I am not a yeller. I am certainly not the sort of person who does yelling, including swearing, at a stranger in public. And yet, today I yelled.
TW for domestic violence.
Today I was, as I usually am, in my doctor’s waiting room. We’re on pretty good terms, me and that waiting room. We’ve seen a lot of hours together. The receptionists know me. I feel safe there.
I should say “felt.” Because after today, I am reminded that no public place is truly safe for women. Is that an exaggeration? You tell me.
There was a couple of other people sitting waiting, and there was a man standing at the counter talking to the two receptionists. I don’t know what they were talking about. I don’t know why he was there. I tuned in when one of the receptionists mentioned they were having trouble with the internet connection.
“Well, you know what they say about computers,” the man said. “The only difference between computers and your wife is you only have to punch information into your computer once.”
Um. What. The. Actual. Fuck?
I hesitated for only the tiniest of seconds. I swear my brain made the literal record scratch noise as the room around me seemed to come to a cashing holt. I had two seconds to make a decision, before the moment would be lost. So I made a decision.
Using my biggest voice (not that big) (I was at the other end of the room though so everyone heard), I said:
“That’s fucking disgusting.”
The room went silent. The man looked down at the bits of paper on the counter in front of him. I felt adrenaline kick in and my hands started shaking.
He finished his conversation with the receptionists and left.
I’m not writing this because I’m proud of myself – though I am. I am deeply afraid of confrontation, and this was a person who was obviously more powerful than me. A big, loud man who clearly thinks that making jokes about domestic violence – in a doctor’s fucking waiting room no less – is OK.
So yeah, I was scared, and yeah, I’m proud of myself. Because maybe – I know it’s a long shot, but maybe – he’ll think twice next time. Maybe he’ll think about the embarrassment of that moment. Maybe he’ll think about why I said what I said.
You cannot make jokes like that, especially to a room full of women – who you have no idea what they’ve experienced in their lives – and expect to get away with it. You cannot behave like that.
What jokes like that do is remind women we aren’t safe. Before, I felt ok. But now, I knew I was in a room with someone who, if they could make jokes like that… what else were they comfortable with? It reminded me that this is a public space, and there’s no stopping other people’s behaviour. It reminded me I am a small woman, and I am vulnerable.
My voice is tiny. And maybe the impact it had today was tiny, I don’t know. But if it had any impact at all, it was worth feeling sick for the rest of the day.
Think before you speak.