Desperate for desserts, I ducked into a No Frills supermarket after school with my two daughters in tow. Confidently, they walked the aisles asking for things to which I repeatedly said, no. Jumping up and down, they found a pumpkin pie and I said, yes.
We lined up at the self-checkout since we only had two things (whipped cream was a must!). My eldest daughter stood in the line clutching the frozen monstrosity while I stood a little to the side so people could get past.
As the line moved inch by inch a large, broad shouldered man, complete with Fonzie leather jacket and thinning grey hair came up behind her, having joined the line from another aisle when the line actually went around the corner. He shifted from side to side, looked around and then approached my daughter. Looming over her threateningly with an aggravated expression, he accused her of pushing in.
She looked up at him with her beautiful blue eyes, holding a pie that was almost bigger than herself and shook her head. She told him plainly, “No, I didn’t.”
He crammed himself well into her personal space, a good foot or more taller than her and asked, “are you sure about that?”
Without flinching, she said, “Yes. I’m sure.”
My girl was holding her ground, unafraid and unmoved. The man’s eyes scrunched and he moved closer, anger starting to boil over.
I watched this exchange with a fast-beating heart. Proud of my daughter for standing up for herself but also highly aware of this large man and the threat he posed to her safety.
So, what did I do?
I gently took her arm and pulled her out of the line. I said to the man, “You go ahead. We’re not in any rush.”
Nostrils flared he shoved his way forward and took our place in the line.
As we paid for our items and walked to the car, I was left wondering, why did I do that? And, was it the right thing to do?
For a woman, this is not an easy question to answer. Many of you reading might be wondering why I didn’t tell the man to back off and allow my twelve year old to stand her ground. She was in the right. She was doing what I’d raised her to do; be a strong, assertive young woman. But here’s where it gets tricky…
Let’s start with why I did it.
I am almost one hundred percent sure a man in the same situation would not do what I did. I knew my daughter hadn’t pushed in line, but I behaved as if she had. The simple fact of the matter is, this big angry man was looming over my daughter threateningly. Did I think there was a possibility, however slight, that he might harm her? Yes. Sadly, more often than not, the answer is yes. So, I folded. Men have the power to do that. Simply with their larger forms. Physical intimidation. In my mind, it was not worth even the slimmest chance that this could escalate. It is ridiculously unfair. Stupidly backward. And I felt small and weak for doing it. My daughter was confused, but she played along. Asking me once we’d left the store, why I let the man push in front of us. I simply said it wasn’t worth the risk of him getting angry. That’s the thing with men like this. The words risk and angry go together. Because him getting angry posed a risk to my daughters and to me.
Now, was it the right thing to do?
Honestly, I’m still wrestling with it. The simple answer is, no. I cannot preach assertiveness and standing up for yourself and then allow a man to push past us simply by using his size and tone to threaten. BUT, the complicated answer to was it the right thing to do, is yes and maybe. Yes, because I saw a threat to my daughter’s safety and as her mother, her protector, I did what was needed to remove her from any possible harm. Maybe, because maybe he wouldn’t have hurt her. Maybe he would have simply used verbal abuse to express his anger, maybe he would have abided my emphatic little twelve year old and stepped back in line. But maybe isn’t good enough, I couldn’t risk her safety on a maybe.
Perhaps, the maybe we should be looking at is, maybe this man shouldn’t have been threatening a young girl in the first place. What need was there, even if he thought he was right, to act this way in front of a child? But he was in that male privilege position. He could just take what he wanted because no one was going to stop him.
I come back to it again, should I have stopped him?
I still can’t decide. Morally, yes, no question. But physically, realistically, if he had decided to do something to us, we’d be stuffed.
And he knew it.
I welcome discussion on this subject very much as I still can’t quite decide what was the right thing to do in this scenario. Maybe there isn’t a right or wrong. All I know is, I hated being put in the position in the first place.