I have come to believe God stopped making men capable of confidence and decisive action some time in the late 70's. Twice in the last two weeks three men have watched another man act aggressively towards me and said and done nothing.
Today when I arrived at the station to wait for my train there was a smelly and bedraggled young man with his pants and underwear halfway down his thighs. He was hunched over and drooling. Wanting to give my fellow man the benefit of the doubt, I at first assumed he was an itchy drug addict so out of it he wasn't aware of his surroundings. About 30 seconds later I realized he was in fact masturbating. I tried to ignore it, but I couldn't. I looked at the three men waiting with me for the train and they were staring at their phones. They glanced at the guy but each time they went back to their phones. So I loudly in my best angry mom voice said ,"Get your hands out of your goddamn pants! I don't care what you think you're doing. Stop or I'm calling the police." He kept doing it but moved behind the pillar. So I said even louder, "That's it! I gave you a choice. Calling the cops." At which point he did take his hands out of his pants, and pulled them up. He then glared at me and took two deliberate steps towards me. I took THREE steps towards him, slowly shaking my head. I intently said, "Don't. You have more to lose than I do." He paused for maybe three seconds and then sat down with his hands folded in his lap.
Now before you accuse me of being brave, in my right pocket I had my self-defense stabbing key chain and in my left I had my taser. And I assure you I had both hands in my pockets. I was also wearing sneakers and fully prepared to run. But I read the situation correctly and didn't have to run. A few minutes later the train came. I found a seat and put in my headphones. My plan was to listen to music and shake the whole thing off. But then I felt some dude staring at me and trying to get my attention.
Man: So that was crazy. I was going to say something.
Me: Hmm. Couldn't tell.
Man: Well I was.
Me: (sarcastically) I'm sure you were
Man: (angrily) What's your problem? He might have been armed
Me: Yeah. With the same weapon I assume is in your pants. But whatever dude. It's over. So...yeah.
He didn't let it go and there was a bit more back and forth in which I accused him of watching too much TV. Drug addicts are usually pretty docile and content to only hurt themselves. And public masturbators aren't known for their violence. But at each turn I reiterated that I would like to have had the help, but it obviously wasn't required. Finally when I was done discussing it and just wanted to watch a funny youtube video on my phone I said, "Listen! If you want me to say it is cool you didn't do anything, you'll be waiting until the robot apocalypse. Not going to say it. But it also doesn't matter what I think. I don't know you. You shouldn't care what I think." And I put in my headphones and put up my hand in the STOP gesture when he tried to continue the conversation.
I was tired and annoyed and I don't tolerate public masturbation. If I die feel free to put it on my headstone "Here lies, D.C. Martin. Daughter, Sister, Friend, Advocate against jerking off in public" If those dudes could put up with it...well...bully for them. I haven't expected a man to consistently and reliably have my back since my father died when I was 18. But just because I don't expect it, that doesn't mean that I don't want it. And I feel hideously old-fashioned.
We exaggerate the danger in this world to the point that people are afraid to act. Could that guy have had a gun or knife? Possibly. But it was really unlikely. And I can't live my life being disgusted four feet away from a man yanking it. I work hard. And I don't have an easy life. I deserve moments of peace. And I don't ask myself to endure unnecessary indignities. And everyone else at that stop deserves dignity and peace too. So why was I the only one who said anything? Why were those three men so afraid of being cursed out, punched, or in some way minimally harmed that they'd rather just sit there and be victims? What kind of person, not even man, but person, is too afraid at the very least to call the police for help. I had already stood up and said something, all the men had to do was stand next to me, or behind me. They could've even just sent a text to the "See something, Say something" number. But they did nothing.
Something similar happened at my book club last week. A guy was bullying some women. I said something. The men sat silently, or nervously laughing. And later they said "I was going to say something..." But they didn't. Of course they didn't. And when I don't let them use feminism as an excuse to stand by and do nothing they get pissy. Feminism means we stand up to wrongs TOGETHER. It doesn't mean we cower and give up together. I have an illustrative example that I use to help men understand the difference between chauvinism and support. In her book Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, Gloria Steinem tells a story about arriving home after a long and stressful trip to find her boyfriend had sent a car to the airport to pick her up and drive her home. There is no doubt that Gloria was fully capable of getting herself home, she didn't need him to send that car. She wouldn't have just stood there like a kid not picked up from pre-school. But as she slid into that car and leaned her head back and closed her eyes exhaling she felt appreciated, supported, and loved. Her boyfriend wasn't oppressing her, or controlling her. He was being a partner and a friend.
There is nothing in this world that I want or need, that I need a man to provide for me. But I'm exhausted. A little help would be nice. I can protect myself from public masturbators and alpha male bullies. But any man who sees me in distress is welcome to help. And if he doesn't help, he can expect me to be disappointed and a bit too overworked to make him feel better about himself for being fearful and useless.
I started this post by saying that this inaction and fear is something I'm noticing universally in men younger than myself. And that is because it seems to so far to be isolated to those men. Elderly men, middle-aged men, and the men I know my age have always either helped me out or backed me up without fail. People tease me about only dating old guys. But it isn't only that we share a love of whiskey, baseball, and books about war. It is about the moment when I'm angry or scared and I look to my man and he isn't staring at his phone.