My 23 year old daughter walked to our local Target this afternoon. It’s something we all do – it’s only about four blocks away so it’s a good way to get exercise when you are only buying a few things.
She, however, is young, blond and pretty. Just about every time she goes to the store she gets cat calls and comments from men passing by. Once she was actually followed home from the store and had to sit in her car and wait for the middle-aged creep to drive away. He had pulled up next to her in the street in front of our house, so that she couldn’t open her car door, and was trying to strike up a conversation with her from his car. She pulled out her phone to call the police and he drove on.
Today she was stalked in the parking lot by a car containing two young men who looked like gang-bangers. She had earbuds in at the time, so she couldn’t hear what they said, but their facial expressions weren’t smiling or somewhat apologetic, which is what an innocent encounter of the “how do I get to the bank” variety would have looked like. They were driving slowly next to her, calling out to her.
She did what my husband had drilled her to do in a situation like this. She simply did an about face. They would have had to reverse or do a U-turn to continue driving next to her, and that apparently would have called too much attention to them, so they drove off. A few minutes later, however, she thought she saw their car approaching again so she called me.
My 16 year old son was in the room when I took the call and caught the tone of my voice and put two and two together from what I was saying, so he immediately put his shoes on and offered to come with me. The two of us jumped in the car and drove to Target. Halfway there I discovered he had grabbed my husband’s new wood-chopping ax and was cradling it in his lap. More, I think, in a show of solidarity for his sister than an actual plan to use it.
We picked her up, and she was fine, but she asked if we could drive around the parking lot to see if they were still there. If they were, she was going to call the police so that they didn’t hassle any other women. We didn’t see them, so we parked and walked into the store with her so she could complete her shopping (I did make the 16 year old stash the ax in the trunk).
She kept an eye out for the thugs in the store, but didn’t see them, so she relaxed a little and went on with her shopping. I, on the other hand, was in full Mama Bear mode. Without really thinking about it, I found myself wandering away from my son and daughter and prowling the aisles, looking for two thugs with shaved heads and thick necks. Apart from those two details, I didn’t know what they looked like, but I figured two guys sporting the attitude she had described would probably stand out.
And I’m not sure what I was going to do. Take their photo, maybe – I held my phone in my hand as if it were a weapon. Report them to security, probably. Or if they didn’t look too threatening, I might have struck up a conversation and then given them a Mom-talking-to.
It was a different dynamic for me, combing the aisles at Target looking for a couple of specific shoppers. I’m usually avoiding the other shoppers and looking for the items I need. In fact, I generally go there early in the morning on a week day so that I will have fewer shoppers to deal with.
But today I was looking them in the face, one at a time, searching for the misguided young men who had caused my daughter such pain.
After about five minutes of roaming the aisles looking at the shoppers, I had tears in my eyes. Because while I hadn’t found the thugs, I had come across a number of young to middle-aged men who were muscular and who looked like they could hold their own in a fight. But each time I saw one, I noticed he was there with this wife, his kids, his son, his girlfriend…
I saw men of different ages, different skin tones, different ethnicities, many of which have been falsely stereotyped as the type of men who cause trouble.
But I didn’t see trouble. I saw loving, kind men.
Young men joking with their girlfriends about buying a Santa onesie.
Young and middle-aged men wrangling their kids and pushing their cart while their wives shopped just ahead of them.
Middle aged-men showing their adolescent sons which razor to buy.
Men helping their mothers put a heavy bottle of detergent in the cart, pick up prescriptions, shop for cards.
By the time I met back up with my son and daughter, I was overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with the beauty of the people in the store, with their love for their families, with the sheer ordinariness of the afternoon. I had gone looking for trouble and this time humanity had proven me wrong.
Sure, there are jerks who objectify young women around. Sure, some of them can be dangerous, so she won’t be walking to the store by herself again. But the overwhelming majority of people are just beautiful.
I think I could have walked up to any one of the men I saw in that store today and asked for help, and they would have willingly given it. I think if they had seen my daughter being harassed in the parking lot, they would have offered to let her walk with their family.
I think we live in a fallen world and as a result, sin abounds and there are scary people out there. But I think they are outnumbered by the decent ones. At least, in my neighborhood they are.
And I don’t actually live on the “right” side of the tracks.