In 2016, after Trump’s infamous “grab ‘em by the pussy” came out, I wrote a post about the ways in which we excuse rape culture. In it, I discussed how women can be reluctant to come forward about sexual harassment or assault because fear keeps us quiet through an anecdote about an encounter I had with a Trump supporter at a bar. You can read the full article here, but to summarize, the guy tried to repeatedly hit on me even after I told him I was married with a child and when things weren’t going the way he wanted, he resorted to other tactics. Namely, this guy described forcing a Mexican man onto his knees at gunpoint for littering because the Mexican guy had, as the Trumper put it, “disrespected his land.” The Trump fan then tried to continue hitting on me because, apparently, he expected me to get all hot and bothered by the way he threatened someone.
What the guy was really doing was introducing fear tactics into our conversation, and although I hate to say it, it worked. I was completely freaked out that he was going to follow and/or hurt me when I left the bar. Luckily, I was fine, but my point here is to highlight this guy’s use of intimidation to feel powerful over me after I rejected his sexual advances.
Side note, anyone who says women are emotionally irrational is not a woman who has experienced a man going from “You’re so beautiful, what’s your number?” to “Bitch, I’ll rape and kill your whole family,” in a single breath.
A couple days ago, I was again sitting alone at a bar (I swear I have friends, they just all work in bars). Two guys came in and sat down to have burgers and beers and for the most part, I just ignored them because I was either talking to my friends who were working or I was watching the TV and trying to figure out why hockey is interesting.
At one point, one of the guys started talking to the bartender about college and education. Guy #1 was not supportive of higher education at all and insisted we should focus all of our efforts instead on trade school. Guy #2 was finishing his bachelor’s degree and hoping to pursue a master’s. I ended up getting pulled into the conversation and I said that while I agree that trade schools are important and there shouldn’t be any kind of stigma against pursuing that kind of a career, I think people should have access to higher education if they want because a society that values education values its citizens.
“Did you go to college?” Guy #1 asked.
“Yes, I have a master’s,” I told him. Guy #2 chimed in to tell me he wanted to get a master’s degree while Guy #1 narrowed his eyes at me.
Over the course of a rambling debate of a conversation, we touched on several topics such as minimum wage (he was against raising the minimum wage because all it did was ‘raise the price of milk and cheese’ for him while he totally ignored the fact that inflation happens anyway), colonialism was a good thing and white people deserved to be in power, and sexism. Guy #1 told me that he’s not sexist, but men are just inherently better workers.
“I don’t think that’s true at all,” I said. “Men have a lot of advantages in the workplace because they don’t have to deal with the same sort of discrimination that women do.”
“There’s no discrimination,” Guy #1 said.
“I think what he means is that men maybe have a tendency to be more assertive,” Guy #2 said.
“The inherent difference is that men are assertive, they’re applauded for being ‘go-getters’ or ‘taking charge,’” I said. “When women do it, we’re often told we’re being bitchy, ball busters, or overly emotional.”
“That’s true,” Guy #2 agreed.
“Listen,” Guy #1 said. “My parents and grandparents all own their own businesses, and do you know what my grandmother said? ‘Men are just better workers, they produce better numbers than women.’ That’s why they hired men in their jewelry stores.”
“Yeah, men, especially white men, don’t have to deal with the same discrimination and microaggressions that women do in the workplace,” I countered.
“I’ve earned everything I have!” Guy #1 insisted.
“I’m sure you did,” I agreed.
“And I’ve had to deal with plenty of discrimination as a white male,” Guy #1 continued. “We’re more oppressed than anyone.”
“Oh my god, bullshit,” I said. He tried to interject and explain himself but I cut him off. “No, buuuuuullshit. Check your white male privilege, dude.”
Guy #1’s eye visibly twitched and Guy #2 burst out laughing because he could see how agitated his friend was.
“You don’t know what it’s like to be the new minority!” Guy #1 exclaimed.
“You’re right, I don’t know what it’s like to have every advantage in my favor as a white male,” I said. “You don’t have to deal with the wage gap, you’re not racially profiled by the cops—”
“That’s because white people are law abiding citizens!” Guy #1 said as he signed his bar tab. “Take you and me—we’re not going to get shot by the cops because if an officer tells us to do something, we’re going to do it.”
“You’re seriously going to ignore the rampant police violence against black people in this country?” I asked incredulously. I knew I shouldn’t be surprised, but I was. I don’t know how anyone could watch the videos of Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, or countless others and still say there isn’t a problem of police violence against black people in this country. “What about the black children that are shot by police?”
