Stop Male Abuse When It’s Happening…Maybe?
Updated: May 1, 2022
How feminist was I, really, when the shit hit the fan?
Photo by Anete Lusina on Pexels
“Get out! GET OUT! You’re going to get arrested!”
There was a kerfuffle of some sort. I don’t know what else to call it. I was poised at my apartment door, peering through the peephole. I couldn’t see anything. The couple in the hall weren’t in my line of sight.
Something maybe knocked or thrown around. But not, I thought, a human body. Hard to tell.
I suspected it was the young girl in my wing. I didn’t know her, I had only seen the back of her head once, following her down the hall.
I couldn’t see or hear the man, but she clearly wanted him to leave. Was he her boyfriend? A friend? Some guy she’d picked up and poorly chosen to allow into the building?
Would I be wasting 911’s time if I called? I hadn’t heard clear sounds of actual violence, nor real fear yet in her voice.
“If you ever hear something that sounds like a domestic disturbance, Nicole, call the police! You don’t know how many times, when J was threatening me years ago, that I was backed up against the wall praying to God someone had heard what was going on and was calling the cops.”
That’s what my roommate told me thirty years ago, when we shared a house in a small town in Connecticut. She had gotten out of a long-term abusive relationship and was living in peace with myself and her two children.
I called 911.
CC0 2.0 image by Drew Mackie on Flickr
I wasn’t sure if I should have, but after I hung up things escalated.
Loud whispers I couldn’t quite make out except for the occasional, “Get out! Get out!” They were still in the hall. I could hear the man’s voice but not if he was threatening her. He didn’t sound like a criminal, at least, like a street tough. My guess was that he was middle-class.
My own fears kicked in. What would I do? They wouldn’t know who called 911 but I’d be a suspect as one of the apartments in that end of the hall who could hear.
What if she was now in real danger?
“How feminist are you, really, Nicole?”
What was I going to do?
Would I cower and hide in my apartment? Would I call 911 again? A little voice piped up. Not my old roommate’s.
“How feminist are you really, Nicole? How truly committed are you to stopping male abuse? If a woman is in danger, can you put your money where your mouth is and STOP IT?”
It was that sort of come-to-Jesus moment about what you really believe in.
How committed was I to stopping abuse if I could?
What if I did something RIGHT NOW to stop it? They’d know who I am. They’d know who called 911. They’d know where I live. And if the man, who I didn’t think lived in our building, came back for me, he only had to consult the tenants board at the entrance of the building to find my apartment number and last name.
The sounds of physical disturbance grew louder. Now I wasn’t sure if the muffled thumps and thuds were objects or a body. But the woman now sounded really scared and like she was in immediate danger and even if I called 911 again they wouldn’t get there in time.
What was I going to do?
The shit was hitting the fan. It was up to me.
I left the chain lock in place as I opened the door just enough to yell, “GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE RIGHT NOW, BUDDY-BOY! LEAVE HER ALONE! DON’T TOUCH HER! I’VE CALLED 911 AND THE COPS ARE ON THEIR WAY RIGHT NOW! GET OUT OF HERE RIGHT NOW!”
“Oh God, now you’ve got to go!” the girl hissed. “Come on, go, leave, before they get here!”
I heard the stairwell door open and close. She was safe.
Now I was terrified. For myself.
NICE JOB YOU DUMB BITCH! What if he comes after me?
What do you do when the shit hits the fan?
I don’t call myself a feminist anymore because I associate it too much with the fragile, easily triggered, misandrist, ‘patriarchy’-obsessed, chronically aggrieved perma-victims of the modern age. But that night I came to Jesus as my old-school feminism, the kind that taught women empowerment rather than relentless powerlessness, kicked in. I put my money where my mouth was. I shat rather than get off the pot.
I’ve criticized other women for being too weak and ‘nice’ and putting up with too much shit. When that young girl told that guy he had to leave, I wondered why she had a tone to her voice indicating she still liked or accepted him in some way. She was young, and prone to bad judgment. But I knew what I was going to say to her in the (extremely unlikely) event that she ran into me and told me next time, to mind my own business.
