Monday, April 4, 2011

When to Speak Up

There are times when I wonder when I should speak up, and when I should stay silent. In Chicago in particular, it's not typically a good idea to confront people you don't know, because you never know what they're capable of. I've witnessed fights in the street, the laundry room, restaurants, etc., and it never ends well.

A few days ago, I was in a coffeehouse that I don't go to very often. I don't go there very often because there is a group of obnoxious people who go there every day and stay for hours. They act as if they own the place; they talk loudly and have no consideration for people like me who just want to enjoy their coffee in peace. I don't expect cafes to be quiet, but I do think that people shouldn't talk loudly enough for the whole place to hear them.

That day, however, I heard them talking about a story that has gotten a lot of attention in the news lately. Two police officers are in trouble because a woman accused one of them of assaulting her. I heard one of the men in that group of disruptive customers say, "She probably enjoyed every minute of it." I didn't hear any of the other people in that group contradict him.

What he said filled me with rage. I wanted to flip over their table and throw my coffee in their faces. I wanted to scream at them at the top of my lungs. I wanted to tell that "man" that he had no right to say that. I wanted to tell him that he was offensive, insensitive, and heartless, and I wanted to grab his collar and throw him out of the cafe with all the strength that I had.

But I didn't. I turned around and glared at them, and one of them stared right back at me. But I didn't say anything. I wish that I had spoken up.

I am not trying to badmouth those police officers who are in trouble. (On the other hand, if they are guilty of that crime, then they should be prosecuted and convicted for it.) Let me just say that I respect the Chicago Police Department; whenever I see them patrolling the streets and the subway stations, I feel safe. The police officer's job is one of the most difficult jobs anyone could have, and the police force as a whole do not get as much recognition as they deserve. But I also have sympathy for that woman.

Once I was walking around in the South Loop and I noticed a man following me. I stopped in front of a Starbucks, hoping that he would pass me by. But he came right up to me, grabbed my arm, and tried to drag me off with him. I started screaming and broke away from him, and he just wandered off. It was the middle of the day, with dozens of people around. Not one of them stopped to ask me if I was okay, as I stood there, shaking. I think that a lot of them didn't even notice.

There have been other men who followed me on the street, and there was one man who leaned in and tried to kiss me before I ran away from him. There have been men who have reached out to stroke my arm or my hair on the train. There have been men who make every kind of explicit comment to me that you could think of, and who yell insults at me when I ignore them. There was one man who took his pants off and exposed himself to me on a mostly empty train, right before I ran off the train. I'm afraid to go out by myself at night, because it's not always safe. I have never enjoyed any of that despicable harassment from any of those disgusting "men". But I have never been assaulted.

Even though I haven't been, I still think that that man in the coffeehouse was WRONG to say what he said. I know that freedom of speech is one of Americans' most valued rights, and I can understand why this right is important. But that doesn't mean that what that man said was okay. It was far from okay.

I spoke to the manager of the cafe. He said that if they were ever offensive to me personally, then he would speak to them. He said he couldn't control what they said, but he did say that he would ask them to keep it down next time. But I still feel anger towards those obnoxious customers.

Normally I try to be funny and ironic in my posts. But this is one case where I don't think anything is funny about the situation.


  1. This is a case where you need to speak up then! Exercise your right to free speech! Talking to the manager will accomplish absolutely nothing. If you have a problem with someone, you need to be the one to express that problem and why. You should have gone over to their table and said, "Excuse me, I don't mean to bother you, but I feel offended by what you've said about a rape victim enjoying the way she was treated. Perhaps you've watched too much porn where the women appears to enjoy such treatment, but in real life, that is rarely the case. How would you feel if someone did that to your mother? Would it be okay for me to say that she enjoyed it?" If you approach him in the right way, he's going to feel like an idiot, but too shameful to do anything about it. Be strong! Speak up!

  2. Hi mmarinaa,
    You're right. I have the right to free speech too, and I think that if those guys say something offensive like that again, I'll say something. Otherwise, I just might end up knocking over their table.

  3. As a woman, I am personally offended by what those assholes said. Blaming a rape victim IS personally offensive, stupid café manager. No, café managers can’t necessarily control what people say, but they can control how loudly they say it, if it is offensive in any way. No one should have to hear that shit. Also, you can talk with your wallet and try not to give that café your business if you can help it.

    You need to buy pepper spray. Immediately. It won’t completely obliterate the awful people, but it will make you feel safer. I’ve never had to use mine, thank God, but I did once show it to a guy who was following me and he backed off.

  4. Hi No Way Cupid,
    I don't think I'll ever understand why that guy said that; he was wrong to say it and I wish I had told him so. I just wish he and his friends would go to some other cafe so that I wouldn't have to see them anymore.

  5. I know sometimes I hold back to avoid further confrontation or aggravation. I would have been furious too! At least you gave them and good stare down so they know you were offended. I was recently heckled by some teenaged boys in my neighborhood. I was shook up by there very crude sexual comments, but I just kept kept walking to avoid it getting worse. Its awful to feel so uneasy and unsafe as a woman.

  6. Hi Jules,
    I think you did the right thing by walking away, but those boys who heckled you should be ashamed of themselves. They should know better than to treat women like that.

  7. That's because there's nothing funny about it. Just reading what you've written has filled me with anger, so I can only imagine how you felt being there.

    Regardless, I think you did the right thing by not confronting them. First and foremost, it is about your safety, and as you know, in an urban environment, confrontation is NOT a safe option, even in a public place. I'm glad you did speak to the manage about it, though.

  8. Hi Talli,
    I usually do avoid confrontation, because I never know what could happen. I wonder if anyone else at the cafe heard what that guy said and felt tempted to confront him too.

  9. I don't blame you for seething. I would have a hard time saying something, but I'd want to too. Hopefully it was a joke. But sadly, there are people who think women are objects and like being treated as such. You list many examples to back my statement.

    XVI is new YA Dystopian that has a world over 100 years in the future where women are treated like sexual objects, and are expected to please men once they turn 16. While it seemed farfetched on one level, on another it did not.

  10. Hi Theresa,
    I don't think the guy meant it as a joke, especially since they weren't laughing about it; it sounded like they were criticizing the woman who had accused the two officers. That XVI sounds interesting; it's interesting to see how authors treat themes like that and to see what they have to say about it.