I consider myself pretty lucky when it comes to the men in my professional life. In our 7th and 8th grade team, we have mostly male teachers, and I think they all make excellent role models for both our boys and girls. Maybe I've become spoiled to have such stand-up dudes around because last night I saw the opposite at a track meet, and it was one of the few occasions in my life where I've been speechless.
I love track season, and last night was about as perfect as it gets. Beautiful weather, our girls are gaining confidence, and the meet was running smoothly. I'd spent the first hour down watching our shot put and discus girls do their throws, and was coming up to the stands to join my co-coach and our team to cheer on our girls in the 100m dash. I was blindsided by what was happening when I got there.
I could see the looks on our girls' faces and knew that something wasn't right. Their eyes were big and the tension was heavy. A man from across the aisle was shouting something at my co-coach. She wasn't shouting back, but she wasn't giving in. I was staring, dumbfounded, trying to absorb what was happening so I could do something or prevent something terrible from happening.
The issue: my co-coach is short. Barely five foot, to be exact. To get an accurate start on the 100m, she has to stand on the bleachers to see the smoke from the starter's gun. We make our camp pretty high up in the stands so that most of the spectators are down below. This man was across the aisle to the right of us. She was in his way. He told her she needed to move or sit down so he could see. She said she was sorry but she's a coach and she needed to get a start for her girls. He got angry. He came across the aisle and got in her face. He told her she was rude (she's still just watching the starter and cheering for our girls, trying not to lose it in front of the other 30 girls all around us in the stands, watching this instead of their teammates race). He told her she was a real "word that starts with a B!" She gave him her name and our Athletic Director's name and said he could call if he really wanted to complain. He got so close to her that I was afraid he was going to grab her and said, "It's pretty hard for you to write down those times when you're shaking, isn't it?"
As a woman, I'm not sure I can express how terrifying this was. It was a blatant display of a man trying to use both his words and body to intimidate a much smaller woman into doing what he wanted. Here's the thing: the stadium was half empty. The guy and his three friends could have moved anywhere to get a better view. But he wanted to assert his dominance, and I think what really pushed him over the edge was simply that this woman didn't do what he wanted her to. So his reaction was to speak to her and use his body to try to make her submit to his will, and he did it in front of our entire group of young women. Girls who are starting to date and form intimate relationships with boys. Girls who are looking at men and boys in a new light. Girls who were terrified about what they saw.
He finally backed off with a few more choice words, and we went back to having a great track meet. We didn't let it affect anything, and I filled in my principal/A.D. about the situation so he knew exactly what went down. My co-coach and I were at the point where we could laugh about what a jerk the dude was on the bus.
But tonight we're going to have a serious conversation with our girls at practice. We're going to acknowledge what happened and let them know that it is never okay for a man to speak like that to them. That they can stand up for themselves without being rude or mean. I'm so thankful my girls got to see their coach be a strong woman who stood her ground. She didn't lower herself to his level, but she didn't cower down in fear. It was a scary situation, and we're going to turn it in to a teachable moment.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.