I Was Harassed on a Plane. Stop Asking What My Husband Was Doing.

Posted on
Aug 25, 2016
Posted in: Personal Essay

 

On Monday, I wrote about an incident that happened to me on a recent international flight. A passenger became verbally abusive and physically intimidating because I reclined my seat. It terrified me, and the flight crew moved us, after the guy made it clear that if I reclined my seat again he would not stop tormenting me. He told the flight crew this as well.

The response to that post has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive.

“I know that fear you are speaking of- it nestles in the stomach and then surges to every inch of body.”

“If anything, you under-reacted to him, and thus forced your body to react with panic instead.”

“What a waste of a human.”

“It’s a terrifying world for women, we put up with this in everyday life.”

“I find myself panicking with empathy.”

“You were amazing and held the high ground, where this man has obviously never been.”

“I see you, and hear you, and agree with you. Fuck that fucking fucker.”

“You know I would Cut A Bitch for you, so just say the word.”

 

But of course, the internet is open to not only awesome people but the bowels of humanity, too, so I’ve dealt with people claiming that this didn’t actually happen, that I’m exaggerating or making it up, that the photos of me are faking, that I shouldn’t have been reclining my chair. The way in which these morons have managed to cover nearly every issue faced by women who report harassment has almost been impressive, were it not such a shitty and worthless accomplishment.

“Not sure I’ve ever seen a bigger mountain made out of a molehill in my life.”

“You weren’t beaten, you didn’t have your firstborn child taken, you didn’t have to declare bankruptcy, you weren’t in a car wreck.” 

“You felt entitled to increase your space at the expense of his. Sounds selfish to me.”

“Wow I think the author fits the definition of ‘whiny bitch’ quiet precisely.”

“Self regarding, self pitying attention seeker, grow the fuck up”

 

(All typos and grammatical errors theirs, of course.)

 

My friend Celeste put it best:

 

She’s so right. And I think another part of this equation is how Rand has been treated in all of this. A lot of people have asked why he didn’t intervene, and frankly, that irritates the fuck out of me (also, didn’t they just accuse me of faking? There’s your answer!). I don’t think I should have to explain why Rand didn’t engage an unhinged person on a plane. However, because I have been dealing with comments like this from primal dipshits who somehow think my husband’s actions are cowardly, I feel the need to talk about it.

“As for the girly man she was traveling with…”

“If someone talked to my fiance that way, I wouldn’t just ignore it.”

 

Rand doesn’t need to be defended. He did nothing wrong. So let’s be clear: this post is for me. Because the people who think this shit are part of the problem – they’re scrutinizing the wrong man’s actions. Here is why my husband didn’t get into an altercation with my harasser, and why you need to stop asking about it:

 

  1. HE WAS BARELY CONSCIOUS, YOU FUCKHEADS. The guy behind me had been holding my seat up for a while. A good amount of time elapsed before he let my seat down and engaged in a verbal confrontation with me, and I suspect now that he had been timing it to see that Rand was out of commission. It was also why he tested the waters with Rand when Rand lowered his seat – he saw that Rand was out of it, and didn’t even understand why the guy wanted him to adjust his seat. Rand just curled up and went back to sleep. He missed the first shaking of the chair, and only woke up around the end of the discussion, which lasted probably a minute or two at most. The guy behind me planned his attack carefully.
  2.  To Him, I was Angry, Not Upset. Rand had no idea I was scared – I didn’t break down until long after I left the cabin and walked to the back of the plane. To him, I was angry, and Rand knows to let me work through that. Something that I often tell him is this: “You need to be comfortable with me expressing my anger.” Me telling this guy that I thought he was rude doesn’t communicate fear – it communicates annoyance. And trust me when I tell you that regardless of what Rand had said or done, standing up for myself to that guy was something that I needed to do for my own sanity.
  3.   If Rand got involved, there would be two options. Both would be bad.

    The first option would be that he acquiesces to what this guy wants and “compromises” – in other words, I can’t recline my seat. Which is unfair, and completely undermines me, my feelings, and is really fucking insulting. Basically, it would be Rand saying, “Honey, do what the man says.” Rand told me he absolutely wouldn’t risk robbing me of my agency. And given that the man was completely inflexible and hostile, this would have been the only course of action that wouldn’t have led to him becoming more aggressive. But it would have been horrible for me.

