In high school, I used to wait by the music room after school to meet up with my boyfriend. We lived in generally the same direction, so even on nights where we didn’t have plans to hang out, he would walk with me most of the way home.
The elementary school down the street got out around the same time we did, so we would often walk home surrounded by running, screaming, playing kids. One day, as we were walking home, we came across three little boys tormenting a little girl. From a distance, we could see that the little girl was upset, it was written all over her face. It’s not until we got closer, though, that we could hear what the little boys were saying.
The boys were no older than eleven and I was shocked to hear their words. Slut, skank, whore, bitch and cunt. For variety, they added combinations of fucking, stupid and dumbass to the insults they were throwing out. I was shocked into silence, rooted on the spot.
How could these children be treating each other like this? What made them think that this might be acceptable behavior?
My boyfriend, however, jumped into action.
“Hey!” He shouted, but if the boys had heard them, they were ignoring him. In two strides, M had caught up to them and he tried again, this time louder. “HEY! What the HELL are you doing?”
This time, the little asshats stopped their harassment long enough to look around. That’s when they spotted the gangling, 16-year-old standing over them. Their apparent ringleader spoke up first, “Fuck off, you big doofus!”
I held my breath. My boyfriend wasn’t really the fighting type. He was tall, awkward, skinny and yes, most certainly a geek. He wore black plastic framed glasses, plaid shirts and Chucks (apparently he was a hipster before it was cool to be a hipster). He was a writer and a musician and impossible at sports and athletics.
But then again, he was up against a group of pre-teens.
“First off, you can drop the language. Secondly, you can stop assaulting your classmate. You know that’s what you’re doing, right?” He paused. The asshats were looking at him with their mouths hanging open. M didn’t wait for them to formulate a response, “You’re assaulting her and harassing her. That’s against the law. People go to jail for that. It’s disrespectful and it’s not how human beings behave. You don’t believe me? Let’s go talk to your principal about it.”
While M was lecturing the kids, an audience had starting forming around us. Kids from the elementary school, kids from our high school and even a few parents had stopped to watch the commotion. M looked around at the people watching his intervention. And then he tore into them, “And all of you standing around. What the hell is YOUR problem? These boys were acting disrespectfully and you all chose to ignore it, walk by, pretend like it wasn’t happening? Guess what that makes you? Just as terrible at being a human being as these guys,” M gestured to the asshats who were shifting their weight from foot to foot, staring at the ground.
M then turned to the little girl that had been the subject of the torment, “And you. No one should ever treat you the way these guys have today. You got that? It’s not okay. It’s not just a joke. They’re not friends. They’re not teasing you because they secretly have crushes on you, they’re jerks. Don’t give them the time of day. Don’t let their words get to you. Because you’re better than that.”
By the time he was finished, everyone was looking uncomfortable.
After M had stopped into the elementary school to share what had happened with the school’s principal, we continued on our way home in silence. As we neared the corner where we would part ways, I finally spoke up.
“So. You were kinda the White Knight back there. Everyone looked uncomfortable. I even felt uncomfortable.”
“Good,” M smiled, “Everyone should have felt uncomfortable. The only thing worse than being a douchebag is ignoring douchebags. When we ignore stuff like that, it’s like we’re giving our silent approval of the situation. If more people would call idiots like that out, they’d be less likely to do it. Generally speaking, those guys are cowards. That’s why they tend to run in packs.”
M became my hero that day. Not only did he stick up for the little girl when everyone else was passively letting the harassment go on, but he also took us all to task for standing by and letting it happen. I hope that everyone else that was present for it remembers it, too, and that it has changed how they would react if they were ever to come up against a similar situation at some other point in their lives. At the time, I thought it was just an issue kids face.
But it still happens. All the damn time. At work. On the internet. On the street. It takes on different forms, different words are thrown around. But it’s still the same thing, it’s just as hurtful and disrespectful.
So how do we stop it?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this after reading this post by fellow blogger Dominque. I’m at a loss for words, really. And those of you that know me will find that pretty surprising.
We’re all in this together, it’s time we all start realising it.