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Violence Against Women: Not in MY Backyard—Er, Subway Car?

There are many ways of turning the wheels of history. Sometimes an act that seems small and obvious at the time changes the course of a group’s actions. Like the butterfly wings flutter that changes the climate halfway around the world, I believe every one on the subway car described by author and co-founder of SheWrites.com, Deborah Siegel, will forever think twice before looking away from a violent act.

The other day I was riding the number 2 train home from the city, thinking about what I might write here in honor of Women’s History Month and feeling overpowered by current affairs. The tsunami, earthquake, nuclear disaster. Senseless murders in Libya. The gang rape of an 11-year-old girl. This month, I sense such widening circles of sorrow swirling, it’s easier, I confess, to shut off and just hold close those I love. If I pause long enough to truly let the world in, I fear I’ll be carried out on a wave, swallowed up by a sea of emotion from which there is no return. And then, there’s the tragedy going on right in our own backyards—that which lifts us out of our chairs and just kind of compels us, without thinking, to act.

Here is what I mean:

On the subway seat across from me, a woman sits with a large-sized purse taking up half the seat next to her. A hulking man enters the car and sits down—partly on the seat with the bag, and partly on the woman who owns the bag. The woman gets up in a huff.

“You don’t sit on women,” she says.

“Your bag was taking up half the seat,” he says.

“You don’t sit on women!”

“Your bag was taking up half the seat!”

This seems like it’s going to go on for a while. People nearby are getting edgy. I try to catch the woman’s eye, shoot her a glance of solidarity.

An older woman sitting closest to her catches her eye instead and says, “Let it go. You’re the bigger person.”

The two women chat. I can’t hear what they’re saying, but the man is listening all the while. The first woman gets off at the next stop. The man, it seems, is not through.

“She’s the bigger person huh?” he says to the older woman.

“Oh you’ve got the wrong one. The wrong one. Don’t you start with me now,” she says.

As the subway doors close, the dozens ensue. I try not to listen but, like a rubbernecked driver who can’t look away from a car wreck, I’m compelled. The words “Your mama…” “Your wife…” “Your mama…” “You’ve got the wrong one…” pour from the pair repetitively, and in escalating tones. There’s a feeling of gas rising to the point of combustion.

And then: THUNK. Sound of woman’s head being slammed against subway wall. Next, a piercing wail.

Posted in Know Your History, Wear the Shirt | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments
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Copyright 2010 Gloria Feldt