A boring story we have all heard before.

walking home by katy warner

A male passenger in a white van stuck his head out of the window and yelled. At me. I was walking down the street, nearly home after a long day at work when they drove by. A quiet street. My quiet street.

I couldn’t hear the words exactly but I could hear the sound. Like when someone speaks in a foreign language and even though you don’t know what they’re saying, you know what they’re saying. Know what I’m saying? Something in that tone, that leering face, jolted me. He made that certain kind of sound you will sometimes hear certain groups of certain kinds of men make at certain establishments when they have reached a certain level of a certain thing I shall call “jerk-ness”.

I stopped. I turned around, flung my arms in the air, in that Tom Hanks I’m-acting-like-I-can’t-believe-you-just-did-that fashion (which I always thought was kind of unrealistic until I found myself doing it) and watched the van continue on its way. Come back, I thought, come back and have a conversation with me. Get out of the car, look me in the eye, and repeat what you said.

He didn’t. Of course. Even though I knew they could see me, standing there all Tom-Hanks-esque and angry. No, of course they didn’t come back…

This happens from time to time. Most of the time. Because, to some men, when women walk down the street they are not people. Not fellow human beings. We are objects to be objectified. Of course. Yell, whistle, beep the horn.

It is not flattering. It is not funny. It is not harmless.

It is intimidating and pathetic. It is vile.

These are not sincere, heartfelt compliments given from one human to another. These men don’t look you in the eye. They couldn’t.

You never see these cowards again. You never know who they are.

However …

This van was marked with a company name.

I tweeted them.

They got back to me. Quickly. That sort of thing doesn’t look so great on social media.

They were sorry. They wanted more details. They would follow-up. They took this seriously.

Good, I thought.

Then –

The managing director, who was shocked and wanted to call me right away, called me right away.

She had been given a different story.

She thought I should be told the Different Story.

Here it is: A couple of young guys driving to football training with the radio up, singing loudly, having a good time. The passenger is not an employee. The driver is. And he is a great guy. Polite. Hardworking. Finishing his masters degree at a top university. From a good family. He doesn’t remember any incident … But he remembers singing, having a laugh with his friend.

The story ends.

Silence.

And I wait.

Silence.

The managing director takes my complaint seriously. She told me so. Many times. 

And because she Takes This Sort Of Thing Seriously she would have to fire him. He would have to go. Her hands were tied on this one. The company takes a strong stance on this type of thing.

Unless ….

Is there any doubt in your mind? she asked.

Doubt?

Could it have been a couple of guys singing and having harmless fun? she wanted to make sure. 

I heard no music. I heard no singing. I heard a man yell. At me. I saw his face. Hanging out the window. At me. It made me stop. It made me fling my arms in the air. It made me red, it made me shake … 

It made me change the route I walk home. 

If that is this case, she told me, then he would be fired. Will be fired. The company takes a strong stance on this type of thing. Her hands were tied on this one.

But … If there is any chance I was mistaken … well … then she wouldn’t have to fire him. He would get a warning but he wouldn’t be fired. 

I told her again – I didn’t hear what was said even though I knew what was said, you know? (I don’t think she did.) But, yes, I suppose … Doubt.

And that was that.

She thanked me for my considerate handling of the situation.

Considerate.

He would get a warning: A Serious Warning. 

He would write me an apology letter.

I got the letter. I don’t know if he got the warning. 

In the apology letter he wanted me to know he was polite and responsible and goes to a top university and comes from a good family. He wanted me to know he had learnt from the actions he said he had no recollection of.

I didn’t get to tell him I am polite and responsible and went to a top university and come from a good family.

I read his email, keep my head down and my iPod on. Loud.

And that was that.  

Except it isn’t.

It’s not.

Is it?

(PS: I have had this post written for some time but never wanted to publish it until I read Girl in the Hat’s excellent post If I Had a Dollar (Why I Am a Feminist). My story ain’t all that important. It doesn’t even matter in the scheme of things. It doesn’t even register when we consider what other women (and men) deal with on a daily basis. I have dealt with a lot worse but I know I have it a lot better than many, many women (and men) on this planet. This didn’t hurt me. This just made me think; what the hell? But I think what is interesting is my reluctance to post it … Are there any posts you have been reluctant to publish?)

