I am a voice and I am a mouthpiece.
I wasn’t happy with the story I wrote. Two days later, it was still causing a firestorm on social media – my name and face (an old photo I don’t like and have been trying to get replaced for awhile) in the upper left hand corner of the screen, smiling in the face of criticism.
A local men’s barbershop was upholding its stance it had the right to refuse service to women. A group of women requesting a men’s hairstyle claimed that was discrimination. It’s a messy situation in a place like Saskatchewan – and I tried to be fair to both sides: both camps had some valid arguments, in my opinion.
But in hindsight, the story was never about opinion: it’s a black and white issue. Does a private company ever have the right to refuse service on the basis of gender and under what circumstances?
I don’t know the answer to that question definitively. It seems, though, like a question that should have a definitive answer. That was in hindsight. At the time, I was working to deadline, so the search for the person who could definitively answer that question got put over to next week.
I wrote the web copy; I hit publish. I checked to make sure there were no spelling mistakes and I noticed the smiling image of myself and made yet another mental note to get that changed.
I went home relieved the story had made it air in time and confident it was fair. Then came the comments, hundreds on Facebook and Twitter, criticizing “The Media” and its “coverage,” personally attacking “feminists,” “lesbians” and “journalists,” as if we weren’t individuals, community members and friends.
People readily came to the defence of the business that was having a tough time defending itself.
And my heart fell as I saw how the words I had written became the forum for a nasty debate where the resource for education and a better understanding of the law should have existed. I didn’t write a story – I created the arena for two camps to spar…without any mediation, clarification, or insight. And that girl in the corner still smiles, as if everything’s okay – everything is NOT okay.
This weekend is the Labour Day weekend and I decided to come up with a plan for the bar.
I posed with my hand in the air in an Instagram selfie:
“Rules for the bar tonight:
- I will buy my own drinks.
- I will vocalize clear boundaries.
- I will be autonomous. “
Sam, Dee, and I walk up the front stairs of Vic’s Tavern and as if he’d been waiting for us, a man I’d wager about my father’s age, offers to buy us a round of shots. I politely refuse. He feigns hurt. I waffle. “I’m actually not drinking tonight,” I say, which is not a lie.
I’m a wimp, but he backs down and I order two virgin margaritas, handing one to Dee. We find a table and some friends close to the bathroom, where he finds an opportunity to brush past, sliding his hand along my ass in the process.
“Really, Buddy?” I ask when he walks out.
He feigns ignorance.
“No, that’s not okay.” I’m too easy-going in my mannerism and he isn’t taken aback.
“I’ve had a bit to drink. You girls wouldn’t know. I normally don’t accost women.”
“So you admit, you accosted me.”
He is drunk and laughs. “Can we hug it out now or do we need some distance?”
“We need distance,” I say. “As in, ‘I stay here and you go over there’ – type of distance. And you may not touch me.”
He leaves. Sam gives me a high-five. I wasn’t tough; I was no warrior Queen, but it was one small victory to stand up for myself after previous similar incidents resulted in colossal meltdowns. I will massage ignorance out of this town little by little, I think.
I am never going to be ferocious: I am never going to be loud enough to make waves, but I will rock the boat.
I’m working on my backbone. Little by little I will screw my head on straight. Little by little I will not be intimidated. I will find that mysterious power my friend assures me women have. Little by little, I will become a bridge to tolerance and understanding – and I will get more from work, from my relationships – and I will feel a whole lot better about that girl who keeps smiling back at me from the top of my computer screen.