“That’s what they get,” Guy #1 said. “I bet you’re one of those people who think we need stricter gun laws after the shooting in Florida.”
“Duh,” I said, my stomach still roiling from his “that’s what they get” comment. “There is no reason why the average citizen needs an assault rifle.”
At this point, Guy #1 stood up as he and his friend prepared to leave, but Guy #1 took a couple steps closer to me so that he towered over me where I sat on my bar stool.
“The problem isn’t guns,” Guy #1 said, growing angry.
“Hey, we should get going,” Guy #2 interjected, clearly trying to keep the situation from escalating.
“You’re right, it’s the lax gun laws and the easy access to unnecessary firearms like assault rifles,” I said.
“All these places where there have been mass shootings take place in states that have the strictest gun laws,” Guy #1 said. (This is complete bullshit, as place like Florida and Colorado actually have fairly lax gun laws). “The problem is—and I don’t know if you know this—but this country has an opioid epidemic—”
“We’re not discussing opioids, we’re discussing assault rifles,” I interrupted cooly.
“But the opioids—”
“Are not relevant to our current discussion,” I said calmly. “You’re just changing the subject because you can’t back up your argument.” I could see Guy #1 getting increasingly angry that I wasn’t letting him divert the topic.
“Hey, it was nice talking to you, but we have to get going,” Guy #2 interjected, tugging on his friend’s jacket. I opened my mouth to say goodbye to Guy #2 when Guy #1 pulled up the hem of his shirt.
There, tucked into the waistband of his jeans, was a large black handgun.
“See?!” Guy #1 demanded. “There are responsible gun owners! I buy and sell guns, the government can’t take them away from me!”
“Okay, we’re leaving,” Guy #2 said, pulling on his friend’s arm as Guy #1 dropped his shirt back down.
The two guys left and I turned back to watching the Olympics. I talked with some of the employees at the bar and, for whatever reason, completely blocked out the fact that this guy had flashed his gun at me. It wasn’t until the following day when I remembered that detail and proceeded to have a minor panic attack.
“STOP TALKING TO WHITE MEN IN BARS!” Jon practically shouted at me when I told him about Guy #1 flashing his gun at me. “I don’t know why the fuck these Trump supporters love talking to you, but STOP ENGAGING WITH THEM!”
This is the second time in recent memory when a white male has tried to use a gun, or at least the threat of one, to assert his dominance in a situation. The first time, the guy who kept hitting on me responded to my rejection of his advances by telling me a story about how he showed a person of color “who was boss” by forcing him to his knees at gunpoint. This time, a guy couldn’t handle himself in a discussion about various political and social issues so he flashed his gun at me. He didn’t have to do that, but he clearly wanted me to see it. Standing over me while I sat on a bar stool didn’t intimidate me enough, so he resorted to more drastic measures. So I would remember who was really in charge.
What both of these encounters have taught me (aside from the fact that I should stop talking to people in bars) is that both of these men felt threatened by me, a 30-year-old, 5’5” white woman with an opinion. Both of them tried to instill fear in me, and I’ll admit it–it worked. The guy who hit on me during the election made me afraid to walk alone to my car. The guy who flashed his gun at me, once the full impact of that moment sank in the following day, made me afraid because I realized I could’ve not come home to my son. Was he going to shoot me? Most likely not. But he could have, and that’s the fact he wanted to impress upon me. I mouthed off to him and he had the power to take my life simply because I pissed him off.
I could talk more in depth about toxic white masculinity. I could talk about racism and systemic oppression (but not against white men because, really, dude, shut the fuck up. That’s not real). I could talk about sexism. And you know what? I choose to talk about all of these topics, and I will continue to talk about them because I have a voice and I intend to use it. Am I going to be more careful about who I talk to in bars? Yes, probably, because I want to ensure I come home to my son every night. But really, I don’t need to talk to assholes in bars to make my voice heard. In fact, talking to them is kind of pointless because, really, I’m not going to change their minds or have any kind of productive discourse.
However, I am not going to be silenced by men who try to intimidate me. I’m not going to be silenced by men who threaten me with violence. They cannot keep me from using my voice to speak out against toxic masculinity or racism or sexism or any other injustice because it’s my voice and they are not welcome to live in my head and keep me from standing up for what’s right. Am I braver behind a computer screen? I’m certainly safer, but I’m sure as fuck not quiet. This bullshit is real and it’s happening and it’s not okay.
To the men who tried to frighten me into behaving: you only strengthened my resolve to work harder to fight for what’s right. I’d thank you, but you don’t get to take credit for the strength of my scar tissue.