“Don’t ever tolerate that sort of shit from a man. I don’t know who he is or what he means to you but you need to get him out of your life RIGHT NOW if you haven’t already. NEVER allow a man to treat you like that! If you allow him back into your life you’re giving him tacit permission to abuse you again. Stop it NOW before it’s too late!”
Women have choices when it comes to men. They have more power than they know. Too many identify with the politics of powerlessness and victimhood and this near-mythical patriarchy thingy as an excuse to ignore their own role in their personal safety. I want women to know they have the power to decide who they’ll allow into their lives. That the earlier you eject a toxic male, the better your chances of survival.
I called 911 again. It was hard for me to talk because my thoughts were a muddle. Focus, I told myself. This is no time to lose your head. Speak.
When I got off the phone, I was shaking like a leaf. I called one of my closest friends, a man. I told him what happened. I wondered if I’d just put my own life in danger. My limbic system went wild imagining all the ways this could backlash on me.
My friend didn’t think my life was likely in danger, he thought the fact that the guy left immediately and didn’t yell anything back belligerently indicated that I probably scared him. That made me feel better. My friend knew how a man was likely to think and act in that situation, even though he himself was the least violent guy I knew.
He said I should be more vigilant, maybe not take the elevator with strangers and use the stairs more. Which I already do anyway.
I messaged my old Connecticut roommate on Facebook and told her what happened, to see if she had any additional advice. Once the stress hormones diminished I began to feel stronger, in a very Don’t Fuck With Me kind of way. I knew most people didn’t want a confrontation, and I’d taken a calculated risk based on the sound of the man’s voice and judged him to not likely be a physical risk to me. I began to feel proud of myself for doing something ballsy and letting the guy know that someone was willing to stop him.
My Connecticut friend said it was good I didn’t step out into the hall where I could get hurt.
It got me thinking about how often we women say to each other, “But you could have gotten hurt!” when a man is involved.
But…how far are we willing to go to stop male abuse? How much are we willing to stand up to male power?
When a smaller man confronts a much bigger male bully we think that’s heroic and brave. George McFly. My Bodyguard. The Karate Kid. When a woman does it we think she’s crazy or stupid. You could get hurt!
Maybe they’re right. I don’t know.
What would I do if the man confronted me? I’d thought I might pull the generational thing on him since I’m old enough to be his mother and give him the Angry Mom’s what-for for treating a woman like that and scaring her. After all, he’s far less likely to own a gun, being Canadian, if he’s not a street kid. He might have a knife, but probably not. And he might be cowed by an older woman who shows she’s not as easily threatened as a naive young girl and who’s yelling in his face that when a woman tells you to leave, you fucking leave. No means no!!!
That’s how the scenario plays in my head, anyway. I have no idea what I’d have done if he’d confronted me. I might be too terrified to do anything except try to slink past him.
Photo by Ilya Cher on Unsplash
What would you have done?
I offer my story with no suggestion as to how you might have handled it, or ‘should have’.
That’s what I did, for better or for worse. I think I did the right thing because nothing bad happened afterward. I was more vigilant as my friend suggested and I kept an eye peeled for strange young men in the building. All the worst-case scenarios my fevered limbic system conjured up never came to pass.
Had he confronted me, and hurt me, I might well feel differently.
I don’t know if there is a best way to handle these things. I mentally went through an escalation of events that night: A woman who couldn’t get a man to leave. Who began to sound scared. Something that might have been someone being assaulted, if not necessarily O.J.-scary. Then, a woman who sounded like she was in immediate physical danger and with no one around to help except me. If something had happened to her it would be my fault!
Maybe in the end I just couldn’t live with that. I don’t know.
I make no judgments on women who might have done differently. Who put their own safety first. I can’t blame anyone for that extremely personal decision.
But I feel a little stronger and a bit more powerful. I haven’t seen the girl down the hall since then and I hope she makes better companionship decisions in the future. When 911 showed up I listened once again at the door and she sounded okay, her voice was placating. She didn’t sound like she’d been traumatized by a physical assault. I hope she was at least a little embarrassed. I know I would have been, and wouldn’t have wanted anyone calling the police on me again.
That’s what I did. What would you have done?
How feminist are any of us when the shit hits the fan with a violent man?