Yep, that’s me!
Before you stand in front of me appalled that I use such language, ce n’etait pas moi (it wasn’t moi)! It was a Porter Airlines customer service representative at Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport on Easter Sunday, no less! On Easter Sunday, he chose to direct hate speech at me. Now, in the interest of full disclosure and to be fair, I did say to him, “You know, you’re kinda being an asshole right now.”
So I’ve been told that because I told this fellow that he was being an “asshole,” I deserved to be called a “cunt.” I’ve been told that by a woman, not a man, but by a woman, and a woman who is supposed to be my friend. I won’t go into a lot of detail about how I feel about that conversation but I’m fairly certain you can imagine how I feel. When I told the Porter Airlines representative who looked into my complaint that I would grant that I (perhaps) shouldn’t have called the guy an asshole, she said to me, “Well, but maybe he was.”
Surprisingly, this airport, which is on a small island in Toronto’s harbor just south of the bustling downtown area, was not that busy on Easter Sunday. I assume there aren’t many Canadians living in the New York City area who go to Toronto over Easter.
I was there to fly home after a weekend with my Canadian family. I went to the counter to drop off my luggage, and as I’m walking to the counter with my boarding pass, it’s only then that I realize, idiot that I am, I don’t have my passport! I hadn’t even thought about its existence since I arrived in Toronto on the Thursday prior. I say to the representative, “I just realized that I don’t have my passport. What do I do?” He tells me that I won’t be able to board the plane without my passport.
I show him a Passport Card and ask if it’s possible to use it. For those of you who don’t know, a Passport Card allows one to cross the border between the U.S. and Canada or Mexico on the ground but not in the air. So, I could have used it if I was boarding a train or driving over the border, but I could not use it to get on a plane. The rep tells me they can’t take my passport card. He then suggests that I move out of the way and take a look for my passport in my luggage. He motions to the floor to the side of the counter. I think that’s a good idea, and at that point, I have no problem with his behavior. Perhaps the passport is in my luggage somewhere and I’ll find it.
The fellow wasn’t particularly helpful but he wasn’t rude either. He seemed indifferent. He could have been a little more sympathetic, but one can’t have everything. So I move out of the way, and I park myself approximately 20-30 feet away from him and on the floor. He assists a couple of other passengers while I rummage through my suitcase. I am unsuccessful.
So, I tell the rep that I can’t find my passport, and at this point, I’m rather distressed because I have to get home, looks like I’m not going to get home, and I don’t know what to do. I’ve never lost my passport before. I try to ask him what to do, but he won’t answer me and he appears to be totally unconcerned, and not that willing or eager to help me out. At that point, I’m not asking to get on the plane because I understand there are laws they have to abide by, but I am asking what I should do because since he works for an airline that I use roughly 2-3 times a year, I suppose he might help me out with a little bit of information. And perhaps he might give me a little bit of sympathy because I’m not feeling so great at that moment. I’m not going home that night, and I have to work the next morning.
Nope, that’s not forthcoming. In fact, not much of anything is forthcoming. I’m being ignored sitting on the floor wondering what the heck to do. He just plain doesn’t care, and he doesn’t try to hide it. And that’s when I say to him, “You know, you’re kind of being an asshole right now.”
That was it! OMG! He exploded. And honestly, that was the extent of our interaction prior to the explosion and the verbal assault that began with him calling me a cunt. When he did that, I was incredulous, and I said to him — and this was still from the floor no less — “Did you just call your customer a cunt?” I’m kind of laughing right now because I couldn’t believe it then and I can’t believe it now. Not only was a minor conflict escalating to something major, I’ve rarely been called a cunt ever in my 53 years of living in Canada and the United States. Cunt is a word right up there with the “N” word, and even the most misogynistic men seem to know it’s not a word to use.
So, this guy continues to spazz out and to be honest I don’t know what he’s saying because I’m in shock at that moment. But then I hear, “I’m going to call a guard!” Then, I’m fucking terrified because all I can think at that moment is what happened to that fellow on the United Airlines flight just a few days earlier. You know, the one who was dragged off the flight and wound up with a bloody nose, missing teeth, and needing surgery? You know the guy, right? That’s the guy I’m thinking about at that moment.
I ask for a supervisor and I’m still fucking terrified because I don’t know what’s going to happen next. And the fellow’s male co-worker isn’t doing or saying anything.
