Confessions of a Bystander


My lunch table had finally gone almost an entire lunch period without some vulgar, uncomfortable discussion or commentary.

Until he said it.

He made the comment with a smirk, a sure sign of a complex bigotry, a haughty superiority in his voice, in his eyes, in his body language. Everything about him screamed “I AM SUPERIOR”.

Carefully, I watched her face.

He thought it was funny – the rest of the table laughed it off. What else are you supposed to do? You can’t say anything to the alpha male, can you? You can’t stop him from flexing his oh so obviously superior muscles. You just have to let these things happen. After all, boys will be boys.

But she didn’t think it was funny.

“Ha, ha,” she tried to join in, forcing a smile on her face. Like her body was some joke to be cracked, some punch line to abuse.

And there was the moment I should have said no. I should have stood up for her. I should have stopped it.

Because he kept going – he took it leaps and bounds further over the edge of acceptable, saying unrepeatable things, pushing the envelope until I tasted blood in my mouth from biting my lips so hard to keep from leaping out of my chair and smacking him in the face with his own pride.

I have been friends with this boy since freshman year – best friends even. My mother thought he was a gentleman, respectful, kind and funny.

And there he was – making crude jokes about a friend’s body. Making her a sexual object rather than a woman. Making her a thing rather than a person.

And I got angry.

It isn’t so much about the fact that his words are acid and disrespectful.

It’s the fact that I sat there and let it happen and it isn’t the first time. He abuses those he’s closest to, calling two other girls at the table derogatory words, pretending to beat them up. They don’t respond with, “That’s not funny”, or “Don’t call me that”, either.

They, like me, do not put up a fight.

They think it’s funny that they’re being objectified and called terrible things. They giggle and laugh and give that girly squeal, telling him playfully to stop – but they don’t really mean for him to stop.

Why don’t we say anything? Why don’t we demand respect? He is no greater than us – but we allow him to believe he is superior by submitting ourselves to his constant abuse and objectification. Why don’t we say anything?

It’s the fact that I haven’t spoken up – that the rest of us at the table sat there and laughed at it, feeling the grating of his words under our skin, the deliberate, brutal verbal attack on a woman’s body image. They hit like knives and we ignore our own bleeding.

We allowed her be crucified by his objectification, and in that, we crucified ourselves and everything we stand for. We are the biggest hypocrites, preaching equality and love when it is the last thing we will fight with our own friends for.

I allowed him to objectify and shame her.

And for what?

What would it have cost me to slam my fist on the table and tell him “no more”?

It would have cost me nothing – my real friends would have stood up for her with me. These people are not them. I would have stirred up the water, caused “drama”. Been “overemotional”. Been “too dramatic”.

Instead of being labeled as “overemotional”, “dramatic”, “uptight”, I said nothing.

I sat there quietly, anger pounding at my bones to get out of my skin. I sat there and let her be pierced for the sake of not stirring up trouble

And for that, I am as guilty as he.

And we laughed.