Issue 5, Semester 2, 2019
The other evening, I was at a sports bar watching some rugby. I turned up late and found my friends sitting at the front, near the big screen. There wasn’t any space to sit so I crouched down and then, deciding my 5’2” was short enough, stood up to save my knees. I heard an aggressive voice behind me, “get back down on your knees.” I turned to see another patron; beer in his hand, breath in my face. Thinking he must have been joking, I bent down a little. “Lower”, he said, and I went down. I thought – this must be a joke, so I stood back up. “I’m being serious, get down on your knees.” I went back down on my knees.
To be real with you, I felt pretty shitty after this and I couldn’t place why. Two male friends around me noticed this encounter. One said, “that was weird” and the other, “are you okay?”. I’m not at all saying one is a better response than the other. I appreciated that they both felt (and it wasn’t just me) that this guy was being, at the very least, pretty rude.
“Yeah I’m fine”
“Are you sure? Did you feel that he was being a little bit sexual?”
“Yeah, but don’t worry about it.”
“Do you want to say something? Do you want me to say something?”
“No it’s fine, I don’t want to cause a scene.”
I moved around the table to a spot where I wouldn’t have to ‘get on my knees’. The Wallabies were playing shockingly (everyone was sighing in disdain) but in my mind that familiar dialogue went on — a tango between rage and wanting to confront someone for doing something that made me feel awful — feeling like it’s my duty to do so because even if he hadn’t meant it maliciously, doesn’t that just mean he’s probably making other women feel uncomfortable unknowingly? We’re all just quiet, and too scared to speak up, and then feeling too exhausted to do anything, not wanting to feel more awful in the instance he’d be aggressive rather than apologetic. I left — being in that space all I could think about was how I wanted my stomach to stop turning.
Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “gosh she’s very dramatic.” Maybe you’re wondering where this is going. Or maybe the encounter I described resonates with you. For me, this small thing (possibly a lapse in common courtesy, but really couldn’t he have just used different words, been a little bit nicer about it all) reminded me of a time not long ago when someone called me a slut for wearing my sports gear on the tram on the way home from the gym, or another time someone called my female friend and I “fucking bitches” for having an animated conversation on the street. With comments like these I find that often there’s alcohol (and possibly drugs) involved. Sometimes I can’t find anything to blame aside from that person’s personality, not even myself — what I’m doing or what I’m wearing. Sometimes things like this happened long before I even got my period, so I can’t blame my body (you’re saying: you should never blame yourself or your body! And I want to say, ‘yes I know! But why do people make me feel like I need to?’). While I don’t want to sit around and feel sorry for myself, I do think a consistent, pervasive rhetoric of feeling powerless at the hands of some shitty men has made it harder, each time, to speak out for myself.
I feel like I always have the right thing to say, and the courage to say it a day later, or maybe that’s just convenient procrastinating to avoid confrontation.
That’s not (just) what this is about though. I found out the next day that my friend who asked if I was okay spoke up after I left. He took the man aside and told him that he’d made me uncomfortable with the way he treated me. I didn’t expect him to do this, but even more so, I didn’t expect how much gratitude I’d feel for that small act, that he carried my discomfort for me. He said to me later, “no one deserves to be treated that way.”
Mates, I can’t tell you how much it means to know someone had your back when you felt vulnerable. While it wasn’t comfortable for him to do, he knew it was more uncomfortable for me and felt that something needed to be said. He noticed, and that’s harder than it seems — to notice when something’s not right when you’ve never been in that situation yourself. And then to do something about it. That’s where I fail, not just with myself, but when I notice it happen to others.
I’m not here to give you the moral of this story. I’m not going to say, “men, if you see something, say something.” I think it’s much broader than that. To all of us, when there’s someone more vulnerable than us, and we’re in a position where we can do something, perhaps we should think twice about looking away. Perhaps it’s a reminder that each of us is powerful in some situations and weak in others.
To be thankful that we can have the opportunity to do something for someone else — not for thanks, but because if we’re all silent then when can we expect it to stop?
Anisha is a Third Year JD Student and the 2019 Editor in Chief of De Minimis.