Realize that this entire time, I’m on the floor and no threat to this man whatsoever. I’m nowhere near him, and I’m not continuing the conflict because he is so agitated, so over the top, so crazed that I’m scared to death. And I don’t scare easily. I’m the type of gal who says “fuck off!” right out the gate to any man who catcalls me or tries to come onto me. And that’s on the streets of New York City. I start with “fuck off” instead of something tamer because I’ve learned that’s the best way to get rid of these guys. It’s the most efficient way to get them out of my way and to be secure because they don’t want trouble. These guys are bullies, and they’re hoping to harass a woman who will let them. So, right off the bat, I let them know they’re going to have a hard time with this piece of ass. Because that’s what I am, isn’t it? I’m a piece of ass. I’m not a person; I’m tits and ass. That’s all I am. Where do tits and ass come off expecting to have human rights?
To illustrate, the last man who tried something with me, who catcalled me, who reversed direction so that he could follow me, who caught up to me and grabbed hold of my waist was told the following: “My boyfriend is just up the block, and if I don’t fucking kill you, he will.” Needless to say, he disappeared quickly.
So that tells you I don’t mess around and these guys don’t scare me. Well, let’s be honest here. The truth is that I’m actually frightened all the time. It’s shocking to me that any man thinks he can put his hands on me in broad daylight, without my permission, and with witnesses around. Just the fact that a man can do that, and bystanders do nothing most of the time tells me that I am NOT safe. No one’s going to do anything if a fellow decides to go further. How many times have you read articles about women being raped in broad daylight? And not that far away from a populated area?
In those moments when no one does anything on my behalf, no one objects for example, in those moments, I am scared. And I’m even more scared since October 2016 when the United States elected as its President a man who bragged about doing that very thing. But I try not to give into that fear, and I let my inner wolf out to rip these guys a new one. And my inner wolf is no puppy. Or shall I say, my inner wolfess? She’s pretty badass. You’d like having her on your side. You’d like having her there if you were in trouble. Trust me, you would.
But I digress here. Back to Billy Bishop.
The man’s co-worker comes and stands over me. He’s bending over so he can talk to me, it’s not clear to me what he actually wants to say but I ask him, “What’s wrong with that guy?” In a rather wheedling and I would say just plain weird tone, he says, “Everybody handles stress differently.” I stare at him, and then I look around at the near empty airport and I’m like thinking “what stress? Where’s the stress?”
I’m stunned and I’m also wondering why he’s making excuses for his co-worker instead of telling the guy to shut up and stop what he’s doing. I’m wondering why I’m not getting an apology or some kind of protection from the co-worker. And I’m also wondering why he’s standing over me the way he is. I haven’t moved since the episode started, and I’m not planning on it. I’m staying down there on the floor where it’s safe! But this guy continues to stand over me and I’m not understanding what in the world he wants at that moment. He does so even when the supervisor who I’ve asked for arrives.
When the supervisor comes, the rep still doesn’t calm down and continues to spazz out. It takes the supervisor a good 3-5 minutes to get the guy to stop the outburst. I assume, since I’m a psychotherapist, that this guy was already angry about something else and I just happened to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. I mean maybe. Maybe it wasn’t that. Maybe it was that I’m a woman and I dared to call into question his behavior, and while I did so, I insulted him. I really don’t know why he reacted so strongly but his use of the word “cunt” gives us a hint, doesn’t it?
I’m not sure what bothers me more — that this man thought he could use hate speech OR that his co-worker sought to excuse his behavior. And then there’s the idea that this crazy guy had the power to call a guard. Fortunately, no guard ever came. Eventually the supervisor calmed the guy down, and then he came over and talked to me.
The supervisor was helpful and explained to me that I would have to go to the embassy the next day, and he explained to me why they couldn’t take my passport card. It had something to do with there being no U.S. customs unit at Billy Bishop (I think). I said to the supervisor after he had provided me with some information — which was all that I asked for — “You do know there’s something wrong with that guy, and you guys need to address it? He called me a cunt.” The supervisor didn’t apologize for the behavior, but in fairness, he didn’t defend it either. I told the supervisor I knew that he was doing what he was trained to do which was to not say anything because he had to look out for his employer, the airline.
But who was there to look out for me in that situation? Apparently, the Porter Airlines rep had the authority to call a guard. Did I have the authority to call a guard? Could I have called the police? What would the guard do if the guard did come since I didn’t pose a threat in any manner? Was I going to be hauled out of there by my ass? Porter Airlines later assured me nothing would have happened had a guard shown up. But given what I’ve seen on the news lately, I’m not sure I believe that.
When I’m in the middle of an airport in Canada, who is there to look out for me? Are there police there? Or are there just guards that the airlines can call? Could I have called the police if I felt threatened by the guards? Who was the guard this rep felt entitled to call?
The only protection I believe I had in that moment were the cameras. Thank goodness for cameras. I left the airport knowing that the cameras would verify my story, and I immediately filed a complaint with Porter Airlines.
