A Mundane Menacing

A mid-Winter's day. 2006/06/26 09:25 Australian Central Standard Time, to be precise.

I'd just dropped my wife off to work near the entrance to Peel Street on Currie. Strictly speaking it's an illegal stop. The car is straddling a bus zone and mostly blocking said entrance. Peel Street is closed to all but local traffic until August due to road works, however, so I don't feel even a moment's pang of guilt, especially since I've not blocked any actual buses or cars in the ten seconds I'm idling.

Having pulled out into Currie proper I'm now sitting in the right-hand lane, waiting with half-a-dozen other cars for the light to change so we can cross or turn onto King William Street.

It's about as mundane a setting as you could find in any city on earth. People in cars and on bikes and on footpaths going about their day.

Unfortunately, on the footpath to my left, only a lane away, something ugly and stupid is happening. Even worse, for all its ugliness, this happening is as mundane as the cars and bicycles.

A big, beefy yob (190cm tall and on the plus side of 100 kilos) is shouting at, harrassing and threatening someone walking beside him.

He's close to violence.

The object of his ire? A woman. 155cm tops, perhaps 60 kilos.

Oh, and she's dressed according to someone's interpretation of Hijab. (I'm no expert on the subtleties of these dress codes, but it looks like she's wearing an abaya and a headscarf).

She's half his weight, 20% shorter and half as strong. Which makes her a more than suitable opponent apparently. A fine example of Anglo-Saxon masculinity in action.

It's good to know some of the lessons of our 'bully those weaker than you but tug the forelock extensively when the bigger guys are around' Federal and State Governments are making it down to the street.

To top it off, he has his wife and daughter (who can't be more than 7) with him. I wonder what life lesson they're getting today?

Perhaps the lesson is 'it's OK to menace and demean those weaker and smaller than you.' Or maybe he's just emphasising to them both that, on this street at least, he's the bigger, tougher guy and they shouldn't forget that, especially when we get home and there's no-one watching. After all, a burly bloke who's willing to threaten a small woman in the street is probably willing to do a lot more to an even smaller girl in the privacy of home.

Whichever, they're good solid Family Values, at least so far as the term is used by people like Brian 'I've got a conservative, biblical idea that a man should take a role of leadership in his life' Houston and Nancy 'there is nothing more hideous than seeing a wife stand up to her husband' Campbell. So, that's positive news on the street-level success of their evangelical efforts as well.

As for the small woman wearing a headscarf? I don't know what worthwhile lessons you can draw from being threatened by a large, menacing stranger.

The few times it's happened to me the only things I took away from the encounters were a sharp distress at being hated or feared simply because I existed; a permanent concern there was nothing I could do or say that would deflect or diminish that hatred and fear; and a growing willingness to see violence as a legitimate, perhaps even necessary, response to such a menace. Nothing particularly worthwhile in any of that.

The yob's wife pulled at him to stop and the small woman turned up King William Street and away from the immediate threat of assault.

The light changed and the people in cars and on bikes and on footpaths (including the yob, the small woman and myself) continued about their day.

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