Years and years and years ago, I was at the luge thing in Rotorua with my husband and his dad and his youngest sister. She was still at school. We’d gone down to visit his family friends in Tauranga for Pesach. We were waiting in the luge queue and this guy, quite a large imposing guy, pushed in front of us with his family. Not immediately in front of us, there was someone else between us. It was blatant. He said to his kids something like “long queue, come on let’s go in here”. I saw it, and turned to my husband and said “did you see that guy just full on cut in there?” I didn’t expect to be overheard.
He turns around and says to me “I didn’t cut in”, really loudly, really aggressive – and I’m flabbergasted at his ballsiness and I’m like “yeah, you clearly did”.
And he’s all puffed up and red in the face and says “I did NOT”.
And his wife looks like she wants to turn into a tiny creature and skulk away.
And I’m like “uh, you did. It’s not like I can do anything about it, but you totally did”.
And my father in law says “maybe you saw wrong” and I glowered internally. (But I also thought – maybe I did see wrong? Even though I knew what I saw.)
And the guy looks at me with disgust and says “stupid bitch”.
Did I mention he had two small daughters standing right there looking on?
And I said “wow, calm down”. And he said “you just fuck off all right?”.
My father in law looked anxious. My husband looked like he had no idea what to say but maybe also wanted to dissolve into the floor.
In the car afterwards, my father in law, who never shies away from sharing his wisdom, said “sometimes, even when you think you’re right, it’s best not to make a fuss”. And I thought of the daughters watching and I thought maybe they don’t see people standing up to their dad very often. Maybe they’ve never seen a young woman hold her ground against him.
No-one else in the crowded line said anything, even when he called me a bitch, even when he told me to fuck off.
Reading all the domestic violence stuff in the Herald lately reminded me of this experience (others have provided the needed counterpoint to the Veitch piece that should never have been published, so I won’t do that here). There is a lot of suggestion in comments that victims should stand up to abusers, should seek help, leave, extricate themselves. This sentiment exists even among those who should know better – who cite the stats that show women are most likely to be killed during a separation, for example. And I thought of the luge thing for two reasons. First, he was so aggressive that in later years after I knew more about violent dynamics, I worried he might have taken things out on his family later. Second, no-one else came to back me up even when he was getting really angry and despite the obvious mismatch in our size, where he was clearly threatening. People in the very crowded queue pretended it wasn’t happening. Even though the stakes were so low for their intervention. He wasn’t likely to attack anyone in a crowded line with hundreds of people right there. And the bystanders were strangers, who had nothing to lose by calling him out – no ongoing relationship to protect, no risk of future retribution. But no-one did. Despite living in a culture where aggressive behavior in public is ignored, there remains a strong expectation that the victims of aggressive behavior – including deadly violence – have the primary responsibility to defend themselves. Instead of a community responsibility to make respectful interaction an unbreakable norm.