A few days ago, my feminist ideals were put to the test and found wanting.  I was having lunch in a restaurant whose main clientele were migrants to Australia.  I think I was the only Australian-born customer at that point in time.   In that nice, quiet haven, I witnessed an extraordinarily vile verbal attack by one diner on his female dining companion.  As he was speaking loudly enough (just below shouting volume) for all of us to hear, we were clearly meant to be complicit in the drama.  Or maybe it was just a tactic to embarrass and intimidate his companion.  Probably the latter.  It was horrible.

The obnoxious man treated his companion like a slave.  She scurried around ordering the meal and collecting cutlery, napkins, drinks. etc.  Her hands were shaking.  That hideous man repeatedly told her (and us) how nasty and lazy she was and that he had had enough and was going to go back to his homecountry.  He threatened her with losing her job (with him?).  Now, if one is going to give someone performance feedback, you don’t do it at the top of your voice in the middle of a restaurant.

One of the unfortunate products of our migration system is that many migrants initially come to Australia on temporary skills shortage visas.  These are employer-sponsored visas and if your employer terminates your contract then you must go back to where you came from.  This makes such employees very vulnerable to exploitation.  This is what I deduced was occurring in this situation, but I am only guessing.

The question was what should I do?  What could I do?  I knew that the men in my family would not have tolerated this harassment, but I was on my own and I needed to eat to prevent my blood glucose level from dropping too low.  I confess that I was intimidated, maybe even a little afraid of where this was going.  The other restaurant patrons and the staff kept their eyes low and and carried on.  So, I did too.  Mostly.  I was seated in the bully’s line of sight, so I glared at him and made as if to leap out of my seat at each of his more obnoxious outbursts.  It may not have done any good, but he lowered his voice and was less dramatic.

I asked my son what he would have done.  He said he would have gone and stood next to that toad, dialed CrimeStoppers and outlined the situation.  I wasn’t that creative or pro-active.  Instead I half-finished my meal, gathered my things and went over to that man and told him that he was a revolting, abusive man and that his behaviour toward his companion was unacceptable.  Then like some useless, privileged do-gooder, I left.  Left her with him.

I am concerned that I may have placed the woman’s physical safety and possibly her employment at risk.  I wish I had recorded the abuse and intimidation, but I was in shock and didn’t have my wits about me.  Perhaps I should have invited her to leave with me and saw to it that she was supported through the ordeal.  Perhaps I should have phoned the police.  Or maybe it would have been better to have said nothing at all.  I did none of those things.

Comments welcome.

Update.  Thank you everyone for commenting.  I think I will close comments for now.  Many thanks.

Kind Regards.


10 thoughts on “Thanks For Nothing?

  1. Tracy;
    This is shocking and vile I’m so sorry that you were subjected to it. All must recoil from this ugly lack of civility. We had an incident in Toronto where an enraged man drove a van on a crowded sidewalk killing many. The killer’s reason was he could not get a girlfriend. Rage filled incidents have become too common. I would have left the cafe quickly because this vile man might have been in a psychotic event verging on escalation.

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  2. I would have done nothing. You just don’t know about other people’s weird situations. They could have been engaging in some kinky sex role play. I’m not kidding ~ this goes on more than people realize. Unless there’s actual physical abuse, in which case I’d call the police from outside, I’d MMOB.

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  3. A really tough situation to find yourself in Tracy.

    Good on you for not just standing by. Even if your actions might not have helped her, you demonstrated to everyone else that acceptance and ignoring are wrong. You might have inspired someone to show more courage in future.

    I’m not sure what I would have done. Once upon a time I would have averted my eyes and found lots of reasons not to interfere, but these days, middle age and middle class-ness have given me more courage, if not better judgement. I have a friend who volunteers with Shakti, and I’d like to think it would have occurred to me to text her for advice. Perhaps — if it’s not closing the stable door after the horse has bolted — you could contact Shakti Australia and ask for advice. It might not help that woman, but she is certainly not alone in experiencing abuse whilst in a really vulnerable position.

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  4. Having been that woman and having learned way more than anyone needs to know (god willing) if you’re in that spot again, remove yourself from his line of sight and call the cops. The restaurant manager should have asked the man to leave, but apparently he/she didn’t want to engage either. Harassment is violence against women. Nonetheless, chances are great that the woman wouldn’t have accepted the help offered by the police and that could have put her in more danger of retribution from bye man BUT there’s always the chance that it would have woken her up to the situation. Without knowing the relationship between the two it’s hard to know. Also, without knowing their immigration status — but women come from parts of the world where that kind of treatment is normal, and men come from parts of the world in which it’s normal to treat a woman like that. Still, call the cops, but in such a way that no one knows you did it. Even leave the restaurant and call from your car and go home. There’s no reason to put yourself in danger. It’s just so awful.

    As for what you chose to do — it might have been effective, it might have led him to blaming her later for drawing attention to them in the restaurant. With men like that it’s all about controlling the woman and they’ll do whatever it takes.

    I don’t see this as a feminism thing at all. It’s abuse. That guy (and woman) have to grow up a few notches before feminism is even a thing.

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  5. I wish there could have been a right or wrong answer but we all know, in life it seldom is. Hindsight can make us feel guilty, when there is no place for guilt. You did right by telling him what you thought of him. Beyond that what could have been done or should have been done falls in the realm of conjecture. I admire you for what you did.

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  6. I think you were brave to speak to the man. I would have wanted to but doubt I would have had the nerve. I don’t know if it would have done any good, as you say he may have wanted to create a scene. I do think the restaurant manager should have intervened.
    I like your son’s solution though.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Your sons solution was a good one. It would have been good to have someone with you as it does help. You never know his reaction. Angry men do stupid things. He may have had a knife…well you are where there are knives doh. The owner of the place should have done something. Perhaps a word to the staff would helped.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Really difficult situation and almost impossible to know what to do. I have no doubt that the abuser taking the abuse public is both humiliating and normalising the abuse-it is making the bystanders complicit. Once I saw a youngish guy yell abuse at his partner on Wynyard concourse (they were Anglo Australians)-I wished I could have done something, but what-I did wonder if there were helplines or details of shelters for women -and if I should carry a card with that info and try to slip it into the woman’s hand. A few years ago in Singapore I saw a guy harrassing a woman on Orchard Rd, it was very clear and quite loud-I stared at them as the masses of people on their way home from work passed by eyes down. I marched up to one of the security guards outside the stores and asked him to call the Police. He normalised the abuse, I asked again for him to call the Police, he said they wouldn’t come, when the guy grabbed the woman’s bag-I said “look he’s stealing from her now”-call the Police, the bloody coward sauntered down the walkway in front of the shops as slowly as he could towards them. In a country that is under such surveillance and fines you for littering etc, it seems domestic violence gets a free pass-as it does just about everywhere 😦 If it wasn’t so normalised, fewer women would put up with it.

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