I received a phone call from a female customer service agent the next morning. I have to say that I am very proud of Porter Airlines for the way they handled this situation. I’ve always liked flying on Porter, and had very few reasons to complain about the airlines or its representatives. In fact, I’ve always been very complimentary of their customer service. I think it’s some of the best in the airline business.
This representative, who happened to be a woman, did not excuse the behavior at all. In fact, she told me that the rep had admitted to his supervisor that he had called me a “cunt” immediately after the conflict, that there hadn’t been a need to even consult the cameras. She told me the CEO of Porter Airlines had been told about the incident, that the management of the entire airlines was aware of the incident, and wanted the situation handled properly.
I did wonder why the rep so readily admitted to such egregious behavior. Was it because there were cameras there and so he knew he might as well admit it? Was it due to the fact that his co-worker had witnessed the entire episode? It’s not clear to me that his co-worker would have backed up my side of the story to be honest. I still am not sure, to this day, what the co-worker’s “deal” was.
Or did he admit what he did because he was still agitated and felt entitled, still, to behave the way he had? Turns out that was true, that even after I left the airport, the fellow continued to rage on. He was taken aside and he then volunteered the information. He didn’t deny calling me a “cunt.” I’m not sure if he defended it or not, but the airline informed me — because I wanted to know what they were going to do about this man’s behavior — that they had suspended him for five days AND referred him to anger management.
I expressed to the airline my fears at that moment, that I had felt utterly alone and completely vulnerable to this man’s hatred and rage, that the idea that he had the power to call a guard after using such language with me absolutely terrified me. There was no one there who I could go to for help. At least, no one I could see. I don’t know what would have happened had the guard come. I don’t know why the guard didn’t come.
The Porter Airlines representative told me that the guard would not have harmed me, and that it’s not unusual to call a guard when there’s a dispute with a passenger. I have to wonder about that because this wasn’t much of a dispute and I was nowhere near the rep physically so what purpose would a guard have served except to intimidate me? And how did this man have that kind of power when he was NOT under threat in any manner whatsoever?
Porter Airlines suspended the man for five days, and they referred him to anger management. They gave me credits of a little over $330, and the nice lady representative told me that because Porter wanted me “to come back,” they were giving me “a free roundtrip voucher” to use anywhere they fly in Canada within the year.
I am grateful to Porter Airlines for their immediate action, their denunciation of this man’s behavior, and their representative’s clear understanding and empathy. She understood how scary this situation was for me, and she was clearly disgusted by the man’s behavior. Her reaction was a far cry from the reactions of the by-standers that evening (I’m speaking of the male co-worker and the supervisor).
She was the first person in that situation to say to me that what the man did was wrong, and that Porter Airlines was not going to allow their employee to engage in misogynistic hate speech without taking action. Sadly, she was the first person to say that. There were two others before her who knew what happened. They were both men, and neither said anything to that effect to me. As far as I knew — and if I hadn’t complained — they weren’t going to do anything, and this man would have gotten away with what he did.
I’m still left with thoughts about this whole by-stander issue. I don’t know that I should have had to complain to the airline — via an online form — to get my moment, to get that moment when somebody said to me that it wasn’t right that that man to call me a cunt. It should have been said immediately, right then and there. I can say with confidence that I would feel a lot safer and more protected in general if bystanders did more in situations like this. Instead, I left that airport shaken and confused.
While I am happy with the action that Porter Airlines took, I’m not happy with the actions of the bystanders. And I think we know from history what happens when good people don’t act, don’t we? It’s happening now, people, and it’s happening to women every minute of every hour of every day, and it’s happening in public, on our streets, in our airports, in our offices, and in our homes.
The question I ask the reader is this: are you saying anything when you see things like this happen or are you staying quiet? And if you are staying quiet, what price do you think women are paying for your passivity and inaction?
And what do you think your silence is saying to the abusive men you know? You know, the ones in your own family? What do you think your excuses are achieving, you know excuses like “Well, his father abused him,” or “He’s just of that generation,” or “He just gets wound up; he doesn’t mean anything by it.” What do you think those excuses are achieving?
It’s either silence or excuses, but how often is it condemnation, condemnation that is followed by consequences? Too often we see men rewarded for their misogyny. And so it continues as it has through the centuries and throughout the world.
We’ve already seen a lot of excuses made for our current President’s misogyny not only by his family, but by his friends and his political supporters, not only by men but also by women. What price are women paying for the silence and the excuses? I would argue it’s a pretty high price, one that is practically inestimable.
Indeed, what is your complicity saying?