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Finding Our Way

Earlier this football season, I was watching a football game with a group of men, having a nice time meeting new people, and then something happens and just like that I am at a loss. Can I believe my ears? What am I to say? Will anyone else say anything? With the Super Bowl coming up this weekend, I keep playing this experience over and over and wonder what I’ve learned since.

I was visiting a men’s smoke club social gathering: scotch, cigars, poker, pool, big screen tv and steak dinner. Who could ask for more, this was a men’s space to be sure, a “manly” place to be. I went as a guest at the generous invitation of a friend who is a member. This is not a high cost club compared to many; it has charm and accessibility, and the purpose is social connection.

So here’s what happened. We are watching a NE Patriots football game, Patriots were winning so everyone was feeling pumped.

For the first time this year there is a woman official in the NFL. Few of us have seen her on the field as of yet, and she was officiating in this game.

In her first appearance on screen, up jumps one of the younger men in the room, literally, he jumps up out of his chair. He exclaims with great vigor: “There’s the chick, there’s the chick!! Oh my god, look at her. I’d do her, I’d do her for sure!!”

Well, I’m bowled over to say the least. Right in front me on fine display: male violence against women at its finest, in its glory. I have to do something, say something. Right?

And what do I do? Almost nothing. I look at my host and raise my eyebrows, he does nothing, so I do nothing. I look around the room, as this fellow gesticulates to others in the room. No one else is responding either. Thankfully, no one else jumps in to join him in his great exclamation, as that would have been worse. Perhaps their silence was enough to send the message that his opinion, attitude and behavior was neither condoned nor appreciated.

This is the challenge we talk about of bystander intervention, stepping up when stepping up is needed. If there were anyone who would want to step up, would that not be me? Was silence enough in this situation?

These can be hard moments, and this one was hard for me. I can only imagine this would be hard for you as well. I was a guest there, and my friend was my host. The standards of behavior are clearly to be cordial and friendly. The risk felt too high to me. I didn’t want to embarrass my friend, and I didn’t want to be ridiculed. There were many norms, expectations and obstacles in my way.

I don’t let myself off the hook though. I have spoken to my friend after, and I will speak with him about this again. This is what I can do in this case.

How about you? Does this bring up similar stories for you? I’d love to hear your moments of regret as well as your moments of strength. Together we can work on doing better, by sharing what is in our way, so we can remove what is in our way.