    The other option is that Rand engages the hostile, abusive guy, and it becomes confrontational. Remember, this dude was so rude to flight crew that they had to step away from the situation. He clearly didn’t give a fuck about other passengers, and he wasn’t afraid to resort to physical intimidation. And if it *had* gotten violent? How would we have proved that this guy started it? I wrote about this post and had the flight crew entirely on my side AND PEOPLE ARE STILL TELLING ME I’M EITHER LYING OR EXAGGERATING. If two passengers get into a fight, the powers that be don’t sit around figuring out fault. They punish both. Rand wasn’t going to escalate the situation and get arrested or – even worse – get us put on a no-fly list which would have been disastrous for both our careers. Not to mention the fact that Rand isn’t violent – he’s above that shit and has more self-control than I’ve ever seen. But dipshits somehow think that getting into fights is brave. Fuck you, dipshits. You’re the cowards.

    Lindy West wrote about how a guy she knew threatened her (said he was going to “push her down some stairs.” Jokingly, of course, because that’s what trolls do – they pretend they’re kidding). He then found out she was going to be at an event with her husband that he was attending, and out of fear the troll BROUGHT A GUN AND A KNIFE. Lindy’s husband hadn’t had any interaction with this guy before or during this – he was just at an event with his wife who had been threatened. That’s what women face at the hands of misogyny – our harassment doesn’t just endanger us – it endangers the people who love us.
  4. I have a feminist motto. I got it from a pencil that I gave a friend (Shut up, I can get mottos from pencils). It’s this: “I will rescue myself. Thanks.” Rand knows this. He knows that I need to make myself feel safe without his help, because if I don’t do that then I will never feel safe unless he’s around. And that’s fucking bullshit. That’s not a way to live. I need to know that I can sleep comfortably when he’s not there.
  5. This mentality is part of the problem. Having my husband engage this guy means that my words and my boundaries are not enough. It means that the only time a woman is valued is when she’s with a man. That they get to fight over us like property. It’s why when I walk through the park alone I’m catcalled and when I walk through with Rand, I’m not. It’s why when guys creepily hit on me, that’s okay, but when they see I’m with Rand THEY FUCKING APOLOGIZE TO HIM. Not to me. To him. As my friend Jonathan noted: she doesn’t need a husband around to guarantee she gets treated like a human. But that is the only way that it happens, it seems, and sometimes, not even then.

Someone asked me if Rand was supportive after this all happened. I told them how he walked me through my panic attack and comforted me – but how he didn’t actually engage the guy.

“Well, of course not. That wouldn’t have been supportive. That would have escalated the entire conflict – that’s what animals do. That would have terrified you even more.”

And one of the ways that he was supportive after the events was this: He knows that I deal with difficult stuff by blogging about it, so I asked him to take a photo of me post-panic attack, which he did. I’ve been told that this is further evidence that I was faking and exaggerating, instead of what it truly is: evidence that I know myself. I knew I’d need to write about this. And I thought it would be important for people to see what harassment does. Funnily enough, it’s the same people who think he’s a coward who couldn’t handle it:

“And yeah, the pics of you crying? You’re overreacting, if not outright acting.”

(Wait, I can act? I’M A DOUBLE-THREAT.)

“Not sure there was a victim here. For an event that may or may not have happened the way she claims. Again, Rand didn’t jump in. The guy’s seatmate didn’t say anything. The flight attendants didn’t see fit to punish him in anyway (cuffs, cops, etc.)” 

(The seatmate, for the record, was another woman who didn’t know him before the flight.)

“Isn’t it also possible that it didn’t happen the way she claims? For example, the dude thought she aggressively slammed her seat back into him (with sudden jarring, her seat reclined by her own admission) and he wasn’t polite to her and she is OVER-REACTING…” (sic, sic, sic)

(The seat suddenly reclined because the guy finally stopped holding it up.)

 

After this all went down, Rand hugged me. We talked. He cracked terrible jokes and told me it was going to be okay. He never questioned me for a fucking second. Not one. There was no reality in which I wasn’t in the right. He has never been anything but supportive. But I think that the trolls can’t handle that. They need to pick it apart so that they feel better about their own loneliness.

Women everywhere experience this, and far, far, far worse every day. And this is how some of the darker corners of the internet chose to respond.

 

“If this qualifies as a major trauma in your life, then I envy your life, because you haven’t had many bad things happen to you.”

 

Fuck that. I’ve experienced trauma before. All women have, simply by virtue of being women. And it doesn’t make you stronger when more trauma comes. It terrifies you.

The question we should be asking isn’t “Why didn’t your man fight your battles for you?” The question we should be asking is “Why do we, as women, have to fight so many battles in order to be treated like a human?”

I suspect we’ll be waiting for an answer to that one for a long time.

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