When my youngest daughter the Little Chef stood up to an example of Everyday Sexism, she soon discovered she wasn’t alone. Sometimes all you need is an invitation.
I was admiring my new First Dog on the Moon t-shirt when my youngest daughter the Little Chef came home with a tale that simultaneously chilled and thrilled me.
She was out with her friends in Brisbane’s party precinct Fortitude Valley when she saw a young woman cowering against a wall while a large man, presumably her boyfriend, leaned over her shouting abuse.
He had one hand on the wall next to her head and was leaning in close over her as he shouted into her face.
It wasn’t a quiet back street or a remote corner of a bar but out in the middle of the Friday night melee, with people all around going about their business as if nothing untoward was occurring.
As my daughter walked past she caught the woman’s terrified eye. “I don’t know why I did it really, but I just held out my hand to her,” said the Little Chef who stands shorter than I do at 5ft nothing.
Turns out the woman needed nothing more than an invitation.
She took my daughter’s hand and went with her, leaving the enraged boyfriend standing speechless as the Little Chef guided her to a taxi and made sure she had enough money to get home.
As they walked away, my daughter heard someone, a man, say, “Thank God, that girl’s rescued her.”
Let me tell you, the urge to berate my tiny daughter for putting herself at risk was a difficult one to suppress but I did it, and quietly gave my own thanks that the abuser didn’t hurt her.
The next morning on the bus she witnessed another example of men behaving badly.
An older man, in his 60s she guessed, boarded the bus and sat down next to a young woman, one seat in front of Chef.
He leaned in close and touched the woman’s shoulder and asked her what sort of day she’d been having and how old she was. Clearly flustered and embarrassed, she told him she was 17.
Then he asked her if she’d shaved her legs that morning.
Fresh from her earlier rescue effort, my daughter said she was ready to jump in at the next inappropriate remark.
She didn’t have to. At that moment they reached the next stop and a middle-aged man got up from the rear of the bus. As he passed the older man he leaned in close and grabbed his shoulder.
“How you doing, mate?” he asked loudly.
“What sort of a day have you been having? How does it feel when someone invades your space and touches you without permission?”
As he left the bus the man turned to the driver and said, “There’s a bloke back there causing trouble. You might want to think about throwing him off.”
The old boy sat quiet as a mouse for the rest of the journey, said Chef, in the classic pose of the chastened male, hunched over with his hands protectively over his crotch.
As the young woman left the bus a few stops later another passenger, a woman who was also alighting, paused to make sure she was ok before going on her way.
How does a mum respond when her 20-year-old baby girl comes home with two such tales? Luckily, First Dog was at hand. I showed her my new t-shirt which depicts one of my favourite cartoonist’s best works.
You can see it at Crikey here (definitely NOT safe for work) and I’ve linked to it before. It’s called ‘Walking down the street’ and graphically depicts the verbal abuse that women universally seem to experience with depressing frequency.
She’d seen it before too but she read it again all the way through and she was crying when she finished.
“I always cry when I read that cartoon,” she said.
Me too. That’s why I wanted it on a t-shirt.
Little Chef and I are in agreement. First Dog’s cartoon moves us to tears because it’s a man pointing out these things which all women know but too few men acknowledge.
Neither she nor I is in need of a hero. We’re not waiting for a Knight in Shining Armour to leap to the rescue. But it’s important to both of us, young and not-quite-so-young, to know that there are men standing with us, prepared to lend their arms in the struggle for simple and straightforward respect.
This Valentine’s Day Eve Ensler, she of the Vagina Monologues and the annual V-Day, is organising a Rising.
One Billion Rising – representing the one billion women in the world who are estimated to be survivors of abuse – is calling for women and those who love them to “WALK OUT, DANCE, RISE UP, and DEMAND an end to this violence.”
What does One Billion Rising look like? To me, it looks a lot like a Little Chef reaching out her hand to a woman in need. And a lot like a man on a bus calling out everyday sexism when he sees it.
It looks a lot like women and the men who love them standing together against a culture which demeans and damages us all, while destroying far too many of us.
Sometimes all you need is an invitation.
Here’s one, written by the wonderful Ensler, a Man Prayer, which also has the power to make a woman cry.