Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tested and Failed

My feminist ethics were tested the other day, and I failed miserably.

Dear Woman who was being verbally abused and frightened by her irrational and irate boyfriend,
I was such a douche (and I mean that in the sense of bearing false advertising and being quite useless) and I'm really sorry and I really hope that guy didn't and doesn't hurt you.

Here is my confession:

Last Sunday I was in my house and heard random male screaming out somewhere on my block. I didn't pay it any attention, as Venice seems like the last haven for every homeless mental patient that our society has conveniently forgotten. There are plenty of crazy men screaming at any given time in this city and I have become de-sensitized to it.

My sister was walking over to meet me for our twilight bike ride on the beach so I went outside to wait for her. About 40 feet away, down my sidewalk, there was a couple arguing. The woman was telling the guy to give her her car keys, and he was screaming at the top of his lungs an inch and a half away from her face. He was accusing her of cheating on him. I stepped out into the sidewalk and glared in their direction, just to let them know that I was there. But then I sat back down on my front steps. This couple was a young, good looking couple. They reminded me of multiple past relationships that I have had (x husband included) where this very same scene played out, in almost the exact same way, and also in public. In fact, this scene has not only been played out by me, but by almost every female friend I've ever had, including my sister, who walked up to my steps at that very moment.

I said, "Is this shit the same fucking yelling I've been hearing for the past 20 minutes?"

"Yes," She shook her head, "I've been behind them almost the entire way to your house."

"Do you think I should intervene?" I'm cautious because honestly, I don't want to get shot or stabbed, and intervening in random folks' business is a good way to get hurt.

She pauses. I'm trying to gauge the situation by running scripts of past experiences where a guy has crossed the threshold from verbal abuse to physical. I think that she is too. She answers. "Yes."

Fuck. I walk out onto the sidewalk again and take a long look. The dude is around 20-23, black, wearing a white v-neck and pinkish-orange shorts. The woman has long dark hair, is young too. White, or hispanic/white maybe. Wearing jean shorts and a black tanktop with flip flops. Both of them are gorgeous. They were standing in front of a black Mercedes. Honestly, if the dude was wearing a crisp blue shirt or a white tanktop with some bright color bandanna or laces, I wouldn't say shit.

"Are you okay?" I call to the woman.

"Oh, yes. He's just..." She has that look on her face that I know so well. That embarrassed, -I can't believe this is happening so I'm going to pretend it's not - look. Still, she instinctively walks towards me.

The man turns towards me to follow her, as she is walking towards me. Fiery eyes are now fixed on me and he shouts, "WHY DON'T YOU JUST MIND YOUR OWN FUCKING BUSINESS!?" I was surprised he didn't call me a bitch.

"Well, you've been yelling in front of my house for the last 20 minutes so now you've made it my business. So, why don't you just give her back her fucking car keys!" I wasn't yelling, but I hardened myself up. In the back of my head I thought, Shit, I am waaaay too out of shape to take this guy on.


She responded, " I didn't do anything!"

She looked at me and shook her head in exasperation. "There was this stupid game on the boardwalk..."


"So what?!" she laughed, "It also said that you were gay!"

Both my sister and I burst out laughing. This infuriated him intensely.


My sister says, "um, hello?, I'm black."


My sister and I burst out laughing again. There is no ambiguity about her race.


"So what?" I rolled my eyes. "I have tattoos too. The reason you're scary is because you're screaming and acting crazy!" Why on Earth was I trying to reason with this guy? He is obviously trapped within his own reality. His behavior was unacceptable for my 7 year old, much less an adult. I began to get angry. This guy was going to make me miss my twilight bike ride too. What is the quickest way I could control the situation? These selfish thoughts led me to break my cardinal rule.

Suddenly, my mom appears from around the back of the house. I knew she would eventually hear the yelling, and I was just glad she wasn't coming from inside where she could get her gun. My mom always has a weapon. This time it was a large, pointy spade. When she saw the irate boyfriend her lips curled back against her teeth and she gripped the spade tighter. I grabbed her by the arm and told her it was okay, to get behind me. In the meantime, the guy had gone back to screaming at his girlfriend. Why wouldn't he just stop?

He was going on and on about how he was all alone, how his family is 5000 miles away and he's trying to fulfill his dream...how even though he was in three movies, it just wasn't good enough for a gold digger like her. She kept asking for her car keys, and he kept trying to get her to go into the car with him. She refused and said straight out that she didn't feel safe getting into the car with him. He then screams and punches a tree, then runs to the car and takes off. She tells me that she bought that car before she met him. I remember when my x husband punched out the front windshield of my new Corolla. This guy goes racing up the street, stops about 50 yards away, then hits reverse, screeching the tires the whole way. He double parks it, and then runs out of the car back towards us. I was baffled. I was done.

