why didn’t I think of that?
“Thank you.” We walked away from each other. I turned back.“Thank you for standing up for a woman.”
Always thank The Patriarchy when it uses its powers for good.
I want to emphasize something:
I don’t know how YOU should have handled it.
I’m different from you. My life and my background is different. I’ve never suffered what I would call a truly significant physical or sexual assault. Any physical assault threat more often than not came from high school girls, except for one guy who learned never to hit me again.
The First Guy To Hit Me Was The Last: And why it never happened again
There’s been the occasional threat of sexual assault, sometimes involving me courting danger by doing dumb shit.
Dumb Shit I've Done: I didn't get raped, but I sure made it easy for them
But, I also have a GREAT mother.
I got lucky in the birth lottery. Not every woman does.
I did what I imagined I’d do if confronted by an asshole man. I stuck up for myself, I challenged him right back, I raised my voice and let him know I was no easy target. And I repeated the Holy Canadian Mantra: No Means No.
If my rescuer hadn’t been there, I expect I would have pushed past this guy, yelled in a loud voice for everyone in the parking lot to hear, “KNOCK IT OFF! YOU LEAVE ME ALONE!” That’s probably when I would have thought to call the police, safely inside the drugstore.
I live in Toronto, so the likelihood he had a gun was minimal.
Also, I just don’t get pushed by men. I find that when you stand up to them a lot of them will back down. I don’t go all Hyper Super Wonder Woman Feminist on everyone. Ya picks yer battles and one doesn’t have time to operate on logic. I go by gut feeling.
If my gut is screaming, “DANGER! DANGER, WILL ROBINSON!” I ditch the feminist stuff and just do what I can to vacate the area. My gut wasn’t churning with terror. My scalp tingled with heightened awareness of danger, but I wasn’t yet fearful. I never got that far, I guess, thanks to the arrival of someone whose power Mr. Blue Shirt respected more than mine.
He could have stabbed me, I suppose, but the odds of that are even lower than getting shot, even though a woman got stabbed to death here in a drugstore a few years ago. While you’re worried about Mr. Testosterone Poisoning, your killer could be a pretty professionally-dressed female stranger with psychological problems. Further, around 64% of women are murdered by family (male) members or intimate partners, so your chances of being murdered by a stranger are fairly small.
Fortunately for me, I live in a safe city, for a privileged white woman, I guess. I suspect my age is an effective shield as well.
How we frame and interpret what happens to us wires our brains a certain way and determines how much we suffer from it.
I choose to frame what happened this way: My rescuer was one of my peeps (a good-hearted person with a sense of social responsibility) and he looked out for me. Biologically speaking, I was at a disadvantage if Mr. Blue Shirt had pushed it. If he’d gotten physical I might not have been able to fight back. Even men smaller than I have superior strength.
My rescuer used his male privilege — the respect a man has for another’s physical prowess — to help out someone at a disadvantage. He looked out for me and put himself on the line for a stranger.
What will I or any other woman do if put to a test? Why do we always expect men to help us? Is this not a bit of patriarchal thinking on our part? If we want to share the wealth, share the power, share the glory, should we not also expect to share the risk? Why do we tear men down, tell them everything they do is wrong, pathologize and sexualize their every move, but then expect them to ride in like shining knights if they happen to be in the vicinity and take the knife, the bullet, or the fist for us?
What would you do if you saw a woman being harassed? If you saw someone about to call 911 to report a heinous black birdwatcher? If you saw a man harassing his partner? What would you do if you saw a woman harassing her partner?
What can we do when we ourselves or others are being threatened?
I’m pretty sure my Medium peep and fellow old lady Julia E Hubbel, who works out more than Chuck Norris, would have broken this guy in half, ripped off his arm and beaten him to death with it. Or maybe ripped off Chuck Norris’s arm and weaponized it. Then she’d make earrings out of the perp’s testicles to serve as An Example To The Others.
For the rest of us, there’s pepper spray. In a cool girly disco container.
We can step in like many women did when they saw a male actor harassing a female actor like in the above video. I just wish some would have had the labia to stop the woman getting abusive with the man. Why is it easier to ignore when women do it? I thought we were against domestic violence…?
I’d like to think I’d step in and say, “Hey, is there a problem here? Everything okay? You need some help getting home, ma’am?”
What might I do if I found a white woman threatening a black person with her Mighty Cell Phone?
I’d like to think I’d pull out my own cell phone and aim it at her, telling her to go home before I upload this video to Twitter and get her fired.
Granted, I’d suffer even less of a chance of getting murdered by Barbecue Becky than by a guy with mental illness, but the odds are against both.
Just a reminder: Not everyone who stands up to a man behaving badly gets hurt. I’ve done it before when the guy could have easily figured out my name and come back to hurt me.
I’m almost entirely certain I wouldn’t have gotten hurt this morning even if my rescuer hadn’t been there, but I respect him for stepping in bravely like he did.
I think there’s a lesson there for all of us.
Equality means shared risk. Have we got the labia for it?
This originally appeared on Medium in July 2021.