It was a strange coincidence. Feministing posted about this hidden-camera experiment on intimate partner violence on Friday, and then on Saturday I was in the bystander spot myself.
There was a little league game on one end, and the playground on the other, and as I pushed my kids on the swing I noticed a man and a woman behind me arguing. He was younger than me by a few years, about my size. She was sitting, he was on his feet, crouching to yell in her face. He had a metal water bottle in his right hand.
I edged away from my kids on the swing. The families back by the playground have all stopped to see what’s going on, though on the diamond the game continues. I’m walking slowly as the couple drift towards center field. I can glean from the yelling that they’re not together and the woman came to see their son play. The man is agitated, coming right up to yell in her face periodically, but he has not put his hands on her. Forty feet.
A latino granddad catches my eye, eyebrows raised. I think I know which grandson is his; sweet boy. I can’t tell what he’s trying to convey. Nobody is doing anything. He could grab her or swing at her any second. Thirty feet.
There are lots of dads here, a coach at every base and a group at each end of the backstop. I don’t have the luxury of looking over to see if they are paying attention. Twenty five.
He won’t look at me. It’s a pantomine. We, the three of us, are in deep center field. Twenty feet. Nobody else close. This is not the best situation for me. If he swings, or grabs her, I’ll try to take him to the ground, but that’s not my strong suit. All my training is as a striker; punches, kicks, elbows. But with a bunch of guys around, if I lead, they will follow. If I take him to the ground, five dads in baseball caps and khakis will be pulling us apart in maybe eight or ten seconds. If it happens it will happen fast. Both of us are less likely to sustain real damage on the ground. (I’ll pop my stitches, though. Has he noticed the steri strips? If I roll with him, I’ll pop my stitches.)
If the other dads were over here with me, the chance I’d have to use any force at all would go way down. Thanks, guys.
He won’t look at me. He won’t acknowledge that I’m there, but he’s creating distance between him and her. He knows I’m right here but he pretends he doesn’t. Now I’m closer to either of them than they are to each other. He sits on the rock in foul territory in deep left. They’re ten feet apart, still trying to hurt each other, using only words. Too far to hear now, but his ass is glued to that rock like he sat in superglue. I’m pushing two swings. I’m looking up about every seven seconds. I know where he is all the time until the game ends, we’ve packed up, we leave.
Men who abuse tell themselves things. They tell themselves that everyone does it. But we don’t. I don’t. Most of the other dads on the ballfield are, like me, cis, het dudes. And most of them don’t. Whatever their failings, however many times they forget to pick up milk or don’t call when they’re out at the bar with people from work, to most of them putting their hands on their partner in anger would be a big deal, and they don’t do it.
The biggest barrier between minding our business and making a difference, is conveying that. This is not normal, this is not okay, and we’re not going to sit here and pretend it isn’t happening. That’s all it takes. But someone has to lead. Whether it’s saying that the sexist joke is not funny or telling the rapist that he’s not welcome anymore, someone has to be first.