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