"I'm done." I said, "Give her the keys right now or I'm calling the cops!" That is my cardinal rule. Calling the cops. Having been sexually assaulted by a cop before, and the general treatment of people of color or the poor by the police brings me no faith in the LAPD. I swore that I would never call the cops on someone unless my life was in danger. He wasn't listening to me. "Fine! I'm calling them right now!"

"911 emergency..."

"yes, I'm at xxx address and there is this guy who is just being really aggressive to his girlfriend and won't give her back her car keys."

"Okay, calm down." What the fuck? I was calm. I walked a few feet away so that I could hear better, as the guy was still screaming at his girlfriend. My goal was to scare him into giving her the keys by calling the cops. However, I didn't think it through because he was imploring her to leave with him because I was calling the cops.

Suddenly, I noticed that both of my neighbors had arrived home and everything started moving really fast. Two roommate bachelors, white guys, mid 30's. Not very likable or unlikeable, but I never really talk to them. I was vaguely aware of what they were doing while simultaneously on the phone with the police operator, who had a condescending tone in her voice already.

"Ma'am, what do you mean, being really aggressive?" there was that tone again.

"I mean, he's not hitting her but he's yelling and screaming in her face."

"What is his race?"

What the fuck? I thought of Oscar Grant. "Um...I don't think that's important, I think you just need to send a car over here now."

"Ma'am! I can't send anyone out until you give me a proper description. Now I need to know his race!"


She made one of those exasperated breathing noises. She began to say something about a gang of young, male, mexican perps with white T-shirts tagging in the area or something, but my attention was now on one of the neighbors I recently mentioned.

He had money in his hand and he was holding it out and booming in a loud voice, " I WILL GIVE YOU MONEY TO GO AWAY AND TAKE THIS SOMEWHERE ELSE." His tone was also very condescending. He was treating them like hood rats.

"Ma'am! Can you at least tell me what he is wearing?"

"Pink shorts!"

Now both neighbors were yelling. At both of them. The one who looks like James Spader says that he doesn't want this shit in his front yard and they need to get the fuck off.

The tall neighbor with a missing tooth turns to glare at the woman. "THIS IS YOUR FAULT TOO FOR BEING SO PASSIVE AND JUST STANDING THERE! WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU, HUH?"

He was shaming her, and I guess she probably looked to me for support, but then saw that I was on the phone with the cops. Her boyfriend was not yelling at her anymore, but pleading with her to go. She let him grab her by the hand and lead her back to the black car.

"Well now they're leaving because you took so long with this race bullshit!" I screamed into the telephone before hanging up.

So she left with him. And I let her go. After she had stated earlier that she did not feel safe getting in the car with him she ended up doing it anyway. And I am partially responsible for that. I should have just had her come inside and offered her a ride home. Why didn't I do that?

My mom looked at my sister and I and said, "Who knew that the neighbor was such a passive aggressive asshole?"

My sister looked at me and said, "Why did you call the cops?"

I shrugged, "C'mon, let's go on this bike ride before the police really do get here." I did not want to talk to them, but they never did come. Even though I gave them the address.

Sometimes the Universe sends you a test. To see if you can walk your talk. And sometimes you fail (and by you I mean me).


haveyouseenthisgirl said...


even though I read this a month ago, I still think about it sometimes and I´ve come back to leave a belated comment.

It´s sad for me that your summary of the whole experience is that you failed.

You didn´t fail an individual, maybe it was beyond individual support. For me it feels more like your community failed you. You couldn´t call the police and your neighbours acted like Twats. To solve a problem like aggression takes more than one person, because acting alone makes you the focus of the force too. If you´d had help you could have taken much more effective action.

Hope this is understood, I´m not used to making long comments on blogs, let alone vaguely constructive ones - I know there´s plenty of different ways to be misunderstood on the internet.

I suppose I´m saying that it´s not about whether you failed or not, it´s that the test shouldn´t exist in the first place.

Sloth Womyn said...

Hey - thanks for the supportive comment. I agree that the test should not exist, and part of the sadness is that all of my friends have gone through this at some point or another with a man. I think the statistics for abuse is so much higher than we think. They say 1 out of 3 and I say it's more like 3 out of 3. If I could do this situation again, I would simply invite her inside the house and offer her a ride home. Why on Earth I didn't at the time is beyond me.