 

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2 thoughts on “A boring story we have all heard before.

  1. Hi Katy,
    I read this post some time ago and commented then, or I thought I did, but I must have clicked a wrong button because it seems my comment didn’t actually post. So I hope you won’t mind if I try again.

    I agree with your sentiment at the end of the story — this should not be the end of this episode. I’m outraged at how the managing director handled the situation, and I’m writing to suggest that you shouldn’t let her and the driver of the van off the hook. I’m not sure how high a managing director is in the organization — pretty high up, I’m guessing — but I bet she has a boss who would be unhappy about the way she treated you. I suggest that you write a letter to the chief executive of the company, or to the board of directors, or both, and explain how the managing director subverted what was designed as a strong policy against such behavior by employees.

    You may feel that too much time has passed since the incident. And maybe it has — maybe the driver doesn’t work there anymore. Maybe the managing director doesn’t. But I hope, for your own sake, you will consider writing a letter that explains exactly what the van driver did and what the managing director did and why they were both wrong. Even if the company takes no further action, it might help you and empower you to confront this behavior, because you’re obviously not happy about the resolution. No one in your situation would be. I know I’m not, and it didn’t even happen to me. But it made me angry to read it, and I believe that unless the two employees are made to confront the truth, they’ll continue to act in this manner.

    You mentioned that the driver wrote an apology (or non-apology, really). I would suggest you write the driver back, too, and explain to him that you don’t accept his apology since he chose to lie rather than admit what happened. You deserve to be treated better than this. All of us do. I hope you’ll forgive me for butting in, but this is a topic that gets me very upset because both my wife and my daughter (who will soon be 25) were raped as teen-agers. I’m sorry to drop a bomb like that into the middle of my comment — I didn’t do it to be shocking but rather to say that my family’s story is all too common the world over. So many women are sexually abused by people they know (as my wife and daughter were — so-called date rape) and the abuser goes unpunished so often that I believe women and the men who love them have an obligation to confront abhorrent behavior.

    Thanks for listening to my two cents’ worth, and I hope I’m not being presumptuous or lecturing here. I’ve been a subscriber to your blog for about a year, and I’ve come to appreciate your sensibility and your keen mind, and it angered me to see you treated so shabbily. The older I get, the more I find myself confronting inexcusable behavior — I’m surrounded by it day in and day out, and I’ve reached a point where I will no longer bite my tongue or sit idly by while awful people ruin things for the rest of us. I live in Texas, where gun nuts have been running amok during the past year, carrying assault rifles into places of business and in public in my neighborhood, and I’ve been involved in several confrontations with them, one in particular last summer that I — like you — have hesitated to write about because I know the death threats that will result. I have written a couple of short pieces about it on my Facebook timeline, but I haven’t given the story a full airing on my blog yet. I have decided to do just that, however, and let the threats fall where they may. I’ve already been threatened on the occasions when I dared to confront them in person and also when I’ve argued with them on social media, and I feel strongly that if right-thinking people don’t take a stand now, it could be too late. As much as I hate to say it, I feel that a time of reckoning and upheaval is coming in America because of the coarseness and violence and mean-spiritedness that seems to be growing here. Good people can no longer stand idly by. I feel likea drama queen writing these things, and yet they’re true.

    Thank you for sharing your story and I hope you will find some peace about what happened. Though you say it is nothing, no big deal, a boring story we’ve all heard before, I disagree. It is a big deal and if such behavior is allowed to continue unchecked, it only grows more bold. Thank you for listening.

    Sonny Bohanan
    Fort Worth, Texas
    USA

    • Hi Sonny,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to write such a thoughtful response. I so appreciate you sharing your story and really have taken on board what you have said (not lecturing whatsoever).

      I am looking forward to reading your blog – what a brave stand you are making. The world needs more people like you.

      All the best to you and your family (what strong women they are). I am following your blog with interest!

      Katy

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