memoir: do i scare you, bitch?
At work, I’ve had to clean up faeces, urine, and vomit. I’ve been called a cunt and a bitch, been threatened with murder, and told that I’m liable to be torn a new arsehole if I don’t watch myself. I’m not a nurse, a therapist, or a police officer. I work in retail.
I’ve never discovered why I seem to cop so much (literal and figurative) shit. At work, I’m generally polite, amiable, and professional, and have a reasonable amount of expertise in my field. Regardless, I’ve had to develop a thick skin to deflect the taunts and threats. But sometimes, that’s easier said than done. There was the incident with the ‘Cock ’n’ Balls Guy’.
It was a busy day, and a tall, formidable man approached the counter. He wanted to order in a CD.
‘No problem,’ I said. ‘That’ll take approximately two weeks, and should come in at about $25. Of course, I’m happy to just take a $5 deposit today, so you don’t end up being over-charged.’
‘About $25? How come you can’t tell me the exact cost?’
“Well,’ I replied, ‘we haven’t had this particular item before, and between freight and GST I can’t tell you the exact dollar value.’
He responded in a low voice, ‘So how come the MAN I spoke to last week could tell me the exact price? Is it because he was a man, and you’re a girl?’
Gritting my teeth, I said, ‘You may have spoken to the person who actually processes the orders, but unfortunately I can’t contact him for you today.’
‘Dumb bitch. It’s funny how men always know more than women.’
I am not averse to putting someone in their place, and my boss, thankfully, always takes my side, but I also know when it’s safer to politely back away. So, I asked him to leave. When he asked why, I responded that he was being insulting and inappropriate. He then leant towards me and thrust his groin at the counter, spitting on the ledge and yelling, ‘DO I SCARE YOU, CUNT? IS IT BECAUSE I HAVE A COCK AND BALLS?’
I told him I was going to call the police, and apologised to the people behind him. As I reported him, he continued thrusting and yelling, ‘COCK AND BALLS, BITCH! COCK AND BALLS!’
I’m pretty well steeled to this kind of language and behaviour, and didn’t take it personally. The target of the diatribe was women in general, not me, and the man’s behaviour was clearly irrational and was likely caused by a mental health issue. However, the misogynistic undertone of the man’s rage made me feel like I had erred by simply being female.
I was visibly shaken by the encounter. I was half his size and was working alone, and he could easily leap over the counter and even drag me downstairs. But what was more upsetting to me was the fact that there were five or six people in the shop, of varying ages and physiques, and not one of them offered me any assistance. No one approached the man, nor went discreetly to the police station around the corner, nor even asked me afterwards if I was okay.
One of them, a regular customer to this day, stood open-mouthed watching and listening to the entire altercation. He then half-ran out of the store, only to return an hour later (when it was safe) to buy a record. He said nothing. I wondered: if this man had attacked me, would anybody have intervened? I felt doubtful and this in turn made me feel insecure and frightened. Walking home that night, through the poorly lit streets, I felt unsafe and on edge.
Afterwards, I began to ask for lifts from the bus stop so I didn’t have to walk home alone, and saw predators in the faces of too many men. I would outwardly laugh whenever I recounted the story to others but it took me hours to get to sleep at night. Weeks passed in this fashion, until the incident gradually shifted from the forefront of my mind. My anxiety died down, and my fake laughter became real again.
When I think about that day – ‘reminisce’ is too fond a term – I think about what caused him to act the way he did. Of course I will never know, and the reasons could be numerous and complex, from nature to nurture to frayed wiring in the brain. I also think about humankind’s dependence on one another for safety and security. I’m not talking about damsels in distress needing ruggedly handsome men with bulging biceps to rescue them from things that go bang in the night, but about people needing to lean on people. Gender doesn’t necessarily come into play, but civility, good manners and respect do. People, especially women, need to be capable of looking after themselves. But we should also be able to defend others when they can’t defend themselves.
There have been other circumstances when strangers have rushed to my aid. In an incident just outside of work years before, a man approached me. He was manic and grinned broadly, and smelt unwashed.
‘Can I shake your hand, miss?’ he asked. I indulged him with a handshake
‘Can I hug you, miss?’ I decided that a handshake was my limit, and politely turned him down. His smiling face dropped at my response and he raised a hand to strike me, saying, ‘You’re making me hit you…. like the other one.’
His palm was inches from my face when two men grabbed him from either side. One of them said, ‘The lady said no.’ If adrenaline hadn’t been coursing through me, I would have laughed. It was as though Superman himself had rushed to my defence. Again, I wasn’t personally affronted by the experience, just shaken.
This fracas occurred a few years before the events in the record store, but I doubt that societal attitudes towards chivalry, or, to use a less gender-centric term, courtesy, have changed so radically. I think that there are cowardly people, and there are nice people, and there are otherwise-nice people who stand frozen in the face of a raging, frothing woman-hater. It seems that the people in the store were a mixture of these types, and that luck was my leading lady when the two guys on the street helped me out.
Hopefully, if push came to shove, and old mate had jumped the counter or grabbed me, somebody would have intervened. Hopefully if I had broken into tears, somebody would have asked me if I was okay. Perhaps my outward demeanour looked tougher than I felt and observers presumed I didn’t need assistance. Perhaps the lesson lies in trusting not only others but yourself. To be honest, I don’t know. I still haven’t figured it out. Maybe the next person to spit in my face or threaten my life will be able to tell me.