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May 24, 2010

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.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Katelyn permalink
    May 24, 2010 3:41 pm

    So this kind of made my day. Not so much the link to the rather depressing feministing article, but being able to read an account and know that there’s at least one guy out there who utterly and completely gets it. I’m a high school senior and I’ve got Yes Means Yes on my bookmarked list of sites I check daily when I get home from school. Because at school I not only have to explain to people what being a feminist even means, I have to debunk ideas that feminism is somehow extreme or promotes matriarchal inequality. My friends are “sick” of hearing about rape statistics and I get flack for hating rape jokes when I’m down with pretty much any kind of bawdy or possibly-offensive humor.

    Umm, I didn’t mean to monologue. I just wanted to let you know I really love this site, particularly the posts you make. Knowing there are some men out there who care about “women’s issues” is great.

    Also, about the WWYD show – ABC news has been doing WWYD spots on . . . I think it was Dateline for a while. In pretty much every situation they’ve come up with (I particularly recall a group of white actors pretending to beat up a Hispanic actor outside a bar, where only seven people out of 99 who saw the incident bothered to call 911) the interference was extremely low. So I don’t know if it’s so much a reluctance to interfere in domestic violence specifically as much as it’s a reluctance to interfere in any kind of violent or uncomfortable situation at all.

    • May 26, 2010 9:35 am

      Hmm, that’s interesting. I didn’t realize there was an entire series of WWYD situations set up and filmed. It’s interesting, but at the same time kind of perverse.

  2. Frances permalink
    May 24, 2010 5:46 pm

    It’s intersting that the bystanders were waiting for physical violence in order to intervene. Verbal abuse is still abuse. If the abuser was standing over her and yelling in her face, with a heavy object in his hand, that would be considered a physical threat. Because you mentioned it was clear they were not together, it would be appropriate to intervene at any time after you realized what was going on, letting him know that it’s not ok to talk to someone that way, regardless of the setting, and that he needs to treat the people around him with a little more respect, regardless of the issues they are dealing with. If you had any opportunity to speak to the woman without him present, you might give her the number for a local DV agency that offers walk-in services, and leave it at that so that she is able to take further action if she so desires. The National DV Hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE

  3. May 24, 2010 11:17 pm

    I was in a similar situation the other day, except it was with a mother and her child. I was at the Boston Children’s Museum, and a woman lifted her daughter by the arm and swung her around a little to fling her onto a bench. She did this because her daughter had accidentally bumped into another kid. It was very rough, and I wanted to scream out, “You could pop her joints right out of the socket like that!” but I didn’t.

    I’m still not sure I did the right thing. I feel like I failed to do anything at all. I gave the mother A Look to try and convey that her behavior was unacceptable, but I don’t know if it meant anything to her.

    I always worry that, if I say something in such situations, the abused person will just get it worse when they’re all at home.

  4. May 25, 2010 11:17 pm

    You are made of like ten kinds of awesome. Awesome with awesome sauce as my husband would say. You are like my blog hero of the day.

  5. aminah permalink
    May 26, 2010 5:22 pm

    As I mentioned in previous posts, humiliation is an excellent strategy in getting weak men under control. By simply presenting yourself as disapproving of this boy’s behavior you “knocked him down a few pegs”.

    If this was the consistent respond from at least 80% of men, violence against women would stop. These bullies can’t feel superior when everyone looks at their behavior as inferior.

  6. May 26, 2010 11:26 pm

    this is great. I came upon the same WWYD episode, and found it shocking. And the thing is… being a woman, I might have been afraid to act before, but it was kinda encouraging to see the two women take on one of the guys; but i was still thinking that physically intervening would not end well for me. Turns out it isn’t always necessary?

    Also, blog now bookmarked. Found it through someone’s suggestion of the book, which I hope to get around to reading soon 🙂

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