On the Moral Ambiguity of Doing the Right Thing

My boys are 15 and 17. We were talking, yesterday morning, about many things. School, bullying, feminism. Cole uttered the misbegotten term “feminazi,” and River saw the look on my face. Before I could retort, my clever, broken-hearted boy said, “it’s just that sometimes you seem to hate men, and Cole and I feel bad.”

Tears rose in both our eyes immediately—mine fell, his did not. I explained that I did NOT hate men, and it hurt my feelings they should think that. I explained why I am a feminist. I explained why I am afraid for their sisters. “We know, we know,” they said. Cole even said, “most men are assholes,” and River agreed. “But not all,” I said. I explained that what I hate is the reality of fear women must endure. I hate that while we were all out pulling weeds the other day, my 13 year old daughter and I got cat-called by passing cars when we bent over. “That’s why I told her to go inside,” replied River in a subdued tone.

We dropped the subject and discussed school options for this fall. We talked for quite a while, until something caught my attention outside the window. A young woman stood on the sidewalk fifteen feet from where I sat. A young man was blocking her way, lightly pushing her when she tried to pass. I froze. River and I watched. The man pushed her again, harder this time. I jumped up and ran out the door, down the steps, stopping on the last step before the sidewalk.

“Do you need help Maam?” Loudly.

She stood round-shouldered, head tilted down, but she did not back away from him. She was trying to get past him. She raised her eyes to me, said nothing. Her body language showed fear. No sudden moves. His head snapped around. I do not remember the first words he said, but I can tell you that the words “fucking” and “fuck you” and “fucking bitch” were used more than any others combined. He ordered me to go back inside. When that didn’t work, he informed me that the woman was his wife, in a plaintive way, as if that made it okay to intimidate her. I did not move. I told him I would call the police if I had to.

“Go ahead, here, I’ll call ‘em,” he said, taking a step toward me. Then he turned back to her, so she could not get away.

“You need to let her pass.”

“Mind your own fucking business!”

This went on for a few minutes. I stood there, would not move. He did not let her pass, but he didn’t put his hands on her again. Eventually, she gave up, walked back to their driveway next door. They were my new neighbors.

I spent last night locking windows instead of opening them to the cool breeze we so desperately needed after the 90 degree day. I lay in bed thinking I shouldn’t have done that. I put my family in danger. What if I don’t hear him break in? Should I turn off the fan?

My boys saw me do it, and they assured me it was the right thing. But was it? Had I known they lived next door, I might not have walked out there. I might not have called the police either, unless I saw something very bad. The man is clearly violent, though just a boy really, 20 years old. (He told me his age, claimed because he was 20 he could call me a fucking bitch if he wanted to.) He clearly thinks he has a right to do and say whatever he wants.

A few months ago, I was running late getting out the door for work. There was a car, a minivan I think, parked in the alley adjacent to my driveway. It is illegal to park in this alley, and it is illegal to park behind someone’s driveway, but this guy parked in that spot nearly every morning to deliver coffee and chat with some girl who lived down the block. I waited him out more than once, but this particular morning I was tired of being late for work, and in no mood for this nonsense to continue. So Sable and I went to the car, and I made sure she was in.

“I need to get out and I’m late for work. I need you to move please.”

“You can get by!” he shouted.

“No, I can’t.”

“FUCKING BITCH!”

He spit venom as he moved his car back five whole feet. I was forced to maneuver past him.

I truly did not expect such a hateful response. I was surprised, shaken. Is standing up for myself and others putting my children at risk? I have to admit that in those two instances, the answer is yes to some degree. Those men know where I live. And so I second guess myself, feel guilty for my momentary courage. In those moments, and others like them, I didn’t really consider the consequences. That’s not true. I did consider them, for less than a second, and I acted anyway. I barged past the rush of fear and stopped that man from pushing that woman on the sidewalk. But did it do any good? I heard him blame her for attracting my attention. He might have beat her for it last night, for all I know.

This is how fear wins. This is how bad people win. Those of us with both courage and conviction still back down sometimes because we are afraid for the people around us, afraid for our loved ones. The internet hive mind is always talking about balance, as if balance is the answer to every problem. How does one find balance here? Where is the balance between justice and fear?

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