This morning I popped into the local hardware to pick up a few DIY supplies. They had Meet the Press playing loudly on the television with an older man and a young man who may have still been in his teens watching it. There were some clips playing of the last weeks election trail highlights (suppository remark etc) and I, being open at all times to respectful political discourse said, “yikes, don’t vote this bloke in whatever you do”. I was smiling and not at all trying to be inflammatory. This was apparently the worst thing I could have said. The older man (much older than me, I’d say in his 60’s) became instantly enraged and expressed absolute disbelief. He then started going on about how Whitlam, Hawke, Keating and Rudd had bankrupted this country. I, somewhat taken aback, said that I didn’t think that was quite true and he shouted at me that it was. He then ranted about how Kevin Rudd had killed some young men (I think he was referring to the home insulation scheme) and then said “and don’t even get me started on Gillard”. Given that it was pretty clear to me that this man was angry, I decided not to get him started on Gillard. I did however point out that I feared for my job should the Liberal party get in. He didn’t ask me to elaborate, why would he want to hear what I had to say when he was in full flight?
Now, I am a pretty strong person. I’ve endured certain hurdles in my life that have required me to be able to take a lot and then come back for more. I am educated and outspoken and I will happily engage in a discussion with people from both sides of politics, religion, and any subject really, as long as it’s done in a respectful way. I respect your right to your opinion and if we’re having a discussion, I do want to hear your side of it, but I don’t want to be shouted out. I don’t want to be put down.
I’ll admit I was caught off guard this morning. I was in what I thought was a pretty working class environment, I absolutely consider myself working class and did try and appease scary shouting guy by saying well, I will probably vote Greens. I actually haven’t decided as yet, but I thought this would calm him down as he continued to rant about prime ministers past and present (left mind you, nothing of the right). I was briefly tempted to point out to him that if it wasn’t for Whitlam, I would almost certainly have had to remain in an abusive marriage because it would have been almost impossible for me to leave with my children without sending us into poverty but I held my tongue. Because I am a woman. And I know that when shouting ranting old white guys get going, it’s time for all the good girls to shut their mouths.
All this took place in front of two young men, neither of whom spoke up for me. I whispered something conspiratorially to the young chap serving me “see, if you vote Liberal you get really angry” and he smiled, equally as embarrassed by scary shouting guy’s outburst as I was. Both young men looked embarrassed but one of them, the younger of the two looked a little big smug. Like I had been put in my place. Which I had.
I chatted a bit with the chap serving me, trying to stand tall and keep my voice steady to show that this rant hadn’t bothered me at all. To prove that being shouted at by a stranger, who then walked into the back office muttering and calling me stupid, hadn’t had the least bit of effect on me. But of course it had.
As I waited for my order to be completed, I began to feel more and more upset. I already felt shaky and I could feel that familiar burning behind my eyes as I began to well up at the indignity of it all. I steeled myself to hold my head high and announce haughtily as I left.. “the thing that scares me most about the Liberal party getting in is that old white men like you will continue to think it’s okay to shout at women for simply having a different opinion to yours”.. but I didn’t say anything. The shop was full of old white men and it felt too hard.
And so I slunk out to my car, sat down and cried. That man had scared me and shouted me down. He had put me down in front of two younger men to whom I have no doubt he disparaged me as soon as I left. And I let him. Years of fear and conditioning came roaring back as I disengaged in order to keep the peace and I feel ashamed that I didn’t speak up for myself. I think that shame may last for a while.
Maybe that scary shouting guy has no power at home and so he takes his rage out on people like me. Maybe he’s a frightening horrible man to live with and he’s exactly the same in public. Who’s to know? But I can say quite emphatically that if those are the sorts of people who the Liberal party represent, then I want nothing to do them.